Flipping through the channels in a hotel room over the holidays, I came across the old movie Tora! Tora! Tora! which I have not seen for a very long time. I was again fascinated and drawn in by the story of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
We watched this movie in an Executive Management class in graduate school at the University of San Diego. At that time, we studied it and commented on the strategies and clues being delivered to the Americans ahead of the attack. We spent hours discussing this movie and how the management of information, the absolute loyalty demanded by the military and the poor execution of a strategy changed the course of world events.
Over the many years I have spent in management consulting, I have seen all of these things that resulted in disaster for companies. When companies don’t pay attention to information reported by employees and signals generated by competitors in the marketplace, they may lose their way. Take Blackberry and Motorola, for example. Both companies, with prominent positions in the mobile phone market, missed the market and competitive clues as Apple and Samsung developed very successful better products and services.
Demanding loyalty and unquestioningly carrying out orders may be absolutely required by the military, but it can lead to big problems in business. When things go wrong or unethical practices are being executed in the name of the company, executives need to know and hear about it in order to address and correct the issues. Otherwise, the press or the authorities will hear first from defiant whistleblowers or it will end in disaster. Take big apparel brands that use nearly-slave labor in unsafe working conditions as an example. If brand managers at Benetton and JC Penny had reported conditions at Raza Plaza in Bangladesh, perhaps executives would have taken corrective action prior to the building collapse that killed 1100 people.
Most executives spend much of their time developing strategy and plans to execute on it. But if the execution isn’t done well, the result can be disastrous for the company. Take the Ford Edsel for example, which was supposed to be the hope for Ford’s future, but flopped almost immediately.
The Japanese General, at the end of the movie, finds out that the second wave of attack planes were not launched as ordered and the American fleet was not fully destroyed. He was correct when he says that instead of executing the Japanese strategy, they “awakened a sleeping giant.”
Watch this classic film again with new vision about what lessons can be learned from it and applied to business.