John Kuraoka, freelance advertising copywriter
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Napoleon’s advice to entrepreneurs, Part III: growing the enterprise

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More than 200 years ago, Napoleon came to power and built an empire. Most entrepreneurs desire similar results. However, they often lose the magic touch once their small businesses turn into big ones. Here, we’ll look at Napoleon’s military maxims as they relate to management. After all, he ran an army and an empire; he was well-qualified to run a business.

Napoleon said: "Nothing is more important in war than unity in command. When, therefore, you are carrying on hostilities against a single power only, you should have but one army acting on one line and led by one commander.”

When a business enterprise is small, there is typically only one mission. It is easy for one person to exercise leadership over everything. As an enterprise grows, however, issues get bigger and intermediate goals multiply. That’s when it becomes important to delegate some goals to people you trust to achieve them. It is equally important to let those people achieve their goals in their own way, without interfering. Responsibility and authority must go together, otherwise you are wasting your people’s talents.

There can be only one person in charge of one thing at one time.

Napoleon said: “The camps of the same army should always be so placed as to be able to sustain each other.”

As a business grows, it often also expands, adding products or services. It is important to make each diversification support or enhance your primary product or service. In other words, keep your focus. The reason many big corporations are de-merging - selling or spinning off divisions - is not because those divisions are unprofitable, but because they divert resources away from the main business. Growth is good. Expansion is not always so.

Expansion opportunities must be evaluated in relation to how they will help you achieve your primary business goal.

Napoleon said: “It is not by harangues at the moment of engaging that soldiers are rendered brave. Veterans hardly listen to them and recruits forget them at the first discharge of a cannon. If speeches and arguments are at any time useful, it is during the course of the campaign by counteracting false reports and causes of discontent, maintaining a proper spirit in the camp, and furnishing subjects of conversation in the bivouacs.”

Constant, clear communication is the key to successful management. After all, people won’t know what you want them to do, if you don’t tell them. Internal communication lets your employees know what to expect, and unites them in action on a day-to-day level. This principle applies equally to external communication; your marketing and public relations efforts should deliver consistent messages regularly. In this way, you “train” your customers just like your internal communications “train” your employees. In addition, by communicating consistently, you give the occasional pep-talk or sale ad additional urgency and impact. Corporate communications, both inside and outside your company, is where theories of information management get down to work.

Successful businesses communicate well, by communicating consistently.

Napoleon said: "You should by all means encourage the soldiers to continue in the service. This you can easily do by testifying great esteem for old soldiers. The pay should also be increased in proportion to the years of service. There is great injustice in giving no higher pay to a veteran than to a recruit.”

Praise is, of course, highly valued. With each paycheck, however, you show each employee exactly what you think he or she is worth. Underpaid employees feel underappreciated, which leads to a gamut of other problems including poor work habits, bad attitude, and employee theft. If you value an employee, praise him or her, but also show your appreciation in this very tangible way.

In payroll, as in business in general, it is often important to put your money where your mouth is.

That concludes this series for now. However, Napoleon Bonaparte is but one of many unexpected sources of business savvy. Your personal heroes may have insights that you can use in your business. And they needn’t be famous leaders. They can be athletes, scientists, artists, ordinary folks, and even fictional characters.

So the next time you’re confronted with a tough situation, and you don’t know what to do, consider what your heroes might do. After all, heroes can always help you.

The Military Maxims of Napoleon are quoted from Roots of Strategy, edited by Brig. Gen. T.R. Phillips (1940, reprinted Harrisburg, PA, Stackpole Books, 1985), pp 401-441, from an original compilation by Gen. Burnod.
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