Shoot and Advance

Molly Rowe, for HealthLeaders Media, April 4, 2008
Joel Spolsky, one of my favorite Inc. magazine columnists, writes this month about the military tactic of "fire and motion"--firing at the enemy, then moving forward. As Spolsky writes, this concept is critical on the battlefield because, if you're the one shooting, your enemy can't shoot back because he's too busy diving for cover. And, as you move closer to your enemy, you've got a better chance of hitting him. Shoot and advance; shoot and advance.

Spolsky, who served in the Israeli Army and now runs a software company, says this fire and motion tactic serves him as well in the business world as it did on the battlefield. Successful companies constantly "fire and move," meaning they set their own agendas and force competitors to react.

There's a lot of shooting going on right now in healthcare. Retail clinics, complex service lines, spa-like services, and futuristic renovations--some healthcare leaders spend more time ducking for cover from their competitors than they do firing and moving. CEOs may be overwhelmed with the urge to follow their competitor's agenda, but small hospitals, like small companies in any industry, can't afford to spend their time and energy responding to someone else's fire, especially when their enemies have bigger guns.

Instead of spending so much time responding to your competitor's agenda, Spolsky says, you should spend more time focusing on your own. Sure, you need to know what your competitors are up to, but many organizations focus more on their competitors than they do their own customers.

Here's an example: About a year ago, two large Boston hospitals announced their plans to partner with the New England Patriots and open a sports medicine and outpatient surgical clinic in Foxborough, a town 30 miles from Boston and home to the Patriots' stadium. Community hospitals in the area had mixed responses.

One, Sturdy Memorial Hospital, told the local media they weren't really concerned about the move and announced plans of their own to open an advanced oncology radiation center nearby. Another, Caritas Norwood Hospital, spent its time protesting the arrangement in local newspapers. One hospital returned fire, and moved forward with its own successful strategy, while the other dove for cover.

As Spolsky writes, "A minute spent understanding competitors is a minute spent not listening to customers, potential customers, and near-miss customers." Rather than opening, say, a new retail clinic because your competitor has one, you might be better served researching your customers' needs and developing your own artillery. What are the underlying reasons for the clinic's popularity? What does the convenient care model say about your customers' needs? If customers want to get in and out quickly--day or night--what can you do to address this need?

You're more likely to come up with a service line that meets your customers' actual needs if you focus on your customer rather than blindly adding new services based on your competitors. And those new services are what will enable you to shoot and advance rather than hiding behind a bunch of sandbags, waiting for your competitor's next shot.

Molly Rowe is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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