Your competitors have limited ammo, so use silence to help ensure they waste their bullets

Every business has competitors, and the reality is that virtually all companies are paranoid about keeping their secrets while pressing to find out what the other guy is doing.

You and your competitors are in a fight to the proverbial death, or at least to the cash register. Every organization has limited resources (bullets) and must ensure that its energy and assets are directed to where they will get the biggest bang for the buck.

Some of the best companies — Apple is a good example — keep their cards so close to the vest that it causes competitors to chase their own shadows, wasting time and money. Even the day before an Apple product launches, it’s seldom known what the latest “i” gadget really has in store for users. Business is much like a game of war, but without human casualties.

During World War II, there was a slogan reminding soldiers that “Loose lips sink ships.” The objective was to make sure that anyone in or working with the military didn’t inadvertently let information slip, even the most seemingly trivial matter that could benefit the enemy.

In business, the most frequent breeding ground for information leaks are industry conventions and social media. It’s critical to train your team, from the highest level down to the lowest ranks, that “What happens in your own ‘Las Vegas’ stays in your own ‘Las Vegas.’”

Too many times a few misspoken words can alert competitors that your company is moving in an unknown direction. Everyone has the tendency to want to make others think they are in the know and that they and/or their companies are doing great things. What was written or said by an employee in a tweet or overheard publicly could instantly reach competitors, lessening your advantage.

Almost every organization has confidentiality agreements with employees, but it is usually the unintentional and innocent comment that causes the biggest problems.

The best way to help prevent a leak is to constantly remind your team of the importance of silence. At the same time, provide ongoing tutorials about how to guard against errant emails or social media postings that seem harmless, but provide too much information.

We live in a new world of instant communication — anyone can monitor everyone else’s every move. One misdirected message can trigger a cascading effect that has negative consequences.

All of this is not out of a cloak and dagger CIA, KGB or Mossad spy manual. Instead, it’s what competitive organizations must constantly stress to ensure a competitor is not setting its sights on you, using intelligence that was gleaned by effective and ethical watching and listening.

Remember, silence is not just golden — it can be an important strategic weapon.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, with $20,000. During a 16-year span as CEO, he grew the company to 1,000 stores worldwide with sales of $5 billion.