Morrisons chief executive Dalton Philips has drawn on American military survival tactics used during the Vietnam War to galvanise his forces as he bids to revitalise the embattled grocer.

Philips urged staff to ignore Morrisons’ critics and cited the Stockdale Paradox, which advocates confronting the harsh reality of a situation while retaining faith in ultimately prevailing.

He was speaking at Morrisons’ National Kick Off conference in Liverpool on Tuesday.

The reference suggests Philips believes that, while he knows there is a long, hard road ahead in turning around Morrisons, he is confident his strategy will succeed.

The Stockdale Paradox is named after former US military officer James Stockdale, a tortured prisoner of war who survived the Vietnam War. Stockdale warned against the thinking of optimists who bury their heads in the sand and are deluded by false hope. 

Philips is battling hard to put Morrisons on the offensive after sales plummeted over Christmas and the City questioned the pace of its strategy to launch online and expand its convenience arm. 

Kantar Worldpanel data released this week showed Morrisons’ share fell to 11.3% from 11.8% year on year in the 12 weeks to February 2.

Philips attempted to galvanise staff to hit back at rivals and flex its fresh food credentials.

Philips said: “We’ve been strengthening our plan to ensure that we can thrive in this changing market. We are a value-led grocer, committed to low prices, and dedicated to great quality fresh food, with friendly, skillful service at our heart.

“To me, Morrisons needs to stand for value without compromise. That means you don’t need to compromise on the price and you definitely don’t need to compromise on the quality or sustainability of the fresh food you buy from us.”

A Morrisons spokesman said: “We have to be realistic in the short term as we face a challenge, but this is a long game and we are making the right long-term calls.”

One Morrisons insider who was at the conference told Retail Week: “Dalton was defensive and he went to great lengths to talk about the spirit of the top team.

“A lot of people say there’s a ceiling to the discounters’ growth but Dalton recognises there is a new dawn to their growth.” 

A Morrisons manager said: “Dalton knows he is under pressure and I think he’s up for the fight. But there needs to be some clear leadership because morale feels pretty low.”

Morrisons’ founding family, which has a 9% stake, is understood to have courted private equity firms in an attempt to take it private, it emerged this week.