Attention! Military concepts can enrich business strategy
If U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 has taught us anything recently with its successful missions in Pakistan and Somalia, it's that the military gets the job done. For some corporate bosses, getting employees to snap to attention and maintain this kind of laser-like focus on the job would be a welcome strategy.
According to retired U.S. Marine Chief Warrant Officer Andre' L. Boyer, EdD, businesses can learn from and adopt many of the military's operational and organizational strategies to boost both employee and company success.
"The military's vision and approach to effective leadership can translate well to all levels of business management," says Boyer, an instructor in the MBA program at the University of Phoenix Iwakuni Education Center in Japan.
While each of the military's four branches likely have different approaches to leadership, both Boyer and Matt Butler, a Master of Information Systems and Management alum and active U.S. Air Force officer, agree businesses can learn from the strengths common among military branches.
Reinforce the mission.
Military branches consistently remind servicemembers of their individual and overall missions, from symbols on uniforms to direct communication, says Butler. It reminds them that if they do well at this job, they're serving a greater humanitarian good.
Businesses already set their missions, from product offerings and profit goals to core values and corporate culture. But, Boyer adds, businesses must remind employees to understand the larger, global perspective of how their department impacts the company. "We, as workers, tend to have this silo mentality and only see the world from a micro level," he says.
Solve problems creatively and efficiently.
Military discipline teaches servicemembers to focus, preaching achievement of the mission over all else and encouraging leaders to find the right solutions. "In the military, a leader is given a mission phrased as an objective ('take the hill') and then he or she adapts the mission using the Commander's Intent to the environment to determine how to best achieve the objective ('circle around and attack from behind')," says Garland Williams, associate regional vice president for the University of Phoenix Military Division. "In the corporate world, this mission adaptability is often missing causing delayed decision making."
Get into the "OODA loop."
The military defines missions by identifying with what the military calls the enemy's combat mindset, or "OODA loop" — observe, orient, decide and act. The point is to get through the OODA process faster than your opponent which, in a corporate context, would mean getting to market faster than the competition.
"When you're in a firefight and the enemy is across from you and you need to gauge your next step as a Marine ... you must understand the enemy," explains Boyer. Likewise, understanding a competitor's mindset — and even a customer's — can help businesses faced with market shifts and budget changes to better address their missions.
An aviator for the military, Butler says a plane must arrive on time for an air fight or precisely calculate coordinates by thousandths of a decimal to properly hit targets. The focus on timing and its underpinnings — precision and finances — are what save or lose lives in the military. He says the same can be said in terms of impacting business output. "When an employee is 10 minutes late to a 30-minute meeting I scheduled, that employee just wasted 33 percent of my time to get my job done," says Butler, owner of a lawn game company he founded in 2009. If companies can get employees to care more about the relationship between punctuality, precision, timing and finances, he believes output fares better.
Motivate the team morale.
Just like employees who work long hours, Butler says, deployed military personnel are not motivated to be away from family and friends, especially during holidays. That's why military commanders keep personal information files (PIFs) on their direct reports, says Butler. These files include personal and family information, past work experience, officer performance reports and even unfavorable reviews. To build a team, he says, a good business leader or boss will know these personal elements so they can effectively motivate individuals.
Adjust, adapt, overcome.
Boyer says there is truth for business behind this military mantra when it comes to remaining tenacious in the face of competition or economic woes. "If we [Marines] are in a situation and it's not working to our advantage, then we have to adjust and adapt our approach to overcome the enemy. It's the same in the business world," he says.