Business v/s Military Models – Who wins?
I always believed that “Business is War”. In fact, this is one of our key mantras in here at Blackhawk Partners. Yet I see so many businesses out there who are so shallow in the way they operate that it doesn’t really surprise me anymore how much waste and lost resources are being plundered for the sake of growth.
Look at our military and be the judge.
It is a fact that the United States military today has to work, obviously, one of the most difficult jobs in the world. They have worldwide responsibility for trillions of dollars worth of equipment and oversee what amounts to the world’s largest logistical support network. Every one of them is a master in their specified field by year two and are responsible for some of the most advanced technological systems on the planet. And management? By the time many are twenty-three years of age, they have already been promoted to a leadership role, responsible for a team of trade veterans. Also, their average age is 20. And you know what? Almost none of them are degreed. Virtually all the labor force is made of only high school grads; not even the best and brightest of them. Still, they are somehow made ready to do the missions that are world scale and never lose. Wars may be lost, but that is mainly due to political decisions, yet you have never heard in the last 30 years, “The Marines were pushed out of X.” Further, military people aren’t expendable. It’s a contradiction of the stereotype we get from movies and such, but a frontline troop is a valued and irreplaceable asset and an investment in the United States military.
Compare this to the way business is conducted in Corporate America today.
A new employee is going to be hired. You know that every report you read talks about the importance of the search for new talent because it is so impossibly expensive. Add to this is that the search could take four or five months to find a right fit for some jobs. That’s opportunity costs of an employee not being productive. I’ve seen companies spend tens of thousands in this process. Now, the employee is hired. A lot of companies welcome him aboard for a two-week honeymoon phase, then he’d better knock down walls in the next month or he just isn’t good enough. He failed, better cut our losses. They will then spend the next six months giving impossible tasks to build a case for the failure’s dismissal and then out the door he goes with a modest severance package so that he won’t blab company secrets or bad mouth it to the outside. In the civilian world, most people, at least most people I’ve dealt with, think they did a good job by giving you a chance and then sink or swim. This sounds brilliant and hardcore, so it has to be a good strategy. Keep only the strong and we will be strong. Kill the weak! Yeah, tell that to the Marines. That isn’t how they work.
So you think your startup that created a social network for dog lovers is really hardcore because you just fired your sixth receptionist in 12 months?. Well bravo, you just blew maybe two hundred thousand on a series of failed investments, for a position only paying maybe $35,000 annually, have lost a year of productivity and are nowhere close to the finish line than you were when you started. Don’t forget that you have also lost countless hours yourself, replacing said employees and “training” them. How in the world is a receptionist worth what amounts to hundreds of thousands in straight loss over the course of a single year? All of a sudden, sink or swim is starting to look pretty stupid.
It’s odd to think that the military places a higher value on people than you would treat an Ivy League Summa Cum Laude in Computer Science, but business views everyone as temporary, and only worth a certain economic value. Didn’t realize how shallow the business world really is, did you? Pretty pathetic I would say… wouldn’t you?
My 2 cents as to what you can learn from the military?
1. The military is agile, Business talks Agile. Agile means you reckon the situation (test & learn) and everyone adjusts their mental set based on the facts discovered in the recon. To have everyone adjust their mental set means the whole organization needs to listen to new facts as they are discovered. The military does it routinely in a systematized communication format. Business rarely does it and silos in the organization discover and hoard new facts.
2. Coordination of effort. Military gets that having planes, tanks and troops all shoot in coordination gets lethal results. Business will happily have IT get a gold star while the product is lagging. Sales get the attention while service sucks wind. Rarely is coordination lauded or even talked about
3. Purpose. Keeping your buddies alive gives very focused purpose and cohesion. Sitting in a cubicle hoping for a payout yields no cohesion. Business can learn to have a purpose (beyond money), gather people who believe in the purpose and have them be accountable to their peers for fulfilling the purpose and perhaps some of the cohesion the military enjoys would result.
Bottom Line: The Marines have a saying, “The Marine Corps is a perfect organization made of imperfect people.” A lot of companies today want to be a perfect organization of perfect people. That just isn’t possible. No one is built for the hole you have that you need to be filled. You have to mold them. You have to teach them, grow them, and you have to train them. More importantly, you have to have a culture in your organization that encourages them to learn and grows into it.
I don’t know a lot of companies that accept that people come into the organization flawed and focus on making them better rather than spending millions in recruitment. For all, I know it may not be the best idea for your company, but it works for Blackhawk Partners and the Marines.
Share your thoughts…