Sunday, November 29, 2009

From the General

I have had the opportunity to work for and with a number of retired military generals who transitioned into industry during my career. Some have made the move relatively seamlessly and others it took a little more effort. Whenever I’ve had the opportunity, in a casual setting, I like to ask them, “What are the major differences you notice between leading major military operations and leading as a business executive?” As you might guess, the responses range from very insightful to rather bizarre.

The other evening, I had my first opportunity to ask the same question to a retired general from outside the United States. His answers were so insightful and honest I thought we all could learn from them. He said there were four main differences: 1) Decisions in the military tend to be more black and white:;2) The overall goal or mission is clearer to everyone in the military; 3) Teamwork is more natural and built into the military process; and 4) There is no runner up in a military operation! He shared that his role in business is to help instill these things within the business environment and gave some examples.

What do you think of these insights? Is there something we can all take from them?


Michael K said...

John -

Thank you for this wonderful and insightful share. While I did not serve in the military myself, aving a "retired" (never really ends - Semper Fi!) Marine for a father, I was provided some of those same foundations.

The culture and difference between the military and BIG business is evident and wide. Mandates, Teamwork and make a good decision and all support it is quite contrary to the "indecision by committee" plague that impacts too many businesses.

I applaud the organization's having hired the General. I wish the General all the best and hope that they're really ready to allow him to have them help themselves. That will be the real challenge!

Don Schepens said...

Its funny. In the transition from military to business I see military analogies used a lot. Marketing war, attacks, etc. The biggest difference in business I guess is that if you make the wrong decision people (usually) aren't killed.

As to the rest, usually the objective is quite clear and teamwork is certainly built in (but you spend 6 months or so with everyone living together while you indoctrinate them).

Melissa Albert said...

I agree with the General's insights especially the second and third one. I have recently experienced mixed messages regarding vision and mission and how service delivery models sometimes benefit the bottom line more than customers. I very much understand that in business the bottom line is always extremely important, but it's the people within your business who help achieve this and they should receive impeccable service in order to deliver impeccable results. I believe there is yet much to be learned from organizations such as the military including "true" teamwork, looking out for the best interest of all and maintaining your values and integrity.

Steve Christensen said...


Great questions to be asking. It would appear the only organization in any government that can run effectively is the Military. Not only because of such great leaders but because of the four differences stated. Those in the military wish they were treated better as its customers, but from an organizational perspective it is highly effective. Contrast that to other parts of the government or private sector business. Private sector business better be better aligned towards its customers or its operational effectiveness is zero. If the private company is aligned toward the customer and has higher operational effectiveness, then it is an industry leader. Those non-military parts of the government lack any sense of the customer and are incredibly dysfunctional operationally.

Small teams are more effective than larger in private business because it is easier to align with the four differences (minus the lethal part). Larger teams become inherently more bureaucratic and political and therefore less effective. It appears the bureaucracy stems from miss alignment with goals, dithering leaders who can't make black or white decision, teamwork dissension built upon confusion and a lack of trust and an unfortunate ability to hide in the company and avoid termination (lethal action equivalent in business terms).

The challenge to any leader today is to be able to keep small teams working effectively and coordinate multiple teams into an overall mission. The boot camp of the military not only trains the individual it requires adapting to a team. Not entirely sure how many new employees would want to have a 6 week boot camp that challenges the body and the mind and evolves the team, but I would imagine those that do would be significantly more effective. Strong leaders with the ability to act decisively and clearly state goals will survive in any environment. However, the toxic nature of their environment and the esprit d corp of the company are regulating factors.

Fay Bales said...

Very interesting John. I am curious as to where focus on bottom line lies. Perhaps #2? Isn't this a major focus for leading business and not military? I would say leading as a business executive major focus IS on profit as it would differ from leading major military operations. Just thought I share my thoughts. Thank you.

Padric O'Rouark said...

Ambiguity is not well tolerated by those who have operated for any length of time with clear rules and regulations. In the aerospace and military aviation business there is far more black and white, yes or no. In commercial aviation that was largely the case until ten years ago when the bean counters and former and wanna-be automotive managers got control. Aviation is a complex business.

Their latest product offering reminds me of why Napoleon lost when he tackled Russia and winter set in. Both the Germans and the French learned that stretching out your supply lines over vast distances in a harsh (business-warfare) ‘climate’ is a large mistake.

In this case they might have benefited from someone with a military mind, clear thinking and experience.

Consider the newly retired career officer trying to transition to business. I knew a man who was worth his weight in diamonds. A master chief with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, masters in business and admin, as well as a bachelors in psychology. He formerly ran a large Air Force jet fighter and transport engine rebuild facility and they (the nonmilitary) placed him in a small parts assembly facility. He ended up working for idiots and incompetents until he left for a better job.

Not being former military, it has bee my privilege to work for and with X-military. I have several former military working for me and hands down they are more dependable then those who have not had the discipline and experience.

I do not know about higher level officers who may indeed have experienced the political side of life. But everyday my job consists to sorting out process ambiguities for those former military men and woman working for me. It has gotten so bad that most of the employees will not seek advice from their own managers because they are incompetent at doing anything but meetings, delegation, attendance taking and creative excuse scapegoating.

Some have worked their way up from the 'ranks' so they get buried in the work their less competant peers sluff-off on them.

I wish we had more clear-thinking military personnel higher up the food chain. I guess there are not enough harvard graduated military patriots out there...

Bruce Hoag, PhD said...

I doubt that there's anything like as much teamwork as he suggests. My own research has demonstrated that those who lead or manage and those who are led or managed have very different views about what's actually going on in any organization. My monthly newsletter is devoted to considering these conflicting opinions.

Karin Wills said...

One thing that comes to mind when I read these "insights"-what happens to creativity and innovation in this regime? Businesses need those activities to stay ahead of the curve or at the very least within the curve. Teamwork is important to some aspects of every business, but what if teamwork goes too far, that it stifles ones ability to create and bring forth ideas that ensure the business will be viable in the future.

Andrew Halonen said...

I think a major difference between leading a military operation and running a company is focus. In battle, we understand who is the enemy. When you go to a company and ask, "what business are we in?," it's likely you will get as many answers as questions asked. A car company performs R&D, builds cars, sell credit, leases & sells cars, etc. Then they report to Wall Street and their employees. With so many diversions from the design & manufacture of a car, it's no wonder the lines between tasks is not clear. Look at the universities in America today....they don't just educate & perform research, they have stores selling books, clothing, supplies, and food. They offer outside services like catering, housing, consulting, and entertainment. They have a full engineering staff to build housing. The offerings are so broad beyond education, it's no wonder there is confusion on the mission.

Michael Farrell said...

Vets in general have strange adventures during transition. However, this guy seems to have summarized it really well and I suppose its kind of a universal thing. Grunts get along fine with grunts across national lines; I have to retired PLA acquaintances in Shanghai who thought the old American First Sergeant was very cool. Since one of them had been in charge of teaching martial arts to the Shanghai garrison, I figured that was a good thing.

I'm not sure about the black and white part; a lot of decisions in the military do involve multiple shades of gray. That said, with clarity to mission and outcomes, the grays become less pronounced. Teamwork is definitely more common as is trust. I used to do some executive education with submarine officers and chiefs, and they all said that they didn't trust anybody...I asked them how well they functioned a few days into a cruise without sleeping? Well, they trust everybody on the the boat to do their job...I pointed out that in the military, you might not trust someone with your wallet, your car, your keys, your wife or your pets, but you naturally trust them with your life.

The idea that there is no runner up is pretty focused and clear. Of course, in daily operations as opposed to combat, there are lots of runners-up. Difference being, there is more loyalty and grace shown to those who fall by the wayside. Piss off the boss in the Army, and you might get a lousy job, but you still have a job. Not so much in the private sector. As a result, the services inspire more independent thinking at their best; more critical thinking; more insight.

Finally, the services -- all services -- teach everyone to take calculated risks. In the world of private industry, risk aversion is not only encouraged but often the unbreakable rule. That's sad, and makes the transition harder for a lot of us, grunt through general, seaman to admiral.

Lisa Moats said...

I like #s 2 and 3; the commercial and DoD sectors could definitely benefit from some lessons on how to achieve these standards.

However, black and white has no place in business. It's needed in the military to maintain discipline, but b&w thinking in the business world is a success killer. Imagination, risk taking, and thinking outside the box are what drive a successful business.

Nick Brehaut said...

1. That is because military decisions do not include a commercial aspect or market variables. More of the factors that can affect the overall outcome of a military mission can be controlled, negated or ameliorated; than is the case in a purely civilian, business environment.
2. Its only clearer because it comes through a strict hieriarchial system which dilutes the Commanders Intent into the bite sized pieces for each subordinate Commander. Often military Commanders are more constrained than their civilian counterparts in their freedom of action and limits of exploitation.
3. I should hope teamwork is built into all organsations. It is a statement of the blindingly obvious that miltary teamwork is strong, military personnel train daily and practice drills repeatedly to instill teamwork.
4. Except the defeated, dead or wounded - on whichever side.

Kellie Auld said...

Having had several years in a policing environment (para-military organization) I would have to say, as Bruce does; that it depends on where you're sitting in the chain of command as to what your perception of the world is. I will concur that when decisions are made, they are made and followed. If you don't agree with the decision, there isn't a lot of room for discussion. Businesses seem to have a bit more apprehension around decision-making. (That's just my view of the world.) Having come from that background and now being in HR, I think there are some good things that businesses could learn and having clear communication around what the vision and expectations are of their people is definitely one of those thigns.The absoloute best orientation to the worksite and on-boarding processes I've ever had were those I received in the policing world. There were mentorships and strong leadership models from the start. I cannot name one single business I have worked in since that has had even a smidgen of the level of commitment that was provided to me then. The teamwork and camradarie was strong - we all felt as though we belonged to one big - albiet dysfunctional at times - family. I don't see that as being true any longer. I also don't know that the vision is as clear as it once was (speaking from where policing is now to where it was then) and I don't think that just blindly following your leader is as acceptable today either.

Nabil Signora said...

I think you missed the heart of the message. Leadeship is flexibility and the willingness to teach and learn, inspire and be inspired, motivate and be motivated.

I just started reading a book titled Rules & Tools for Leaders by retired general Perry M. Smith, PhD. I highly recommend it even though I am only 30 pages into it.

Chris Mason said...

I worked, as an outsider with (US) military people in the 80s in Germany.
Since then I worked with various multinationals at various levels in HR.
I have become convinced that the best leaders in both worlds were those that demonstrated the proven leadership behaviors: building strong relationships and alliances, setting clear vision, direction goals, being comfortable with strategy and tactics, building and aligning the team, listening to the team's ideas before making a decision, praising and rewarding for superior performance. All this with a hint of charisma and a lot of humility.

The difference is that in the military, the end game is (perhaps) around attack and defending against countries and people whereas in industry its around selling more and making money.
Also, in the military you sometimes don't have much time to seek consensus from the team before making a decision, but it still I think needs to be done.

As I see it, traditionally, style in the military was always seen as more top down (in some organizations too for that matter) and so more difficult for ex-soldiers to adapt to an organization which is perhaps more into an organization culture of teamwork, alignment, consensus etc., The same applies of course the other way around.

Finally, this is I think the crux of the issue, can this person's style of leadership (or lack of it) really adapt to the culture of this organization. Has the person asked themselves: is this the culture I can thrive and be successful in, will my skills be needed here, whichever way they are? And this applies to us all, not just military people doesn't t?
Why many are not successful in the first 12 months is precisely because there was no org/culture fit.

Chris Mason

David Vernon said...

Military operations are similar, but not identical, to business operations. Military missions are essentially political - capture this objective, destroy that one, defeat this enemy, support that ally. Business is about dollars on the bottom line. However, the principles that lead to success in the military (that is, the modern military) are the same in business:

1) Understand the mission and the objectve
2) Measure what matters to track your consumption of resources and your progress toward the objective and toward the successful completion of the mission
3) Empower your subordinates to use their own heads to achieve the goals you have assigned to them
4) When not engaged in the mission itself, train for it.
5) Respect the chain of command, but do not stop thinking. You are obligated to obey the lawful orders of your superiors, to argue with the unwise ones, and to disobey the unlawful ones.
6) It is the obligation of high command to make decisions wisely, to stick to them as long as they remain wise, and to change them as required as circumstances change. Your ego is a handicap, not an asset. Accomplish the mission, achieve the objective, and never mind your own feelings.

I am sure this stuff is in the Perry Smith book...

Robert Chautard Jensen said...

In the military if an officer is too rigid and authoritarian the troops will not follow him at critical moments and the risk of failure can include loss of life, often by friendly fire.

In business when a leader is too authoritarian the results can be similar and equally devestating to such leaders and their employees.

Discipline in the military is more rigid and this has benefits, whereas creativity in the workplace can balance out the difference.

One is not necessarily better than the other.

Olivier Valton said...

I have worked with military people joining the industrial domain. What I have learnt from them is about the specificity of military operation: when lives are at risks you cannot afford the back and forth in the decision or execution process. Then, I have noted that some domains or positions , including possible lethal risk, as airplane pilot, or working on off-shore platforms, are run with the same set of skills or values. As if similar situation lead to similar behavior...
Finally I wouldn't say that these values cannot be transferred in the industrial domain, but I do not have a lot of experiences with "ex-military" manager who have successfully manage business companies, just based on military values or skills.

Olivier Valton

Michael Chevalier said...

A point, my friends! Not all, not even most military work involves combat. A small % of the work is 'At the point of the spear'. Most is support work of an almost infinite kind, from logistics to intelligence. What I found in my service was that there was cohesion in many more ways than in civilian life. Some was shared danger or difficulty. The military culture has been designed for centuries to process young civilians into soldiers, sailors and marines. It is designed to build cohesion. And the overall goal of national security is noble ground that is rarely challenged as a good thing. It breeds a pointed goal. We nearly lost that during the Vietnam and portions of the cold war but seem to have recaptured it.

To this point. One of the first training films I was shown was the Forrestal fire. It was the horrific accident that John McCain was involved with and nearly sank the carrier. It was a dramatic lesson in the need for the morphing of self into a team, to save the ship and everyone's lives. I have never forgotten that lesson.

I have rarely seen that cohesion in a civilian setting. The shared danger might come from helping to keep a location from failing but it is rare to have an entire firm from having that point of pride and belonging.

One more thing. The military is very much pointed at creating and rewarding competency and skill building. You may not know that if you have not been on the inside but it is true. That is usually parsed out far less frequently when you have to worry about training and labor budgets in a civilian setting.

These things do not prevent poor human behaviors from near wrecking the desired outcome, just as in the civilian world. Our whole experience in Korea was nearly an epic disaster due to Douglas MacArthur's gigantic ego. And, just look to GM to see the same happening in the business world.

Marietta C. Baglieri said...

Hello John .. yours is one of the more interesting posts I've seen recently, so thank you .. although, admittedly, I'm not sure I completely agree with all of them, and I'll detail what leads me to that statement:

1. Well, they should be .. but is what is decided by upper command always translated and carried out, down the ranks? (Interpretation in play?)

2. I'm not sure I agree that what the troops believe the goal to be is necessarily even "similar" to what is intended (Is deception in play?)

3. I'll agree with this one, in theory .. although different bodies of military have always competed with each other .. (Natural behavior?)

4. Isn't there always a runner up, of sorts? Don't people with the same time and actual qualifications sometimes get passed over, or even chosen, as a result of the person making the choice? .. (Favoritism?)

As structured as I know (and believe) the military to be, there are common traits inherent to everything .. from elitist attitudes to natural rivalry .. putting them in the military doesn't change the fact they're human .. it just sets out clearer consequence if you don't adhere or break the rules -- but THAT doesn't always happen either ..

I think like any situation, there's positive and negative aspects .. and the military experiences these same "glitches" .. but enjoyed thinking about it .. thank you John!

Stuart Rosenberg said...

John... Insights 1 through 3 seem to be reasonable but I have my doubts about #4. I guess he means that in combat there is either a winner or a loser but is that what we really want in civilian life - winner take all and the loser be dammed. Is this what we want to teach the next generations. I already see it in sports as the attitude is: if we don't win the championship our entire season is a loss. As if all the hard work to get there is meaningless. Do we want this attitude to pervade our industries and our economy. This attitude does not breed fair competition and allow all companies to survive and flourish and thereby employ a nations citizens. Summing up perhaps we should adapt numbers one through three, in some fashion, but number four needs further revisiting and discussion.

Robert Gardner said...

In my experience, the General is absolutely correct in his appraisal. To simply summarize and compare and contrast between the military and corporate America is that the typical military candidate ultimately knows what he or she is volunteering for. They want to be a part of an organization where honor, traditional values and purpose greater than one's self are valued. The culture is readily present to meet mission objectives and trust in the serviceman/servicewoman next to you is always there. They expect to follow a chain of command and are expected to lead others ultimately to meet mission accomplishment. Espirit de corps are also present becuase of the trials and passage by which all military personnel go through to become a Marine, Sailor, Soldier, or Airman. That right of passage creates an invisible bond accross all military personnel and veterans.

In corporate America, people are looking to typically for a career in an industry they like or think they'll like. While espirit de corps is not typical in the business environment, the general labor force did not volunteer to take direction from manager or supervisors while typically not knowing the end objective nor to conform to ever changing global business environments. They also are typically not comfortable with changing their methods or culture to meet the business mission objectives. Because the typical labor force comes from a various backgrounds (similar to the military) but are NOT connected by an invisible bond nor right of passage to serve a greater cause, often this develops into what we typically see everyday in management and workforce relations issues often referred to as office/workplace politics.

Anonymous said...

Hello John,

I may be a bit of a maverick here, but have always felt that there are a lot of lessons which business can take over from the military.

1. Decisions need to be clear, and unequivocal. Employees respond more positively if there is no doubt in people's mind about the direction...see Point 2. That doesn't mean to say that if the decision is wrong, we can't reverse out of the cul de sac, regroup. and course correct. This is where the military sometimes has a I need to give examples???
3. When there is a common enemy and threat, team dynamics become well pronounced. Of course, all the rigorous military training does not encourage questioning behaviour...however, certain companies do seem to thrive in times of adversity...the culture encourages closing of ranks. May be interesting to look at such companies in more detail to understand this why particular cultural trait has developed.
4. There is a business belief that future success will be based on cooperative and collaborative relationships. Sounds great, but in the end self-interest usually prevails. So in the end it's about winners and losers...or creative self destruction.

Best regards

MAREK GUT said...

Wow, this is very exciting discussion that comes from someone working at Sikorsky and with comments from an actual General. Well I just hope that this is not new news for everyone in any industry or company in the world. Trillions, billions, millions or even thousands it just doesn't matter how much the company is making or how many people are working. Lack of discipline and training is one aspect that all companies in the world, not just USA, is missing. Other aspect is that people working for someone else do not feel encouraged enough to put their neck for someone else. It's always like this since the beginning of time. Employees are set to this kind of society and global culture that you will work but you not need to enjoy or risk your life. Higher management or even just the guy sweeping floors they have the same mind set and aren't prepared to risk it all for their fellow employee. At the military you are to be there no matter what because there is a greater picture then just going for the check, they are there to protect the country, their home that is theirs. At work we are there because we have to, at the military we are there because we want to and we need to for our self’s. A simple comment on the forum doesn't even grasp the difference in culture set in a company comparing to military standards. Lets be realistic and not kid our self’s on this, corporate or a small company it doesn't matter the culture is the same except the size of the company.

Brad Burchnell said...

I had this very same conversation with my daughter on the way to taking her to the airport after Thanksgiving Day. I am a former Chief Petty Officer that had the privilege of serving our nation for about 15 years before departing service. However, as I have read through the responses and the initial posting of this topic, I find the responses of particular interest.

In each of the respondents (previous to my own) I found what I believe to be anecdotal truths (at least to some degree) that I hold as well. There are numerous differences in the military and business, but there are similarities as well. Knowing your enemy for example or rather your competition is paramount in understanding where your position is relative to the rest of the market. This is essential today and a number of companies do not take the requisite time with developing the tools to fully exploit it.

Secondly, I also agree that there is more of an automotive flair beginning to influx within the industry with mixed outcomes. The real outcome unfortunately is ambiguity. In order to have a clear understanding of the goal it behooves the leadership cadre to develop a fully tactical approach to business. We have entered into a manufacturing malaise of sorts by not establishing foundations for appropriate execution. More to the point we fail to plan financially (business and marketing plans) and along this same point we have also failed in the basics for our staff providing the understanding of the direction that they need to go and the time frame to achieve it. While black & white decisions may appear to be passé, still a decision process should be standardized with a modicum of understandability by our staffs. I would offer risk strategies (whatever their basis) require a process with heuristics as a component.

One final comment during this response that occurred to me, diffusion as Mr. Halonen alluded to is quite a large barrier to succeeding today. We enter into so many roles that we fail to recognize or even assess our core competencies. Furthermore, we fail to revisit those core competencies to evaluate if they are still an accurate reflection of the state of our company. Each aspect of the four considerations that the General identified are not only relevant but are essential to effective business.

Douglas A. Duesing said...

Solid insight. I like #2 & #3, and think that because there is no runner-up in military operations (point #4), there is a necessity to make black-and-white decisions (point #1). In business, there are 'runner-up' companies that are very profitable. In civilian life and business, there is a 'negotiation of ideas' that takes place that involves more 'colorful' thinking and discussion among varying ranks within a company. These 'colorful ideas' bring innovation to products and processes, and provide a competitive advantage to those companies.

Greg Waite said...

I enjoyed reading this and thought I would comment with respect to my own military experience. While I never came close to the rank of General, I was selected for Staff Sergeant prior to ending my 4 year enlistment. Perhaps a more "bottom looking up" view than vice versa...

Decisions in the military tend to be more black and white

I think this is certainly true, but its probably more important to expound upon the reasons why it is often the case. Even the most capable General -- similar in many respects (responsibility, authority) to a CEO of a firm -- has a boss. Whether that boss is another General or an Armed Services Secretary -- they are part of an organization whose heirarchical structure is rivaled by only the Roman Catholic Church (I'm am one so I suppose it is OK to joke about it, no?). Also, the military does things the military way, without regard for best processes or many innovative practices - bringing me to #2...

The overall goal or mission is clearer to everyone in the military

This is certainly true as well, unfortunately it's often due to not fostering what I would call a "creative dissent" environment. Don't get me wrong, it is absolutely necessary for the military - the second a soldier starts questioning his commanding officer or another superior the integrity of the entire organization is called into question. However, in a non-combat environment it doesn't bode well for productivity. Again, necessary, but not conducive to the business world / private sector where creativity is essential.

Teamwork is more natural and built into the military process

Based on my own experiences I would generally agree with this statement; the best friendships I've formed in my life were in the military and continue to this day. Outside of direct reports (which I never had a problem with) and friends in other military functions, however, I would say I've met those I wouldn't consider to fit the oft cited and much cliched "best and brightest" label borne by patriotic-intentioned news and political figures...

One inescapable fact of military life is the need to memorize acronyms. One such acronym most anyone will run across is something dubbed a R.O.A.D. Sergeant. A R.O.A.D. Sergeant will make any coordinated effort to get something done impossible beyond belief. A R.O.A.D. Sergeant will say it is not his responsibility to do "Task A" because someone didn't initial a form in the correct spot.

R.O.A.D. stands for Retired On Active Duty

[Un]fortunately, you don't need to enlist in the military to find a R.O.A.D. Sergeant, you can visit your local Department of Motor Vehicles for an equally [un]enjoyable experience.

There is no runner up in a military operation!

Can't really argue with that one !

I realize the above comments come off as critical or even pessimistic, but truly they are just opinions -- largely anecdotal and personal observations. I wouldn't trade my time in for anything and it's made me into what I am today - for that I am grateful. However, I consider myself a rational individual and every organization has its flaws - necessary or unnecessary.

Something that is common to both the military and private sector??

"If you want to know the character and performance of a General, don't ask another General, ask the troops on the ground"

Bruce Hoag, PhD said...

Addded afterward.

Alan Dunbar said...


I think one key point brings your first 3 items together; Clear Communication. The Military are taught to communicate plans and to make sure that every member of the team understands the objective. That in itself promotes team "buy in". I think the civilian mindset of "Get ahead or get another job" is detrimental to team play. Ironic really how rank and position is more of an influencer in civilian life than it is in the military.

Bill Duncan said...

One of the best military leaders I ever encountered is Brig Gen Vincent Brooks - 1st Cav - who was, at the time I tagged along with him, running Multi-Divisional Brigade - Baghdad. Tremendous intellect, and a great deal of personal charisma. Even he was caught up in the politics of the US Government, though, and it has stymied his career. I also worked at Boeing Integrated Defense Systems some years earlier, when Admiral Lockard came aboard to lead the Engineering team there. So I watched and supported these guys on both sides of the government / privae industry "wall" a number of times. Yes, they struggle with the transition - but in my experience, these guys understand how to change with working conditions and deal with the ambiguity of business conditions as well as anybody who ever came up through the big business schools. Most of them have advanced degrees - Geneal brooks, for example is a West Point graduate. He could be at McKinzie or one of the big A&D OEMs, but he loves his country more than he loves money - a dying breed.

So here is my view: Ambiguity shouldn't be accepted as a matter of fact - it needs to be fought back, and resisted like the plague. Company goals and objectives need to be made crystal clear, quantified, and locked into individual managers' performance objectives. The kind of business people who spend their time weaving their way through vaguaries and nuances and doublespeak are great for hitting end-of-quarter results that ultimately sink the company. These guys tell people whatever they need to hear to make the sale, with no regard for whether it can or will be delivered. They don't belong in operations roles, or in C suites. The companies who leave these people in charge usually get what they deserve eventually - GM and Bearing Point are recent examples. Telling the truth - and black-and-white performance measurement to quantitative objectives - are the hallmarks of meaningful success, and I am praying that God will preserve some core of American businesses that hang onto those values. If He doesn't we are truly lost.

Ratan Shrivastava said...

I go with the insights shared by the General Officer. I have been a military officer for 18 years, who went to a premier B School,on a sabbatical, and moved into Defense Consulting. I can say,the transition has been relatively smooth..
I would particularly concur with the General on point 1 and 3 - and wish if we could replicate the great team work which is inherent in the military fabric and clarity of decisions.
I would also,suggest, the overall command and control and the structured feedback mechanism, if adopted, for the corporates, could work wonders

Enikő Pongrácz said...

In my POV the major difference is due to
A) the autocratic vs democratic leadership styles
B) those reaching into a more operational environment survived better than those reaching into a strategic environment - I mean here market follower companies vs market leaders. Same for autocratic vs democratic environment - but also person depending.
According to above, I can comment your source's view:
1) black and white vs grey - communication style - autocratic, telegraphic vs sandwich messages. In business diplomacy is woven from the lowest levels ( the smiling cashier at walmart), in army only above a certain level (those connecting outside groups/partners/ suppliers/customers/alliance/enemy/etc)
=External relations & communication
2) direct, telegraphic communication, tasks are split up to the smallest detail according to level/grade - the same in case of follower co's, leader co's are just giving the goal and the actions are up to individual decision (emphasized to discover the stars)
=Internal relations & communication / Detail of process mapping
3) teamwork is nurtured by autocracy/ orders given for precise tasks. In business, if communication is vague/ tasks not split & not assigned in the right way + stronger fight for carrier among team members, is leading to weaker teamwork. In the army there is slower carrier path opportunity at lower levels - no rivalry among team members. Army - at higher levels carrier enhancement is more rare - this one matches business - the same pyramid effect.
4) is not included somewhere above ?

note: even the strategy and tactics has roots in the army, the 'built up' and the delivery/materialization is totally different. Nowadays the business strategy needs creative skills vs military strategy needs problem solving skills - though in certain situations both skills are called innovation.

In sum - the problem is more complex, just to be analyzed on a half a page.
And making such a comparison, I would put in a third column the governmental jobs :))

Steven Zalesch said...

As to the last point, there is frequently no runner-up in a business competition, either. There used to be a greater tolerance for niche players and second-place competitors, but with government anti-monopoly enforcement in disfavor, the runner-ups now get swallowed up.

The other three points might really flow from the second point: lack of mission clarity. This is not universal, and doesn't have to be. I can think of two main reasons for lack of mission clarity. One is leaders who lack communication skill or vision. The other is the times when the leaders do not want to disclose the mission even to their team, either to retain strategic advantage or because their actual mission is embarrassing to admit. One example of an embarrassing mission is indicated by corporate leaders who use company funds to buy back stock when the price is already at an all-time high - the real mission here is to maximize the value of their stock options.

I really think that the quality of American management reached a peak in the 1950s. Since then, top-level management people have improved their skill at blaming others (unions, government) for their organizations' bad effects on the stakeholders (especially the workers) and have improved their ability to divert cashflow into their own pockets, but the communities they live in just suffer. If management had some conscience and did their jobs better, perhaps the differences listed by the General would be much less noticeable.

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

I'm not sure of any if you have (any )take away(s) from this encounter.
Firstly, how many stars did he have; anything less than *** I wouldn't want to guess without knowing the General. One star and two stars Can be competent, but no way to determine without more information. Ollie North was a Colonel, but he reported directly to the President; and Col North brilliant is brilliant. Secondly, the answers he gave are his subjective findings. I tried to get funding many years ago for website;
e-einstein; couldn't raise enough money. My thesis is is that the earnings of a FIRM are a function of Competency of the staff and the Management Culture they are bathed in. Hence C x MC; hence e= mc squared.

Kevin Willis said...

John, good post my commit is on #3, it seems in many medium sized companies there is so much office / departmental politics, profits are lost from within, without outside competition

Doug Robertson said...

That there is no "runner up" in a military operation may be the very reason the other three insights are present. In my limited experience when that type of basic survival situation is faced by an individual, a team, or an organization, the goals, the teamwork, and the decision making process all come together. As a post script, It is great to see the Blackhawks flying in and out of Horseheads, NY.

Anonymous said...

I am a former Marine of 24 years who has now been in the corporate setting for four years. I must agree with the general's comments. It is more than troubling to work with those who are scared to make decisions, and when they do there is always a scapegoat close by. At my company when the customer becomes tired of the lack of processes and late deliveries, the company's solution is to fire someone and tell the customer the problem has been fixed. The result is a long string of innocent casualties who truly cared about the company, while the company continues down the road to disaster.

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