I’ve worked in the tech startup scene, retail sales, and real estate, mostly in operational roles, either as an owner or in a manager’s role. I was also a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps with two tours in Iraq. I feel qualified to answer the question of what could businesses learn most from the military. More specifically, what shortfalls are prevalent in the business world, have a solution which the military has overcome?
To me, the answer to that question comes down to training. What I have noticed most outside of the Marines was that the rest of the world doesn’t actually put any investment into training. Sure, they might get convinced to allow their associates to go to a conference a few times a year, mostly to get drunk on the company dime and three days away from their tool of a boss, but they have no clue what the real value of training is. I’m not even sure if most businesses would know how.
Consider this, 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, a new employee is hired. Woohoo! A lot of companies welcome you aboard for a two week honeymoon phase, then you better knock down walls in the next month or you just aren’t good enough. You 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 you go with a modest severance package so that you 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 good strategy. Keep only the strong and we will be strong. Kill the weak! Rawr! Yeah, tell that to the Marines. That isn’t how they work so you should stop that nonsense, too.
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 closer to the finish 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 and absolutely no progress over the course of a single year? All of a sudden, sink or swim is starting to look pretty stupid, huh?
Would you like a better solution? Now consider this, the United States military has to work, obviously, one of the most difficult jobs in the world. They have world wide responsibility over trillions of dollars worth of equipment and oversee what amounts to one of the world’s largest logistical support networks. The average age of the Marine Corps is 20 and you know what? 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. I haven’t even mentioned anyone shooting at you. What’s most surprising? Almost none of them are degreed. Virtually all the labor force is made of only fresh high school grads and not even the best and brightest of them. They possess almost no formal educations in their fields that most people work for years just to get on their resume before even starting their job. 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.” How do you explain that?
Training. Look, in the military, people aren’t expendable. It’s a contradiction of the stereotype we get from movies and such, but a front line troop is a valued and irreplaceable asset. They are viewed, quite literally, as an investment to the United States military. It’s odd to think that the military places a higher value on a low performing high school graduate 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. The military doesn’t. In the military, you have this person and that is all you get. You can’t hire another. You can’t replace them with someone else. You can’t fire him. You’re stuck, and so is he. If he is lost, for any reason, the job of the rest of the unit suddenly because exponentially harder. He has to make the grade. The training, the discipline, the yelling and the constant rehearsals are all part of making sure that that Marine or soldier succeeds in his mission and returns home. More so than that, it is a known truth that his success will also be bringing back others as well.
In business, the attitudes are much “nicer”. Everyone is polite. No one can be offended or HR has to be involved. It certainly feels like everyone is getting the respect they feel they are entitled to, but motivations are much more selfish. An employee is only as valuable to you as the money he can make for you.
Return on Investment
Didn’t realize how shallow the business world really is, did you? So here is my advice. Over the next few weeks, I am going to break down how the military utilizes focuses on the art of training to progress the arts of warfare and passing that knowledge on to future generations. I will also provide some advice on steps your company can take to be a more evolutionary company by utilizing them. Everything that follows will are parts of the training culture that are all taken very seriously in the military. When you are in your quiet time as a leader, you need to think about how to implement them in your company or area of responsibility if you wish to focus not only on growing, but on growing your people. Make to sure to follow this blog for updates for more.
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