What Your Business Can Learn From the Army

By Elaine Dumler

Most people think of the Army and their own business as two entirely separate entities. The fact is the Army is in the business of protecting our country, with a workforce of thousands and processes in place for getting the job done in many different situations. Have you ever thought about how your business can benefit from what the Army already does well? The answers may surprise you.

1. Help your employees deal with business travel challenges: Do your employees travel to meet with clients and customers, forcing them to spend long hours away from their families? When they worry about how their families are coping with the latest business trip they are less focused on the job. In today’s climate, soldiers are deployed more than ever and that puts a strain on them and their families. The Army has seen how the distraction of separations can affect a soldier’s job performance so they provide programs and resources to make family connections a priority. While your employees’ lack of focus may not be life threatening, it certainly can and probably does cost you money. Try providing flex schedules, comp time off and employee/family recreation activities. When they know you respect the balance between their work and family life, it will result in increased productivity while “on the road.”

2. Focus on resilient behavior: Resiliency is the ability to accept the reality of a situation or assignment as it is initially given, take responsibility for making it work, and be innovative enough to improvise a solution as you continue to move forward. Resiliency can help keep employees focused and steady, especially when the economy seems so unstable.

Acceptance:  When a service member receives military orders they may not be happy with it, but they still accept the reality of what needs to be done.

On the business side, your employees need to show the same trait. The ability to accept an assignment at its original face value opens the door for the critical analysis of any challenges that need to be overcome. Only then can forward progress be made. Train your employees to accept that not all conditions will be ideal. Scope creep - when project timing continually changes - may affect your ability to get it done on initial deadline, or the project may expand as other things become important.

Responsibility: Taking responsibility allows decisions to be made. In a combat zone, each soldier knows the specifics of his or her job in that particular situation. Each fits together like a puzzle toward the solution. Responsibility and habit are the basis for split-second decision making, which can literally save lives. There is no time for questions.

Your office has its own “combat zones” and most arise when people play the “blame game.”  If you’re on a team, start off by communicating with each other. Discuss what each person’s responsibility is to the completion of the project and close by asking if each person understands and accepts that responsibility. As roadblocks affect the outcome, you know exactly who might have the ability to solve the problem. This saves your team a huge amount of time - and that translates into monetary savings. The “blame game” often starts when the wrong person is initially approached and taken by surprise.

Innovation: Innovation allows you to imagine possibilities where none seem to exist. When a soldier deploys, the family must imagine the ways they will stay connected and stay strong, while making changes to their everyday lives that incorporate the absence of a family member. On the battlefield, a soldier must immediately access a situation and be able to improvise all the solutions he or she can take to make it to safety when the initial line of defense is cut off. There is always more than one way to solve a problem, and innovative thinkers are the ones who get promoted!

Resilient organizations are filled with innovative thinkers and doers. In the business world, the key is to give people the authority to implement their new ideas. Be willing to say, “get it done” and then remove the boundaries that restrict problem solving. If a group of people are caught in a deadly snowstorm they will discuss how to survive the crisis. Ideas will be analyzed and the best ones implemented. No one has to tell them how, they’ll just do it. It’s amazing what people will come up with on their own.

3. Retain current customers: The Army has learned that retention saves money. It’s important to keep a solider because it costs more to recruit and train new soldiers than to retain those they have. It’s the same with your customers. It costs more to “recruit” new customers than to retain the ones you have and keep them happy. When was the last time you saw an ad that featured discounted services for only current customers? Never! Most ads say something like “discounts for new customers only.” Customer loyalty is extremely important in these economic times. Try a promotion that focuses on your current customers. Make them feel special with retention bonuses or loyalty discounts. A strong customer base is the foundation of your business.

4. Respect leadership:  The Army respects experience and leadership. Can you imagine a platoon of soldiers, all of the same rank, being tasked with an important mission? Of course not. Immediate critical decisions are made by individuals who have experienced the situation before. Leadership and experience should be important to your company, too. It seems that in a time of budget cuts, the first employees to be laid off are those who have been in their positions the longest because they probably have the largest salaries. If you are constantly lopping off the top, you will always be suffering the loss of your company’s most experienced experts. Show that you respect experience as a core value because as you grow, your current leaders will train your leaders of tomorrow.

5. Go to your employees and customers and ask “How are we doing?”: Military families are the customers of the armed forces. They yield amazing influence over the retention of their service members (the army’s employees). By taking care of them and checking in regularly the military gets feedback it can use. They create family readiness groups, support resources, and opportunities for families to be heard and provided for. The Army invests in this “feedback” and your business has the same responsibility to its customers and employees. If you want to know what new products to produce, what trainings to provide and what will create a better work environment, then go directly to the source and ask!

6. Provide resources and training: The first priority of the Army is to have a well- trained force and they provide what’s necessary to get the job done. When the military has a budget cut, training doesn’t take a hit. Lives rely on that well-trained military.

Most businesses don’t acknowledge the importance of training. When the economy suffers and belts need to be tightened, the first thing eliminated is training. How is that productive? You’re trusting the future of your company to individuals who aren’t properly prepared to work in your best interest. A manager once remarked:In today’s workforce no one stays in a job very long so why should I invest money to train them if they’re just going to leave anyway?” The response to that is: “What will it do to your company if you don’t train them and they decide to stay?”

The Army has been a functioning work force for 234 years and is built on sound practices, strong employees and the ability to be resilient in times of stress. Can you build your business on the same foundation?

Read other articles and learn more about Elaine Dumler.

[This article is available at no-cost, on a non-exclusive basis. Contact PR/PR at 407-299-6128 for details and requirements.]

Home      Recent Articles      Author Index      Topic Index      About Us
2005-2017 Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc   ▪   privacy statement