5 Things the Army Taught me about Business
5. COMMANDER’S INTENT
In the military, there is a concept called “Commander’s Intent.” It means that, if all else fails, you will be successful as long as you accomplish the commander’s intent/mission. This helps you focus on what matters most. When you put the first boot on the ground, plans will have to be adjusted; you just cannot clearly and accurately predict how the enemy will engage with you. The Commander’s Intent, or mission objective, is what helps you focus on the ultimate goal, not just busy work.
In business, we at Grunt Style and Alpha Outpost use Commander’s Intent often. For example, in 2014 we were moving Grunt Style into a newly purchased 5.5 Acre, 50,000 SQ FT building to accommodate our rapid growth. I personally tasked the entire move of the company to our Chief Operations Officer (Tim Jensen, AKA Company First Sergeant). We had maps, building layouts, weights, measurements, spreadsheets and slideshows to go over the move. It was a huge move for us, but ultimately I turned to Tim and told him:
“Tim, you will be successful if we are in full production and shipping in our new building, with all of our staff online, NLT (No Later Than), 1200 on Wednesday the 26th.”
We had plenty of everything go wrong, but Tim focused on the mission like a Bull Dog’s bite. He never let go. And we were successful.
If you want your team to be successful, complete your mission. If you just want to feel good, go watch a movie.
4. PLAN, THEN EXECUTE
In the military, I was an Infantry Drill Sergeant with the Army. Every morning we would sit in our A.M. brief with all the other Cadre and talk through the hour-by-hour plan for the day: who, what, when, where, and objectives. This planning helped us train these men for war. We were successful in the Army because we planned it that way. Once a plan was set, we executed according to that plan. Sometimes we’d have to make adjustments, but even then we had plans already for the changes.
In business, every year, my senior leaders and I sit down for days on end, discussing and planning everything for the year to come. Usually, we start this around November and brief the company on the 2nd of January. This plan, which can be just a single page to dozens of pages long, is basically the story, in detail, of how we will conduct business for the new year. Objectives, checkpoints, etc., it’s all in there. In fact, we still write it in the 5-Paragraph Operation Order format. Plans might need to change months later, but the objectives never do, and without the plan, we would just end up wandering around the map (re: any new recruit learning land navigation).
3. TAKE CARE OF YOUR TEAM
In the military, a good Non-Commissioned-Officer knows that their life and the lives of their unit depends on the team. Your team’s job is to fight and win wars, and they’ll do it until mission complete or dead. This may sound morbid, but this has been a fact of military life for centuries. Our nation’s freedom depends on that fact. If your warriors know that you have their best interests in mind, even when you’re giving ‘corrective training,’ then they will focus on the mission in front of them. How horrible it is (and yes, I know there are also bad examples out there) if you as a soldier have to worry about your mission and have a mistrust in your leadership.
In business, it is no different. When an employee fell ill not too long ago, they were still new to the team, we thought we could set an example and send a message. This is a scenario that we’ve encountered several times here, so we’ve done different things from providing additional paid days off to tend to their illness or families, to assisting with medical bills. Sending the right message to the team – that we try to have their best interests in mind – is important. Sometimes it works, sometimes we have to try something new, but if your heart is in the right place, your actions will follow.
2. TRAIN – LEAD – MENTOR
In the military, specifically during my Drill Sergeant years, I lived by this motto: “Train, Lead, Mentor.” This is exactly the cycle of training during Initial Entry Training (IET) for new recruits. We would train or teach a class like setting up a patrol base in the field, then we would lead the way by having them follow us through the steps of setting it up. Eventually, after a few weeks, they would be in charge of setting it up. Finally, we would mentor them; watching them lead, reinforcing behavior we wanted repeated, and disciplining behavior we did not.
In business, this is the same process. Take the time to train a new leader or employee, really spend time with them on explaining the what and the WHY you do something. Then have them follow you while you lead the way on that process and finally, mentor-ship. Mentoring never stops; you will always inspect what you expect. Reinforce the behavior you want to be repeated while correcting the behavior you do not.
1. CULTURE COUNTS
In the military, the culture is about pride and patriotism. There are microcosms everywhere of different cultural aspects in different units. This reinforces comradery and esprit de corps. We celebrate our victories; everything you do, every day, is to build the team to function as a better unit.
In business, this is just as important. It’s easy to get lost in the business of making money, but you cannot do it without a good team – and you cannot have a good team if you don’t have a solid foundation of culture. This culture stems from the leadership, by establishing rules, habits, and behaviors. At Grunt Style, we play loud music, put American flags everywhere, and celebrate our little victories every week at our BEER30 meeting on Fridays in our Dining Facility with a beer in everyone’s hand. We’re still a place of business first, but I want to work a place where we have fun and celebrate as often as we can. Life is short, let’s make it a fun and challenging adventure.