In a few weeks, retailers, restaurants and others across the country will set out to begin to interview, hire and train workers for very busy fall and holiday season. There is nothing new about these hiring trends. What is new is that we can translate and apply military methods to train, integrate and improve workers effectiveness for a more successful season. More effective, confident and engaged workers create a better customer experience. Translating and applying select military skills to business make that customer experience better.
The military methods to be employed are not the techniques of a ferocious, barking drill sergeant that R. Lee Ermey so masterfully played in “Full Metal Jacket.” Rather, these military methods seek to improve employee engagement, discover new ways to do old tasks, place a focus on safety, and ensure that we fulfill the goals and desires of the business owners. Likewise, military Special Operations teams like the Green Berets, Army Rangers and Navy SEAL’s have been using techniques like these for years to improve their operations.
Military to Business Technique #1 – Connect the Team to the Ultimate Mission. In every organization, it is very, very easy for the junior members to lose sight and understanding of what the company is trying to achieve. In some cases, there can be over ten levels of leadership (or more) from the CEO to the lowest level of worker. In all these instances, a great front-line business leader works hard every day to consistently connect the team’s performance and successes to the company’s mission and strategy. Everyone works harder and works better when they know how their actions directly contribute to the company’s goals. Be sure to identify the “why” behind even the most mundane tasks and activities – it helps everyone work harder when they understand.
Military to Business Technique #2 – The After Action Review. The purpose of the After Action Review (AAR) is to have an organization discover how to maintain what they did well and how to discover ways to improve what did not go well. The AAR is used after every major and minor training and operational activity at all levels. Additionally, all leaders are trained how to conduct an AAR. In the AAR, the unit allows every member to participate regardless of rank and the team discusses: (1) what happened, (2) what went well, (3) what did not go well, and (4) what is the plan to fix what did not go well. The AAR is a universal, all encompassing team improvement process to identify areas that need to be improved and how to improve them.
Military to Business Technique #3 – Great Training and Rehearsals Make a Successful Mission. Effective training and challenging rehearsals will make for delivering a truly meaningful customer experience. In the military, individual Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen are all rigorously trained so that they know how to do their job, but also how to fulfill the critical responsibilities of their comrades. More importantly, military formations of large groups of different specialties rehearse day and night, so vital functions of resupply, vehicle repair and casualty evacuation could be accomplished together flawlessly all the while ensuring the primary mission is accomplished. The business lesson is that training and rehearsals that show how business can do things safer, more cost effective, and with high levels of customer satisfaction will make the customer interaction succeed.
Military to Business Technique #4 – The Importance of Coaching and Teaching. Leaders think of themselves as responsible for setting strategy or making decisions, but they seldom think of themselves as coaches and teachers. If you’ve ever been to a military marksmanship range, you’ve seen this leader coaching in action. At a military range, the senior military personnel work the hardest coaching, teaching, and setting higher standards for junior personnel how to shoot correctly. I remember at one of my last military drills before I retired helping coach a Private how to shoot correctly – there was literally over 20 years of experience between us, and I was the one dusty and dirty from crawling on the ground. Every interaction between a leader and their team is a time to coach, teach, and train to higher standards of performance. Whether it’s the rifle range or the sales counter, coaching and teaching make good employees great.
Military to Business Technique #5 – Acting Safely and Preventing Accidents is Part of Everyone’s Job. When the US Army start their daily missions, whether it is a ground convoy or a shooting range, the day begins with a safety briefing, medical evacuation procedures, and a rehearsal of the day’s most dangerous activities. Anyone, from the newest Private to the seasoned Sergeant, can call a safety halt if they feel there is a danger to anyone. This adoption of safety as integral to everyone’s job is vital. When everyone has a role in safety, then everyone is looking to create a safe environment – no one is sitting on the side lines. Front line retail and restaurant leaders are at the cutting edge of accident prevention.
Military to Business Technique #6 – Always Lead by Example at Every Level. Leadership by example is one of the central tenants of military leadership. Leadership by example means that the leader sets a strong and undisputed personal example for every activity, no matter how small, that the organization does. From dealing with an angry customer to restocking shelves, a leadership style that embraces leadership by example always sets the correct standard for the organization. Additionally, this style must also embrace personal passion, humility and courage to guide the organization. Finally, leadership by example must set and enforce high levels of organizational performance.
Chad Storlie is a retired Special Forces (Green Beret) lieutenant colonel, an Iraq combat veteran, author, marketing professional and an adjunct professor of marketing.