5 Reasons why you don't want to be 'In the Army Now'
Over the past few years, no doubt influenced by the ‘Global War on Terror’ in which western nations have been engaged since 9/11, an enormous amount of material has been published regarding lessons that civilian organizations can learn from the military. They include articles with titles such as:
‘8 Great Business Lessons from Military Leaders’
‘6 Leadership Lessons from a 3 Star General’
‘7 Tough Leadership Lessons from a Navy SEAL Commander’
‘Hiring MBAs? You Should be Looking at NCOs’
This fascination with all things military extends into the corporate training sphere. Various programs offering civilians an opportunity to ‘build character’ within the context of military style selection events have also emerged. Tough Mudder is probably one of the most recognizable examples of this trend. Sealfit , a course that invites participants to endure a ‘Hell Week’ like experience derived from the selection program for the US Navy’s famed special forces unit, is another popular offering intentionally emulating the military in some way.
Mainstream media has also been heavily influenced by this militarization trend. Various individual and small team endurance testing programs challenge innocent, but willing, ‘victims’ to endure privations and other hardships formerly reserved for only the most elite of military units. Survivor , the best known of this genre, is a product of the work of the famous British born TV producer Mark Burnett who, I am inordinately proud to say, is a former member of my old unit: The Parachute Regiment.
I have over 30 years of military service, in both a full and part time capacity as well as 20 years experience as a full time management consultant. I will be the first to admit that my military experience has stood me in good stead, especially with respect to ethical integrity, leadership skills and a personal commitment to physical fitness. Many of my best, lifelong friendships are with military folks I have met along the way. The trouble is that most civilians, and the organizations they work for, have very little in common with the ,military and, as a result, they should use caution when trying to adopt learnings directly from the Army.
Here are 5 reasons why you don't want to be 'in the Army now’:
1. Soldiers have to be really good at doing nasty things
I know it’s self-evident, but the reason why the Army and soldiers exist is to, ultimately, do a really good job at things that civilian organizations will never be involved in unless they are very unlucky: like war. Soldiers are often called upon to do many things that have nothing to do with war, such as supporting civilian agency response to floods and wildfires, but are ultimately required to, as a combat experienced Sergeant once told me ‘shoot bad guys and break all their stuff’.
2. The Army is the most controlling of government jobs, ever, anywhere
You can’t really tell from playing Call of Duty, but the Army is a government job. Even more importantly, it’s the most rigidly hierarchical and micromanaging of government jobs featuring the most intrusive bureaucracy you can imagine, designed to exert the maximum possible control over its members using a variety of severe, coercive tools. For example, I know a senior Officer who was actively looking for ways to lay a formal charge on someone for not replying to one of his emails.
Ponder that enormity for awhile, if you will.
Worst case: think about it like a maximum security prison without bars (well, most of the time) that pays pretty well, and offers great benefits and world class training. Clearly, this is not something to aspire to in a civilian workplace, that is, of course, unless at your workplace you can be shot at dawn for refusing to kill the enemy.
3. The Army can make soldiers really unproductive
Soldiering is a noun with two meanings, viz:
1 skills that are required for the life of soldier [syn: soldiership]
The industrial engineer and original ‘efficiency expert’, F.W. Taylor, famously used the term 'soldiering' to describe workers who slowed their production levels down to match the lowest performing peer. Not that soldiers willingly engage in that activity, much, but the realities of Army life - the phrase ‘hurry up and wait’ was invented by the Army – may mean that soldiers can spend enormous amounts of time doing nothing, or doing the wrong thing and then having to redo it. Certain operational roles, like the somewhat ironically named ‘Rapid Deployment Force’, can also have thousands of troops simply waiting to deploy on a moment’s notice, doing nothing for days.
4. The Army spends far more on training than you could ever dream of
In comparison with most civilian workplaces, the Army expends vastly greater amounts of time, money and resources on training and development of all kinds. For example, in my first 8 years of full time military service I estimate that I spent over two years in one type of training program or another. And that doesn’t include a degree or other educational certificate program. This training was designed to teach me to lead units of various sizes in battle, jump out of airplanes, fight and survive in the high arctic in winter time, lead high intensity counter terrorist operations, and manage the planning and delivery of complex military operations on land, sea and air. A well trained military unit is therefore a truly a formidable force, but represents a price that is far beyond anything that a civilian organization could afford.
5. The Army is a lot of fun, really
Twelve giant, blacked out, C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft dipped below the storm riven cloud base at 500 feet, 300 feet beneath the recommended safety ceiling. Engines screaming, they quickly slowed their airspeed to 120 knots as the drop zone suddenly appeared in the mountain pass. Standing upright bearing 100 pound loads we lurched, some vomiting on the man in front. The green light flicked ‘Go!’ and, bearing rifles, mortars, machine guns and 4 days of combat supplies, we 600 paratroopers leapt into the night sky….
Sounds like the opening scene of the latest ‘Mission Impossible’ movie, right? Well, that was my job for several years. It’s these kinds of experiences that tend to attract people to, and keep them engaged with, the Army despite some of the ‘nausea’ that I described earlier.
So what are the take aways for a civilian organization considering ‘Going Army’?
Berlineaton looks at organizational effectiveness through three dimensions: direction, process and people. Direction, Process and People.
Direction: the vision, goals, strategies, and tactics propel an organization towards its purpose.
Process: day-to-day tasks and deliverables yield their best results when processes are clear and strong, and aligned with organizational objectives
People: they have the skills, capability, and impetus to translate strategic intent into reality. People and the culture they create drive the future of an organization
As it relates to the Army life, we suggest that you borrow from the People stuff, while being wary of the Direction and Process stuff.
The ethical underpinnings of the profession of 'good' soldiering are laudable and applicable to any human organization. Tested in countless situations far more stressful than anything you would hope to encounter in civilian life, they can provide you with a sound, virtual, ethical bedrock upon which to build the people focused side of your business. But when it comes to certain organizational goals, motivational factors, training systems and business practices, use caution, because you could accidentally prescribe yourself some of the most coercive, restrictive, expensive and bureaucratic medicine on earth.