It came as a surprise as I left the Navy officer’s life that so many people thought my former world was so different from the ‘civilian’ world I was entering. In my first assignment with Perot Systems, I heard comments like, “Life is easy when you can just order someone to do it,” and, “Everything is drilled into people so it isn’t like they have to think.” Oh, if they only knew.
The reality is quite different. Military people spent the vast majority of their time performing work just like anyone else. We had a time to be on the job, we had tasks to perform, and periodic evaluations. The fact that we did these things in a uniform that had to be spotless was just part of the package.
I would argue the military strives for ‘business excellence’ to an even higher degree than most enterprises. Each officer’s assignment was a fixed-term opportunity to improve on what was inherited. There was great pressure to create smarter schedules, better ways to train, and more cost-efficient ways to maintain aircraft. And it had to be studied, socialized, planned, and rolled out within the short six to nine month assignment. It was all improvement, all the time. Career advancement depended on it.
Know the basics…cold
On top of the improvement culture, there was a serious emphasis on being able to perform the basic tasks without hesitation. Emergency procedures are the best example of having to know the important things cold. Everyone on the crew knew exactly what was expected to do their work precisely and the result was a well-oiled machine that was able to sustain performance regardless of the external conditions or pressures. When the details of work are second nature, the culture is continuously reinforced and the outcomes are predictable.
If only most customer service-focused businesses had that approach.
The same results are possible in our organizations, but only when we harness the ability to collaborate and to share the best way of doing things as a process in itself. The entropy that results from people hunting for information or, worse, guessing at how to perform work is devastating to a business. We all know very quickly when we seek support from any organization whether their people are informed and empowered. For me, it decides if I stick around or take my business elsewhere.
Tie it together
We are what we measure. Organizations that take the time to measure performance and tie compensation and recognition to constant improvement are the ones that come out on top. Gartner reported a while back their view that companies that fail to embrace a process and measurement approach will likely face significant pain and possible collapse. As the world gets more competitive every day, the need to improve the way we do our work is only going to grow. In the coming years, the winners and losers will be sorted along the lines of who gains the capabilities to capture, collaborate, improve, manage and distribute work information as efficiently as the military (and they did it without software in my day). The software exists and now it is time for the mindset to catch up.
I’ll leave you with a clip about following the rules…