From fighting in the deserts of Iraq to the jungles of the South Pacific, the Marines have set themselves apart as one of the world's top-performing military organizations. And, it turns out, the Marine Corps has a lot in common with high-performing businesses.
What is the connection? One of the Marine Corps' professional storytellers is Shawn Rhodes, a former combat correspondent with the Second Marine Division turned TEDx speaker and management consultant. He was responsible for embedding with Marine Corps units and sharing their stories from more than two dozen countries across two combat tours. Now he works with companies to implement the same skill set that Marines use on the battlefield. Shawn shared four tips used by Marines that can help corporate leaders execute their own can't-fail missions:
1) Plan Like A Warrior
In working with everyone from entrepreneurs to Fortune 100 global firms, Shawn sees the same mistakes being made over and over again. "The number one challenge businesses have is not poor strategy, it's poor execution. Poor results can usually be traced back to how they did, or didn't, actually execute a plan," Shawn notes, adding: "No combat unit would dream of telling their troops: Go take that hill. Instead, they examine resources, assess threats to success, and arrange who is going to do what, with whom and by when." But it's not just detailed planning that makes a successful mission on the battlefield, in real life or in business. You also need to get feedback and input from your tactical team. "Successful military leaders ask senior people if anyone has ever done something like this before and what lessons they've learned along the way. Only then do they send their troops out to execute the plan. That feedback and learning process develops a plan that has more than a 90% rate of success, both on battlefields and in business."
2) Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
In the military, preparation isn't something that stops with training. Before stepping out on patrol, Marines always take the time to brief their teams on the mission ahead. Shawn explains: "Preparation is something Marines build into every mission, and it serves several purposes. First, it reminds everyone on the team what their goal is. In the military, objectives are constantly communicated, each day and again before each mission. As in business, sometimes the mission has to change at the last minute -- and Marines can't have people executing yesterday's objective. We have to make sure everyone is playing from the same sheet of music. Briefing teams in a business environment doesn't take more than a few minutes, but it can save hours as well as a lot of money if it's done correctly. This is the last opportunity for your staff to ask questions, and get clear directions, before you embark on a new initiative or mission."
3) Perform With Precision
Marines are taught to be precise with their actions because mistakes on the battlefield cost lives. Shawn points out how businesses can benefit from Marine-like precision: "Marines always know what their primary target is, and they make sure it's handled before they move on to the next task. It's how they keep track of seven or eight targets without losing focus - there's always a primary threat to cover." Shawn says leaders need to make their teams aware of what their goals are, and help them prioritize so that the most important tasks get done first. "Whether it's earning revenue or providing great customer service, when employees know what their primary target is, they can nail it before moving on to less important tasks," Shawn adds. This kind of team orientation pays off with much less frustration and fewer misunderstandings.
4) Process Everything
No matter how tired or bloody Marines are when they return from a mission, there's one thing they do before they hit the showers: they conduct an after-action meeting. It is this meeting, explains Shawn, that captures innovation and allows Marines to stay a step ahead of their enemies: "Marines are often fighting people on their home turf who've spend their entire lives in a warzone. We had to find a way to learn and share lessons across our organization so mistakes wouldn't be repeated and successes could be immediately implemented by every other unit." Shawn continues, "If we encounter a new tactic on the battlefield, Marines share that in their after-action meetings, which are then shared with every other Marine across the world. That makes it impossible to catch us by surprise twice. In businesses, take the time after each quarter or campaign or cycle to get your team together and examine what worked well, what didn't, and what the team learned that can benefit the rest of the organization. Then, communicate it throughout your organization so they can share in the wisdom gained through experience."
While some might shy away from a military model when trying to build a collaborative team, in truth, it is the trust, feedback, and extreme preparation that make Marine teams successful. These skills help any organization navigate the minefields of business.