Why would businesses want to study military principles and tenets?
The reason for this is because all businesses need to adapt their business plans and operations based on market factors and the nature of their industries. It is the same for an army, a fleet, and even single combatants, that they must adapt their operations and posture to the realities of their operational area. Military history and theory provide thousands of years of examples of numerous military organizations studying and applying principles and tenets to be tested on the field of battle, where only the best survive to be written down in the annals. There is much to learn from both successes and failures.
Why study the principles and tenets of military organizations of the past as opposed to more modern businesses?
Indeed, if a business had no existing structure or operational processes, then a book about management by Peter Drucker, or one on lean manufacturing by Ohno Taiichi would do you well. Finding the most relevant examples that you could mirror would do you better than studying modern principles of war or the martial tenets of ancient Chinese strategists. But do remember that your competition has likely read the same books, or at the very least studied organizational management and operations processes inspired by them.
We know that differentiation is critical, not only in the goods and services we provide to customers, but in how we run our businesses. Having more effective manufacturing processes, better opportunities for career advancement, or increased throughput for your logistics can mean a stronger, resilient, and flexible company. A company that can adapt to changes in the environment, and provides greater value to customers. Some of this undoubtedly comes from technological advancements, while others require merely looking at existing ways and means with a new set of eyes. To look outside the box that is traditional business theory for new inspiration that may already exist in other sectors. War Is My Business is about studying military principles and tenets to find that inspiration. Entrepreneurs and C-Level executives are already doing this. We are merely putting all of it to a process.
How can you take principles and tenets from the military sector, and bring them into the business sector?
There is a basic foundation for all human endeavors, and that is the nature to which any individual or group undertakes an action. That is to influence other humans, and their environments, for their benefit. Warfare and business are alike as both seek to use their means in order to shape their environments and their targeted audiences in specific ways. Think about it. For a business, what is their ultimate desired end state? Generally speaking, it is to maximize profit and maintain it for the long-term by gaining clients and customers and retaining them. How about the desired end state for a military? It is nested with securing the strategic and national objectives of their people by influencing others via force. Both the business and the military influence their environments, and the people that live in them, to achieve their objectives.
Instead of looking at the difference between modern business and military organizations, we’ll see how they are similar. We focus so heavily on the means they use that we fail to see the similarities in the ways they use them, and the ways they build, maintain, and expand their size and scope. Let's take a look:
Doctrine: Both utilize not only underlying theories for how and why they do what they do, but also routine schedules and procedures that ensure operations run smoothly. The bigger the organization the more essential routines are to keeping them functioning effectively. They have suspense dates and times in which they have to report information up the chain so that superiors can act on current data. Even small businesses that only report to themselves have their own routines: when to conduct inventories, restock shelves, depositing money in the bank, etc. Without these types of processes that dictate what work gets done and when, organizations may either fail in their short-term performance or their long-term objectives. The more successful a process and the more principled it may seem, may result in that process being codified as doctrine.
Organization: Both require diverse staffs to handle the different functions that make their organizations successful. Every activity in the military isn't just about destroying the enemy, just as everyone in a business isn't just about making a sale. The modern military organizations have their own staffs that support the various needs of the force: personnel, intelligence, operations, logistics, planning, communications, finance, and public relations all have their own staff primaries that function the same as comparable C-Level executives. The ultimate end of a process within with military may be the destruction of an enemy, just as the ultimate end of a process within a business might be a sale, but the bulk of the work of both is in allowing that end to manifest, not necessarily in executing the end itself.
Training: Both require their personnel trained to execute their assigned duties, as well as trained to work alongside their teammates in the execution of their processes. It's one thing to perform a specific task to a satisfactory level. It is an entirely different thing to execute it amongst a process where numerous variables and competing priorities can distract you. Training the process is as important as training the individual tasks that make it up. Additionally, in more complex organizations, there is a requirement to cross-train personnel in the duties of other team members, as well as training in the functions of superiors. This is to ensure that the organization has enough personnel to execute its assigned tasks when some are unable to continue the mission.
For a military organization, failing to cross-train can open up critical vulnerabilities as personnel are killed or incapacitated. Imagine that the radio operator is the only one that knows how to work that radio and is killed, how dangerous that would be to the rest. As casualties mount, the vulnerabilities get worse, if not fatal to the unit. If superiors are taken out of the fight, their subordinates need to step up to assume those leadership duties immediately. For a business, such a vulnerability is not as devastating, but it can still have a critical impact on its performance. From an accident, family emergency, or illness, it would be problematic if the only person who knew how to work your register, compiled your metrics, or managed your vendors were gone.
Material: Both require tools and supplies to accomplish their tasks, from the equipment that allows their processes to function to the goods and services they provide. Personnel need to be clothed appropriately, given subsistence, and the tools of their specific profession to accomplish their assigned tasks. A bare-handed, naked, and emaciated human is of no use to any organization, and these organizations have to plan to sustain these materiel requirements throughout their operations. Supplies may run short, equipment may break, clothing may become tattered, and failing to maintain these logistical requirements will kill off an organization as much as anything else.
Leadership and Education: Both need leaders with a structured chain of command and responsibility in order to execute priorities, and when necessary, alter those processes when environmental conditions require. They also provide purpose and direction to their organizations so as to unify the efforts of their personnel in working towards objectives. The discussion of leadership amongst military and business is more than just having people fill positions in leadership, but the educational apparatuses so that you can grow them from within.
For businesses, growing leaders to fill those positions may not be the only option, as it is within the military, since you could purposely hire candidates that possess those traits and skills. The modern military, however, must shape them at every phase of their careers in order to ensure they fill the ranks with component leaders. For example, on average, it takes 25 years for a junior officer to become a general officer; if all the stars align for them in their careers. So if by 2020 the United States found itself in need of more general and flag officers the professional military education systems would have to have been providing exemplary education since they were second lieutenants and ensigns back in 1995. They can't simply put out a job opening on job boards and hire senior officers amongst the population as many have done in the past; modern military requirements are just too complex to support it.
Personnel: Both need people, but that is a given. When we look at how businesses and military attempt to acquire the right personnel to meet their needs, they go to venues in which their target demographics may frequent. The positions of the least skilled prospects may have the most openings that need to be filled. For the military, it will send its recruits to establish booths at high schools and conventions where they seek to enlist the services of young adults, with at least a high school level of education, to the enlisted ranks of the armed services. For businesses, entry-level positions are usually posted on their websites or job boards for crowds of people to apply. Both will have incentives to entice. Both will screen out those unqualified, and those that are accepted and sign the contract will be further trained to have a baseline knowledge of those duties before jumping straight in.
For those positions requiring more specialized knowledge and greater leadership responsibilities, they utilize different means to acquire people for these positions. Both will have internal processes for developing leaders within. Similarly, they may engage other venues with more significant requirements. For the military, filling its ranks of non-commissioned officers and warrant officers it will promote and develop its enlisted ranks, but for its officers, it branches out to colleges, universities, and academies, since those ranks require a minimum of an undergraduate level of education. For businesses, other than only posting the job with more stringent requisites, they may send out headhunters to poach skilled personnel from other companies. This is especially prevalent in the case for C-Level positions. Regardless, even though many aspects of war and business are digital and automated, they still require people to both facilitate the operations processes of the organization and lead them to meet objectives.
Facilities: Both need facilities to conduct their operations and support all the other elements previously discussed here. While facilities generally refer to physical buildings, it can also account for land and digital space on a server. You need places, both classroom and field, physical and digital in order to execute your organization's tasks. Educating new personnel, staff workplaces, storing materiel and housing equipment, as well as tracking current operations, and developing plans require somewhere to do it. For military operations, much of it is managed digitally though it does also have physical mechanisms for command and control for redundancy; in case digital systems fail. For business, most have a digital storefront to conduct business, alongside physical ones, and some, like Amazon, are entirely digital. What an organization needs and what produces the best results will usually dictate what facilities are required.
DOTMLPF: All the previous requirements that are in common between businesses and military may look familiar to those with operational-level knowledge of the U.S. Armed Forces and some partner nations. They cover the components necessary to meet the objectives and challenges that the Joint Force faces now and expects to face in the future. All together, they make up DOTMLPF (pronounced Dot-Mil-Pee-Eff). To rehash the acronym stands for:
- Leadership and Education
This covers all the areas that make up the structure and capacity of military organizations.
For example, a new Soldier is trained to doctrine based on quality assured educational system at an initial training facility. Afterwards, they assume a specific duty position within an organization that has an established and competent chain of command. They are assigned a weapon, given uniforms, and fed. This short example covers some aspect of all seven components of DOTMLPF.
From what has been discussed, it should be apparent that businesses and militaries have commonality. DOTMLPF is an excellent tool for analyzing the capabilities of not only military organizations, but companies as well since we haven't been able to identify some aspect of business that isn't covered by it. As a result, DOTMLPF will be a tool War Is My Business uses for analysis and surrogation when we dig into our military studies. If by chance this doesn't show that, yes you can, "take principles and tenets from the military sector, and bring them into the business sector," as the question inquired initially, then at this point, we would like to hear your argument to the contrary.