What Businesses Can Learn From the Military

As modern management styles develop, many managers are shying away from the traditional military-style "command and control" ethos once held by business leaders, but the business world can still learn much from the core principles and beliefs upheld by those in the military. Perhaps that's why veterans are at least 45 percent more likely than those with no active-duty military experience to be self-employed, according to a recent study by the Small Business Association's Office of Advocacy. Here are five lessons your business can learn from the military:

Communicate objectivesIn the military, the success or failure of a mission often hinges on effective communication between all members of a team.

According to Chuck Gumbert, former Navy fighter pilot and founder of interim management and consulting firm, The Tomcat Group, the same rings true for business. "The core lessons start with a clear understanding and communication of the overall objective or what in business we call the 'company vision,'" he explains. "Everyone needs to know and understand where the organization is going."

Just as each military mission is planned around a set of core objectives, setting out a clear vision for the future of your company will leave you and your team better equipped to deal with setbacks and shortfalls as they arise.

Develop a strategyIn order to achieve these objectives, it's crucial to develop a clear and sound strategy. Like an effective military plan, a good business strategy should consist of an overall proposal for how the business will achieve its primary objective, and secondary sub-elements that feed and support the overall strategy.

"In business," Gumbert says, "we might call this the business plan." He says this would include a sales and marketing plan, operations plan, inventory plan, human resources plan and the financial plan. Each of the lower objectives flow upward and support the high level strategies.

Once the strategy has been devised, it's imperative that it is communicated clearly, so that each member understands the part they play in its success. This can be done through coaching, feedback, business metrics, evaluations and incentive plans.

Assessment and accountabilityWhile newer management practices tend to dismiss the strict "control and discipline" style associated with military command, businesses can still take a lead from the military's focus on accountability.

"In order to execute the strategy, everything needs to be where it needs to be, when it is supposed to be there and it needs to work correctly right out of the box. ... In both the military and business, if this doesn't happen, then the strategy fails," Gumbert explains.

By setting clear goals, consistently evaluating and assessing the performance of your staff, and holding them accountable for their actions, you can you can retain greater control over your business and effectively lead your team toward its overall objective.