Saturday, December 27, 2008

How The Military Model Can Help American Business

Ask almost anyone with a long work-experience track record, in almost any business, and they’ll probably tell you that the past three months (September-November, 2008) have comprised the worst economic quarter in their memory. Commerce Department numbers seem to substantiate that, and the people who write the history of economics and business are already saying that this is the worst meltdown since the early 1930s. Nevertheless, some friends of mine, still lucky enough to have jobs in sales positions, tell me that they are under intense pressure from their managers to make their quarterly numbers, and bring in their budget by the end of the year. This is utter insanity in my opinion.

Corporations (all of them) like to make analogies between their sales/marketing efforts and military campaigns. They talk about their offensive and defensive strategies, and their frontline operations, and their intelligence capability as related to the competition. In the pharmaceutical business, Big Pharma players openly refer to their gigantic sales forces as their “army.” Carrying this analogy one step further, holding the feet of the sales force to the fire, and cracking the whip to make quarterly numbers compares to the Civil War strategy of sending troops into withering fire with the command to achieve the objective or die trying. The thing is— the military world has moved past this suicidal nonsense, and American business has yet to do so. For at least the last 50 years, military strategy has called for extensive and exceptional training to prepare troops long before they are ever tested, and then backing front line troops with the best in technology and communications capability and the full support of commanders.

If American business continues its infatuation with the military analogy model, then the corporations that emerge from this current economic meltdown will look a lot more like the current military. Sales forces will be given better training. They will be backed with better technology, and better communications capability, and the middle level managers will function more in a support role, and less in the role of taskmasters. In the instances when sales targets are not met, there will be less second guessing of the sales force, and more accountability for the people who actually set the targets. That’s the current military model, and that’s the only business model that will survive this economic mess. So here’s my two-cents-worth of unsolicited advice for those people who are under pressure to make their quarterly numbers in this— the worst economic quarter in history. Get your resume out there ASAP because your employer is about to go out of business.

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