24 April 2015

What is the best-managed organization you have ever worked with?

If you think that being a writer, living in your head, romancing the most beautiful women you can imagine, daring to do any task and vie with any foe, is interesting, you should have lived my life before I retired to write stories. I was a consultant. 

I pursued five careers in my lifetime: bureaucrat, soldier, marketing guru, and computer technologist. I survived the last three as an entrepreneur. Over the course of my working years, I participated in projects with every type of organization - from one-man operations to multinational corporations, for profit and nonprofit, every level of government, local, state, and national, and a variety of military units.

Frequently, I have been asked, “Which is the best managed?”

I've never hesitated, not even a heartbeat, to answer: The United States Army. 

Yes, you're laughing.  So have all my audiences. But, it's true. The laughter dies when they realize I'm not joking and there's a pause as they wait expectantly for me to explain.

I do, simply.

“Imagine,” I suggest, “that your organization must not only accomplish its mission – manufacture, distribute, sell, serve, whatever – but also clothe, feed, and house your employees and provide them with medical care, not just insurance, but build medical facilities, buy medical supplies, and staff medical service providers. Then, on a moment's notice, move your organization and its operations half-way around the world and operate there.”

As they consider this, I interrupt their thoughts with one more challenge. “By the way,” I add, “when you get there, someone is going to be shooting at you.” This final part usually elicits a chuckle. Then, I wait for someone to accept the challenge.

No one ever does.

Interestingly, over the years as I've visited so many organizations, I've discovered vestiges of the influence brought by other veterans who preceded me. Sometimes it's subtle. Other times, it’s blatant.

For example, a couple decades ago I found private consultants visiting corporations to introduce them to the ‘Functional Filing System’. (I'm not sure if that's still used in the Army or any other branch of the services today.) 

Employees were told to move their personal effects to one drawer only before leaving for the weekend. When they returned the following workday, they found their files and desks completely reorganized and were warned to not attempt to put anything back the way it was. After a brief period of rebellion, they settled into the new structure and benefited from it.

Sadly, modern American corporations seem to be more under the pall of governmental bureaucracy than military discipline. As government regulations address more and more of the minutia of business, corporate employees become more like bureaucrats. Even more sadly, corporate employees begin thinking more like bureaucrats, more concerned with following regulations than with profitable growth.

Ultimately, I think that businesses have to rediscover customer-oriented marketing. They need to hire veterans and allow them to introduce the concepts of mission-orientation.

Do you think they can while government continues to micro-manage business through intrusive regulation?

Comment below or start the conversation here and connect within the military community.

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