Similarities in military and corporate world
After retiring from the army, I joined Army Welfare Placement Organisation as MD. It has been an exhilarating experience as I was able to syndicate jobs for a large number of veteran soldiers. This obviously gave me chance to interact with reasonable hierarchy of the corporate world. Introspecting my days in uniform I started drawing comparisons and thought of sharing my observations.
The first thing that comes to mind is the selection process which is very deep in the army spread over a period of five days. An individual is assessed in 15 qualities and trainability in these facets. Intelligence quotient plays an important role. Following the selection an individual is groomed to for higher responsibilities. Corporate also assess their leaders in similar qualities but not as deep rooted. To start with their main criteria depends on academic brilliance. Very few follow psycho-analysis route. A defense officer is also assessed for extreme risk taking ability which may not be so for the corporate. For promotions, defence officer follows a strict steep pyramidal route and maximum numbers fall enroute to the top. The losers may not be incompetent but they may lose out on some factors they may not have been able to develop. Similar path is followed by leaders in the industry. Some progress exponentially and some continue along the beaten track. Main issue governing in business is profit i.e. keeping the input cost lower and output more, whereas in the army it is achieving the objective within available resources. Economy of effort may not be the main factor but judicious use is. For higher level jobs grooming is necessary. Following traditional succession procedure may not be correct. Many business houses had to pack up because of such succession process. Closure of large number of textile factories in Mumbai is a case in point. Real estate became dearer than running factories and large workforce had to be laid off/ paid for no work as the owners did not think beyond. Birlas have undergone partition but not all are doing well. Kumarmanglam Birla has excelled whereas others have fallen by the wayside. Lalbhai Textiles Mills have vanished and so has Premier Motors (erstwhile Fiat) as they refused to come out of shell whereas Bajaj Auto shifted attention to producing motorcycles when scooter business was no longer attractive or else they would also have vanished from the scene. Progressive dynamism is the key to success. Orthodox army-men and businessmen generally do not reach the top.
Detailed and meticulous planning in war is necessary. Objective has to be achieved as there are no runners-ups in war- there are only losers. Field Marshal Manekshaw resisted political pressure for six months before opening a front in the East in 1971 and history was created by creation of Bangladesh. During the North African campaign, montgomery meticulously planned his operations at Al-Alamein in North Africa which changed the course of the Second World War leading to defeat of German forces. Timing of launch of an operation is important but may not be overbearing unless factors like weather and enemy reaction are very significant however detailed planning is a must. Similarly, half baked start-up business will not succeed unless luck is favourable.
Management by objectives is a good theory but then these objectives within themselves need to be self contained. War provides limited opportunities for mid-course corrections whereas in business, one may do so depending on the situation.
Here we must recognise that in war leadership has to be autocratic once the plan has been finalised. There is no room for descent or democratic approach. Junior leaders within the confines of orders can have room for initiative and that too if they are aware of the overall aim of the operation. Need of support from neighbours (flanks) is necessary either for own success or carry them along. Similar is the style required in the corporate world and the CEO needs to be recognised. Humans by nature go for short-cuts, therefore, centralised control is necessary in any field. Ford, Bill Gates, Carlyle Florina of the HP, Larry Ellison of Oracle, Indira Nooyi of the Pepsi are well known corporate leaders. But all of them are very strict and very hard task masters within their own style. They are autocratic- a must in business and war. Howsoever, to the outside world they may appear well cultured, suave and well meaning personalities. They hire and fire at will and so are week / inefficient commanders removed during war. They all monitor daily progress of their subordinates, meet them as frequently as possible and tighten up the system where necessary. Same is the story in armed forces so that they are ever ready for the assigned task. Situation reports are seen daily and corrective actions are initiated ruthlessly.
Leaders need to be visionaries. Here we must understand difference between mission and vision. Vision is something a military leader imagines as end product and journey to it; whereas mission is how the vision is to be translated. In corporate, mission is generally for the public consumption and is full of rhetoric and flowery words whereas the aim is to make profit with successful execution of the vision of the business-house. For example, mission statement of Microsoft which states ” To enable people and business throughout the world to realise their full potential “. Mission statement of General Motors is “The fundamental purpose of GM is to provide products and services of such quality that our customer will receive superior value, our employees and business partners will share in success, and our stockholders will receive a sustained return on their investment”. Both the statements are indicative of public interest with latent hint of profit for themselves which is generally huge. Here military leaders differ from the corporate. The mission of any operation is the achievement of objective and not to please the environment – a mission will clearly state the end state after the operation translating vision of the overall commander. A military leader may carry out some actions/operations to shape the battle field for a crushing defeat of the enemy whereas in business one tries to find a place or create environment or select a place for launch for the product to be accepted by consumers over the others in the same field. This is vast subject and will need a separate write-up.
Progress of warfare has given a lot to add to the civilian quality of life. Colonel Dubois theory of work-analysis changed management theory; Major General Toffler and Heidi Toffler were responsible for application of IT in military affairs when they used computers to manage large date required post second war or for intelligence work. This has now been replicated in civil life and may imagine the impact. Colonel Young husband’s treks across Himalayas helped in mapping the longest mountain chain. In earlier days all the diplomatic missions succeeded military ventures and in most cases military leaders were also the mission leaders.
There is no room for democracy in warfare as well as in corporate affairs. Autocracy is the rule. But leader must be very well known and recognised. Field Marshall Rommel was so feared by the adversary as “Desert Fox ” that he could drive into and out of enemy (Allies) lines during the thick of battle and none challenged him. Similarly, a corporate leader has to have such respect that others envy him. Similarly, Marshall Zhukov of the erstwhile USSR was sent wherever Russians were suffering reverses during second great war even though there were other military commanders also available. Length of service with a business organisation is not the rule. One is good but how beneficial one is for the organisation is what matters. Therefore, changes made are always for the benefit of the business. Wagnor worked for GM for 32 years but on becoming its CEO the company suffered huge losses till Mullally came from an unknown field and rectified the rot. A fresh mind may infuse energy and innovation than someone who has been there for a long time as he sees his work from within the confines of his knowledge. Therefore, the owner of the business keeps trying new strategies with the changed leadership. This is where people with defence background help in establishing a business but have to make way for specialists once things get going as better strategy may be needed as identified by the owner. One has been hearing such stories. This means that we must keep moving on with a fertile innovative mind to ensure relevance to an organisation. People with military background need to be progressive in their approach and not stagnate in ideas. It will help them progress better.
Hope this analyses help my brothers in arms to take up a career in the civil in more objective manner as also the corporate world accepts them more readily and does groom them for future so that they are always acceptable.