Copy the Marines

One of the first things seared in to my psyche upon arrival at recruiter training in the Marines was the term esprit de corps. Having not taken French, I was flummoxed by this oft-used military colloquialism.

Everywhere I turned, someone was all too enthusiastically force-feeding me (and the rest of my platoon) this concept to the extent that even to this day, I find that I have actually incorporated it in to my daily vernacular.

It loosely translates into the spirit or pride that exists among comrades or colleagues who are cumulatively pursuing a common goal. Put in military context, it becomes immediately evident why this term is so prevalent in said ranks. Couple this with drill instructors always yelling in your ear, “You’ve got to want it!” and you start to get an idea of what goes on during those horribly challenging 12 weeks we so affectionately call “boot camp.”

In the traditional workplace there is a different and slightly more recognizable expression for this concept: employee loyalty. If as a company you have it, you’re also likely to have a few other things: low turnover, higher productivity, fewer employees taking sick days, happy customers, and most important to investors, healthy profits and consistent sales.

To be sure, there are myriad positive attributes that come in tandem with esprit de corps. I’ve only named a few. To illustrate esprit de corps within the armed forces, let me offer two examples:

  1. While already mortally wounded, Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta dives on a grenade to absorb the blast, thus saving the lives of several other members of his platoon. He is now being considered for the Medal of Honor.
  2. Army Sgt. First Class Paul Smith, with total disregard for personal safety, single-handedly repels an enemy attack and in doing so, eliminates over 50 enemy personnel and saves the lives of dozens of fellow soldiers. SFC Smith was mortally wounded. For his heroism, he is awarded the Medal of Honor.

These two acts are certainly uncommon and noteworthy. And I know that rarely would circumstances arise in the workplace that would warrant such selfless and perilous behavior. I draw upon these two heroic deeds to demonstrate a point. Both of these men acted not out of the interest in a pay raise nor the prospects of leveraging their acts to secure greater career opportunities.

I also suspect neither of them imagined that they would forever be enshrined as heroes while they were engaged in their duties. The compensation structure of enlisted military personnel is far from lavish; Smith probably grossed around $50,000 per year and Peralta $30,000, according to the Department of Defense’s 2007 pay charts.

The entitlements provided to Medal of Honor awardees, while considered generous by some accounts, probably had nothing to do with it, either. If I had to characterize what was going through their minds, it would likely have something to do with nationalism, commitment to their fellow service men and women, and belief in their mission, among other things: esprit de corps.

Lacking hundreds of years of tradition, as is the case of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, in addition to lacking the foundational underpinnings of a deeply socialized national spirit, fermenting this type of attitude in your average W-2 employee is hardly a walk in the park. But every year there are always a handful of employers who manage to remain on the Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to work for. This isn’t a coincidence?

Admittedly, there’s a “chicken or the egg” paradox here. Are certain employers atop of that list because of the unique nature and demand of their offering and are thereby able to attract, retain, and afford good employees? Or did their good employees somehow band together to get (and keep) those companies on that magical list?

For example, first-place Google revolutionized the search business with a pretty sharp search algorithm and a bare-bones approach to the user experience. Its elimination of the glitz and glam “click here to refinance your mortgage” visuals has made it the Band-Aid brand of search; the term Google now more aptly represents the act of searching the Internet than it does the noun of a one with 100 zeros after it. Heck, MS Word even puts a red squiggly line beneath it because it thinks the term should be capitalized!

I’m hardly the first person to point this out, but something special is going on over there at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View, California, and everyone wants in on a piece of the action.

Or perhaps it is something unique to the way a company treats its employees? J.M. Smucker is on that list year after year. For those of you in the cheap seats, it’s the king of the jelly/jam/fruit preserve industry, located about 30 minutes south west of Akron, in the thriving metropolis of Orville, Ohio. I’ve been there on numerous occasions and trust me when I say that the most exciting thing to happen in Orville in recent years would likely have something to do with an Amish carpenter briefly considering the idea of using a power tool.

As remote as it is, highly educated and extraordinarily talented people flock there. Once they are there, they’re not likely to leave.

Companies spend millions of dollars each year trying to figure out how to make their employees more productive. They hire consultants. They mass email surveys, they have retreats and off-sites, team-building exercises, cash incentives, contests, and on and on.

What’s the magic secret? Well, it’s hardly magical, and certainly not a secret. Like I wrote earlier, the first ingredient has to do with want. Employees have to want to be where they are and they have to want to be doing what they are doing.

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For this, I draw on the subject of natural point of aim. Each employee has to be functioning in a capacity that comes naturally to him or her. Pay attention to your mind when you catch yourself daydreaming; that daydream place you frequent is where your mind naturally wants to go. You don’t actively sit down and dedicate the next 10 minutes to letting your mind wander. How many times have you driven to your destination only to have no clue how you got there because your brain was busy reminiscing and daydreaming? Figure out the natural tendencies of your brain and then find a career that will enable you to capitalize on that. Additionally, companies must recognize this and figure out ways to attract people whose careers are aligned with their natural point of aim.

Next comes the initial indoctrination. Each of the armed forces has an indoctrination and evaluation period. It goes by the name recruit training, basic training, officer candidate school, and so on. The purpose of this phase is multi-fold:

  1. Re-socialization. You do the same things, but now you do them their way.
  2. History, traditions, customs. You are taught all about those who went before you, what they did, how they did it, why they are special, and why you must do it their way or else.
  3. Learn by the numbers. You are taught the basics of military life: shoot and salute, as they say.

All the while, each recruit, private, or candidate is being closely watched and evaluated. There are other purposes of initial training, but these are the basics. They do weed people out during this phase. Those who are weak, either mentally, physically, or emotionally, are given the resources and encouragement to strengthen themselves to make it through.

Those who want it badly enough go on to graduate and wear the uniform. Those who don’t reenter the civilian workforce with a little chip on their shoulder and have to explain to their friends and family why they did not or could not hack it.

The civilian workforce has inappropriately called this initial phase of employment the “probationary period.” That really sounds pleasing. “We’ll hire you, but if you even so much as tie your shoes in a way we don’t like, you’re out of here, and don’t bother asking why, because we have no official comment other than it just wasn’t a good fit,” so the line goes.

If the civilian workforce wants to make a difference, it will need to adjust its indoctrination to more than just going over benefits, I-9, and W-4 information. It had better change the name from something a judge hands down as punishment to something that sounds a little more appealing.

This period should instill a sense of accomplishment upon completion. This costs money, I know, and it seems that the Defense Department has a limitless supply. But a smart company will incorporate a comprehensive indoctrination period. And it does not need to last three months.

The last component is reinforcement. This “stuff” all adds up to a culture and it needs to be omnipresent. Further, it needs to be reintroduced on a schedule, lest it be forgotten and dispelled. Take a trip to any military installation. You’ll see the reinforcement taking place everywhere you look. It is indeed cult-like, particularly within the Marine Corps, as well as with some of the more elite units in other branches. It takes many forms, and to cite even just a few would not do this aspect justice. Reinforcement in the armed forces is omnipresent.

Corporations try to do this, but not hard enough, nor do they encourage people to initiate reinforcement strategies. In medium and large companies, typically the sales force goes to an annual conference, which is essentially a motivationally packed “off-site” gathering that culminates with some sort of awards ceremony.

While I can’t cite supporting evidence, I’m certain that if you look at the numbers, you will quickly notice that just after these annual gatherings, there is typically a spike in sales production. Aside from that, few companies do much to reinforce esprit de corps on a regular schedule. That’s a shame.

Anything short of hiring for natural point of aim will populate a company with people who work for a living, not people who work because they like what they do. Not having some initiation and indoctrination, which does more than just cover the basics of HR and how to find the lunch room, is another ingredient for apathy and inertia.

Finally, without a steady and consistent diet of company punch, the result will be just another company with staff as opposed to a team of comrades charging up the hill of the business marketplace.

Todd Rogers is the sole partner with The Alva Bradley Company, LLC, a professional services firm in Fishers, Indiana. Prior to founding ABC, LLC, Todd worked in sales for Monster.com. He has a total of eight years experience in the recruiting industry, which by his own account feels more like 80 years. He also served five years in the U.S. Marines, and has a B.A. in philosophy from Kent State University in Ohio.

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30 Comments on “Copy the Marines

  1. ‘Each employee has to be functioning in a capacity that comes naturally to him or her. Pay attention to your mind when you catch yourself daydreaming; that daydream place you frequent is where your mind naturally wants to go. You don’t actively sit down and dedicate the next 10 minutes to letting your mind wander. How many times have you driven to your destination only to have no clue how you got there because your brain was busy reminiscing and daydreaming? Figure out the natural tendencies of your brain and then find a career that will enable you to capitalize on that. Additionally, companies must recognize this and figure out ways to attract people whose careers are aligned with their natural point of aim.’

  2. Todd, Semper Fi! For a company to create an atmosphere that even scratches the surface of the Marine Corps, this would nearly take an ‘Act of God’. This probationary period would have to resemble the Marine Corp’s ‘Right of Passage’ (Boot Camp). This right of passage would have to go beyond just a mental challenge – toss in sleep deprivation, food deprivation, constant physical challenges, no ‘going home’ or seeing any outside influences for 13 weeks, and a healthy dose of dirt, alligators, and sand fleas – then we’d at least be headed in the right direction.

    It would also take a committment to leadership – as they taught us in the Corps: ‘There is no such thing as a bad Marine – there is only a such thing as as bad leader.’ I wish I saw more accountability in corporate ranks – the Marines should start a ‘corporate training’ arm that focuses on training corporate execs what leadership and espirit de corps really are. We could then take those profits and invest further in armor to further protect our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    I look forward to the day that I can come over a loud speaker at my firm when I’ve scaled up headcount to where I want to be:

    ‘God was here before the Marine Corps . . . So you can give your heart to Jesus, but your *ss belongs to the Corps!’

    Just replace the Corps with ‘LG & Associates’. On second thought, maybe I won’t do that – I think it would be a little too nuts for the civilian sector πŸ˜‰

  3. Nicely put.. Onboariding and teambuilding are very important components of employee loyalty, all of what you say makes sense. There’s only one question I have though when comparing civilian life to the marines.. how easy is it to decide to leave the marines once your in? If you see a better oppportunity how difficult to resign?

    Thanks

    Eamonn

  4. My husband is former military and we willingly relocated to Ohio because we wanted to learn more about this mystery that is JM Smuckers– no regrets! As you mentioned it’s ‘#1’ status is based not on top dollar but esprit de corp… or ‘Respect for the Individual’.. That is essential to meaningful business.

    Dawn
    http://linkedin.com/in/dmular

  5. Todd, with the greatest respect for you and the USMC, I have to take issue with a key point in your article.

    I do not think it is an accurate analogy to compare servicemen and women with corporate employees. While it is very in vogue to compare business and war and there are some abstract similarities, those who enter our volunteer military put their lives on the line in service.

    Capitalism is based on the principle that we all pursure ‘happiness’ or rational self interest. The employment relationship must benefit both parties or it must come to an end.

    I view my employment as a business relationship and when the relationship ceases to benefit me, I will resign and I expect they feel the same way. I don’t want to be indoctrinated by a corporation, I maintain the right to question and disobey my superiors if it suits my purpose. In my life, that might make me a character or a maverick – likely an unemployed maverick but in the military, it would make me a criminal.

    Back to the problem of attracting and retaining good employees: I agree with your ‘natural point of aim’ concept. People will perform better, enjoy thier work and be more productive when they are well suited to the work and have a good manager. The corrolary is that people leave managers, not companies.

  6. Hello Todd,

    Have been in the recruiting business since 1978, after finishing my (1969-1975) tour in the Marine Corps, and getting my degrees.

    Of all of the companies I have worked for and analyzed from a recruiter’s point of view, the most successful ones had military veterans either at the helm, or well-represented in the worker base. The Marine Corps, and military in general, form people to be focused, team-players, goal-oriented, and able to ‘make do’ with available resources in a team fashion. ‘Failure’ is typically ‘not an option.’

    Companies that have veterans already in their ranks understand what they bring to the table, seek them out and bring them on board. Too many of the hiring authorities in companies ‘just don’t get it,’ and never will. It is no fault of their own, but their life experience did not bring them into contact with enough veterans to give them that understanding.

    A couple of years ago, I read an article that stated (if I can correctly recall) 70% of all the CEOs in the US were veterans. It was either all companies in the US or the Fortune 100 group. It may have surprised some people, but I’ll guarantee that no vets were surprised…None of them.

    Thank you for your input. Was glad to see the article.

    Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful)
    Dave Steinbach, CPC
    http://www.HRDotCom.com
    978 857 8661

  7. David,
    Military training is not for everyone, but many in my generation have benefited from it. And in the past, many of us had drill sergeants for mothers and/or fathers. If the current trend continues however, the military may be one of the last places where people are taught how to be an adult. To coin a phrase, ‘With great freedom, comes great responsibility.’
    Best regards,
    George

  8. Eammon, you bring up a great question – getting out of the Corps was one of the toughest things I ever did. Just as it’s hard to ‘acclimate’ to Marine culture in boot camp, it’s tough to ‘re-acclimate’ to the civilian sector.

    You realize that many of the things you didn’t look forward to in the Corps (4:30 a.m. platoon runs, uniform inspections, etc.), you actually miss when you leave.

    I believe this is true because when you’re in Marine infantry, you actually become part of the ‘cloth’ that hold the Corps together. When you get out, it’s like you go through withdrawal symptoms. ‘Once a Marine, Always a Marine’ is the mantra. I picked up Sergeant rank at 21 yrs old, meaning you have legitimate power and ability to make things happen. However, when I got out, it was like going from being ‘the man’ to being just another civilian in the rat race!

    Plus, the truth is that you deal with prejudice – some hiring managers have preconceived notions about what Marines are all about, just as many do in regards to race, age, gender, religion, etc.

    But in the end, it all builds character, so no regrets. I do miss the comraderie as you’ll never have friends in the civilian sector like you do in the Corps, but there are also things that I don’t miss . . . like being shot at!

  9. There are a such thing as ‘mavericks’ in the Marines. However, this is the difference: you have to earn respect and influence. To be a maverick that commands any respect in the Marines, you better be willing to put your money where your mouth is. That means you need to have strength, guts, heart, intelligence, moxie, committment, dedication, and integrity. Marines learn real fast to see through individuals that are just trying to advance their own interests. Once your true colors show if this is what you’re all about, you’re going to have some tough days (to say the least). That’s why many Marines have a tough time dealing with ‘yes men’ when they leave the Corps – because ‘kissing up’ doesn’t fly in the infantry.

    If you’re only intelligent, but have no guts, you don’t have any influence (you’re what we call a ‘pogue’.) If you have heart, but are not intelligent, you don’t earn influence (you’re what we call a ‘rock’.) If you have all the physical skills, but no heart, you won’t earn influence (you’re what we call ‘soft’.)

    Many think they know what leadership is all about, but they’re never put in a position within their lives where they really learn what it takes. For example, let’s say that you’re caught in an ambush. If you don’t fight back, you’re fish in a barrel. Sure, fighting back may result in casualties, but if you don’t make the tough decision to assault through, you’re all dead. Are you willing to sacrifice your own life, or possibly the lives of others around you . . . in an effort to overcome your situation and save at least some lives? This only scratches the surface of what leadership is all about, and if you’re unfortunate enough to wind up in a combat scenario, your life and views of leadership will forever be changed – for all of us that ‘lead’ our companies to more market share or increased sales, let’s not forget that we’re on easy street.

    What I’m getting at is that mavericks make things happen in the Marines – it’s not all about being ‘lock step’ when you leave boot camp. Sure, in bootcamp, you have to follow orders – it’s bootcamp! It’s a right of passage to earn the title. That being said, you don’t want to be the private that gets to the fleet and doesn’t respect or listen to above ranks. To be a good leader, you have to first be a good follower. I’d liken it to Confucionism to an extent – sometimes you have to sacrifice short term personal gain for the better of the greater group.

    However, when you get to the fleet, you don’t have to ‘follow every order’ – each situation is dependent on circumstances. Just as in other areas, you have to exercise good judgment. This whole perception of the military being all about ‘following orders’ is a Hollywood-created myth that non-Marines walk around thinking that the Marine Corps is all about.

  10. Your article hits the ?recruit? right on the head. I have been out of the Marines for 1 year now, and have been in the civilian sector since. In that time period I have told many of managers ?how we did it in the Corps.?

    As a Regional Recruiting Manager I venture into other offices across the states. Each office has its own atmosphere, just as each platoon has in the military. Although, the difference in atmospheres is that there is a commonalty in all. That is the branch in which they serve. For example, a platoon of Mortar Man has a bond with one another and will have a different atmosphere than say a Machine Gun Platoon but put them both together and they all serve the same branch and have a common bond to one another. The civilian sector does not have that. HR will not serve the bond the same way as say Clerical, or Marketing, Advertising, or any other office branch. There is no bond to the company.

    In Marine Corps ?boot camp? they teach us all the same thing at once. First history, who we are, where we came from, and why. Then they teach your methods, how we did it, why we did it, and when to do it. From there they teach us tactics, situational dictation, to know no matter what how to be prepared for it. Finally they reward us with the title. Everything we knew, we were now apart of, and we could all say we represent that same bond, no matter where we come from or where we will go.

    My point is this, we speak of ?esprit de corps? as if it is it can be told to people to understand; it can not. ?Esprit de corps? must be earned and taught to the new employees during the interview process. They must know the company?s history and value to the community, and the value to them in order for them to truly believe in the concept of the company.

    So to all the veterans out there, it is once again our responsibility to train, to manage, and to protect our company?s future. So to Todd, I say you are right, ?esprit de corps? is a must have in the work force today.

    Semper Fidelis,

  11. David,

    You and I have disagreed before, and I must disagree again. I think it would be rash, on anyone’s part, to simply dismiss the idea he presented as being out of place because it is a military philosophy. It is my understanding that the purpose of ERE articles, and the forums, are for the exchange of information and ideas – like our disagreement – not for ‘instructing’ others, from a position of authority, as to how to do things. In this instance, I do not believe the author presented his idea as being ‘superior’ in any way.

    Imagine me, an internal recruiter for a large, privately-held company, (which has a culture very similar to a corporation) and what I might get out of the article. The general attitude in my company is NOT one of ‘esprit de corps’ in any way, I can assure you. But, conversely, I think that my company would greatly benefit from instilling a little of it.

    In other words, the article was a thought provoking idea for me, and also pointed out something that is missing in my company, and in its recruiting process. I believe that this, the attitude of ‘esprit de corps’ as the author experienced it in the Marine Corps, was the purpose of the article – not that every company should be run like the Marines. Can you imagine investment bankers, in three piece suits, coming out of the front door of their building in Manhattan, marching in echelon formation, briefcases all on the same side and eyes straight ahead, to a morning meeting? (It would be hilarious to see, though. . .)

    I do not think the author is saying that the ideas and organization of the miliary as a whole should be instituted in corporate America. In fact, because of the relationship of mutual benefit you described, it never could. But I believe that the author picked out one part of military culture, and presented it to us, the readers, as a suggestion to take under consideration to better our business and the productivity of the workforce therein. In fact, as a Marine, he was under no compulsion to share the idea to begin with – it has been my experience that many Marines are reluctant to share the ideas of the Marine Corps with civilians, as they simply could not understand without having earned the right to be called a Marine. So I appreciate the author’s sharing an aspect of Marine life for the pearl of wisdom that it is, and I think it should be taken in the light that the author presented it. ‘Here’s an idea for you. . .’

  12. Wow, I haven’t felt the need to so strongly to respond to an article. My name is Denise Smith. I served a total of 12 years as a CTT in the US Navy. I’ve been a civilian longer than I served. I have been serving the HR community as a vendor, a trainer, an analyst and a designer. The very foundation of how I have been able to successfully serve the HR community is from the training and experiences I received in my country’s service.

    There is not one veteran who will tell you that everything that works for the military will work in the civilian community. There are, however, many inherit and fully developed concepts and practices that will. For example, the military is the leader in Adult Learning Theory. It is one of the reason our military is so strong and why is has been a successful VOLUNTEER ‘experiment’ for over 30 years.

    The way I was trained and the subject matter for which I was responsible is what I call ‘transferrable knowledge’. By this I mean that I can apply the very training I received to 95% of business processes and data requirements. This is only one reason to emulate the military. Succession/Progression planning are others.

    This is also why your servicewomen and servicemen should be some of your most sought after candidates.

    Sincerely,
    Denise
    Fair Winds and Following Seas.

  13. Darren,

    With respect; I did not mean to imply that I thought the original idea was necessarily a bad idea because it comes from the military. I have a lot of respect for what our military does and strong interest in military history, tactics and strategy.

    That said, my issue is with what I took to be the core idea of the article: Employee Loyalty is analogous to ‘Esprit de corps'(as found in the military) and more specifically, the means to this end is ‘indoctrination’.

    I think they have only a superficial similarity and that they are created through different methods and they exist for different reasons.

    The author asserts:

    ——[summarized below second line]——-
    ‘The civilian workforce has inappropriately called this initial phase of employment the ‘probationary period.’ That really sounds pleasing. ‘We’ll hire you, but if you even so much as tie your shoes in a way we don’t like, you’re out of here, and don’t bother asking why, because we have no official comment other than it just wasn’t a good fit,’ so the line goes.

    If the civilian workforce wants to make a difference, it will need to adjust its indoctrination to more than just going over benefits, I-9, and W-4 information. It had better change the name from something a judge hands down as punishment to something that sounds a little more appealing.

    This period should instill a sense of accomplishment upon completion. This costs money, I know, and it seems that the Defense Department has a limitless supply. But a smart company will incorporate a comprehensive indoctrination period. And it does not need to last three months.
    ——————————————-

    Opinion 1 summary: The phrase ‘propationary period is inappropriate’ and the idea of being dismissed in that period is presented as negative.

    *My response: This opinion does not offer supporting logic, evidence, research or theory. Additionally, the description of the probationary period seems very close to a ‘straw man’ argument.

    Opinion 2 summary: If the civilian workforce wants to make a difference then the solution is more indoctrination and not using the word ‘probationary’

    *My response: Again – there is nothing to support this opinion. Why is indoctrine useful in the private sector, how should it be used, what are the expected results and what behavioral theory is this idea based on?

    Opinion 3 summary: Surviving the probation period should instill a sense of accomplishment or completion. It will probably be costly but if a company is smart, they will indoctrinate people.

    *My response: How and when does a company see a ROI for implementing this idea?

    My criticism of this article is based on the lack of at least a hypothesis on why the proposed idea would benefit a business – ie: how would this make a company more profitable?

    The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things. There are very valid reasons for ‘indoctrinating’ people into a military organization, but I am unconvinced that this concept is appropriate for private industry where people want to believe they are free thinking individualists with their own unique style (just like everyone else) and the primary motivation is personal enrichment, not public service.

    In my opinion, anything that comes off trying to homogenize people will usually turn people off. I believe this view is supported by the dominant themes seen in advertising (even the Army tells you that you get to be an ‘Army of One’ – the underlying message as I see it is: you are still an individual to us)

    I think that to be convincing, the article needs at least a few of the following:

    1. What form the indoctrination would possibly take. (sloganeering, values clarification, company history, lessons on stake holders, etc)
    2. How much indoctrination would cost
    3. How a company would see an ROI on the indoctrination
    4. What kind of people would be drawn by this concept and what kind of people would be repelled by it
    5. How indictrination will improve employee loyalty
    6. Compare and contrast the indoctrination concept with other employee retention strategies

  14. Darren, you’re dead on in your analysis. Here’s a quick insight from my angle to supplement yours:

    If you think that ‘espirit de corps’ doesn’t exist . . . isn’t capable in Corporate America . . . or doesn’t matter because work is nothing more than a business relationship . . .

    Then you’re not a good leader. Moreover, you might never be. Leaders inherently realize that pride and espirit de corps matter, whether we’re talking employee retention, loyalty, performance, etc. Show me a boxer with no pride and will to fight, and I’ll show you someone who will most likely be knocked out by the end of the third round. Age and wisdom helps overcome these things, but not everyone is born with leadership ability. Yes, leadership tenets can be taught, but it takes a little something special inside. That being said, leadership isn’t for everyone. As an owner, you don’t need ‘too many chiefs and not enough indians’ – you need a blend of strong individual performers and competent leadership above to help guide their efforts.

    Many individuals think leadership is all about who has the loudest voice . . . but that’s only true if you’ve only been in corporate america. Many Americans play competitive sports growing up – in doing so, you learn that leadership is more about what you do than what you say. Anybody can be a trash talker, but not everyone can break a tackle or hit a clutch jumpshot with the game on the line, and at the same time, make others around them better.

    I’m currently in the last semester of business school, and I’ve also learned something about ‘leadership’ from a corporate perspective. When going through your mba with groups and team-based projects, you immediately learn that your true leaders are those individuals that are able to gleam insights from data and situations where others cannot. It’s not magic – but there is individual skill involved. I like to call it ‘business acumen.’ At the end of the day, humans have a production vs. production capacity issue. If your production capacity (i.e. ability to generate great ideas, locate opportunities, refine performance, etc.) is limited, your production level doesn’t matter.

    If you don’t have the ability to make a 20-mile hike with a 75-lb pack on your back in the Corps, then I’m not going to be able to help you run the same distance instead. However, show a Marine leader that you have a strong level of production capacity, along with drive, willpower, and pride (espirit de corps) . . . and he’ll truly take you to the next level.

  15. Todd’s article was very well written and right on target. As a Third Party Recruiter, I talk to employees who are open to consider outside opportunities not because they aren’t challenged, or don’t like their jobs, but because they don’t feel engaged, part of an elite organization of unique professionals who celebrate their successes and discuss their short-falls. In this age of candidate-scarcity, those companies who can establish ‘esprit-de-corps’ within the company, engage their workforce and make them feel they are part of a very special, attentive organization that recognizes their gifts and celebrates with them on successes will retain the top talent. When employees are truly happy and feel part of a greater community, they aren’t interested in a pay raise, don’t care how long the commute to or from work is, and won’t consider outside alternatives.

    I spent 12 years in the Navy and my dad was a former Marine. We’ve often talked about the Marine Corps ‘esprit-de-corps’ and what makes this organization so special. My guess is that if companies could tap into a tiny portion of this, they’d experience less employee turnover, heightened morale, and huge returns in increased productivity.

    Thanks for the great article Todd! I’ll look forward to many more salient articles/discussions in future!

  16. Thanks to all for both participating in the discussion and for e-mailing me your comments.

    Something occured to me as I was scrolling through this exchange. I suspect that for each person who contributed there are likely numerous who wanted to respond but for any number of reasons actually did not. However, my point here is this: notice how many veterans opined with positive notes of experience or came to the military’s defense against dissent. Would this not likely be proof-positive that there is some kind of loyalty that might benefit corporations were they able to tap in to that level of an employee’s cognitive fiber? Those of us who were in will tell you first hand, by and large, a significant portion of military life simply sucks and sucks in a way that non-veterans will never know.

    Living in the mud, eating cold MREs, having severly chaffed inner-thighs, carrying a heavy pack with shoulder-straps so thin they feel like piano wire, getting very little sleep for days on end while in the field, playing the hurry-up-and-wait game, suspended liberty, extensions while on deployment, incoming artillery, taking hostile fire, water-helo-egress training, etc… are just a few of the characteristics of membership in our club. And for some reason when challeneged, we come to the defense of our branch as though our own child’s very safety was in jeopardy.

    PS – I left out mention of the Air Force in my article because they don’t have hundreds of years of tradition; nothing personal USAF Vets!

  17. Josh,
    well said.. Todd, excellent article by the way.

    The military man indeed does have much to bring to the table, and indeed the courage, stamina, and don’t give up attitude, no matter how hard it get’s indeed is to be admired.. It is indeed no wonder that many of the Fortune 500 companies were run by former Military..

    As a former Military wife who had to ‘suffer’ the multiple relocations, and the raising the kids alone whilst the husband was away on maneuvers, or at war.. Indeed it was a challenge.. So, let’s hear it for the wives of the Military as well..
    πŸ™‚

  18. As a 20-year Navy veteran, I can tell you that among the many things the military does, our purpose is NOT ‘to kill people and break things’, but rather to prevent wars and to prevent breaking things. Our military through the years has and still serves to prevent many potential conflicts around the globe. At other times, when it was necessary to fix broken things, we did so, as in the case of World War II. As Colin Powell mentions in his autobiography, war and combat should only be used as the last resort. Being a military under civilian rule and leadership (as I agree it should be), often our politicians are the ones who use force, combat and war and send our military in that directions. If we left the decision up to the military, based on my service and all the military folks I know, we would have far less fighting and war.

    The main thrust and idea of using Marine Esprit de Corps is a valuable one. I have seen and known Marines and their organizational ways for over 30 years and I agree that civilan organizations can learn a lot from studying and
    can also benefit tremendously from applying USMC principles and practices to their own business operations and people practices.

    And by the way, if and when it is necessary to go into combat, there is no finer, motivated fighting force in the world than our US Marines.
    ‘Semper Fi’ to all our ERE members who have served our nation and now continue to do so in their civilian capacity, making our civlian community a better place to live in through their ‘Esprit de Corps’. I salute you with pride and gratitude.

  19. Off the subject, but short.

    The Marines went into Liberia 2 years ago, stopped the genocide (not soon enough, but after 250k had been slaughtered), and stopped a war where rebels recruited children, and took a once relatively prosperous African country founded by American slaves in 1820 and turned it into a basket case. And we didn’t lose one man (or woman). Now we need them in Darfur!

    Biased? You bet -son Jeff was Med-Vac-ed out of Iraq 3 times.

  20. Hi Joshua,

    Re the Marines, tell us how you REALLY feel! I can’t imagine your response to those morons burning GI’s in effigy on the news last evening. That’s akin to shooting up MacDonalds because you’re PO’d at some congressional bureaucrat. Of course, reactionary idiots do not understand cause and effect.

    Now, the first thing you learn in the Engineering business is that EVERYTHING is a TRADEOFF! You can’t have the largest, fastest car and still have great gas mileage. You can’t have a PCS phone with a lot of bells and whistles (most of which have no application to the basic function of the damn thing) and still have reliability. These are FACTS you live with, period.

    Another trade off is eliminating the U.S. Military. However, as I once told a young lady who was complaining that the ‘Top Gun’ pilots at Miramar NAS in San Diego were disturbing her baby’s naps, ‘We have a trade off situation here…we can stop the ‘Top Gun’ boys from disturbing your babies by dumping our Military. BUT, the trade off is that the bad guys over there might dump your babies in a sewer by the side of the road…your choice!’

    Now, I know that’s overly simplistic, but it illustrates the point.

    The Military has some damn good ideas, and they have some damn bad ideas. They have CS, some of which is necessary for training, and they have CS which is just plain CS.

    One thing the Military has which is a good idea is BOOT CAMP. This is where you learn that Mommys are OUT and Daddys are IN (Bet you’re afraid to publish this!). More importantly, you learn something that ‘civilians’ just don’t understand and couldn’t comprehend. And that something is, ‘ACCOMPLISH YOUR MISSION! MOVE! SHUT UP!’ Freely translated, ‘Yes, Virginia, you can SSS in 5 minutes and then fall out for PE!’

    That’s what this industry, and every other industry in this country needs! One of our Directors, a retired Army Officer, once remarked about the Personnel Department types at the old ‘DEC’ (now defunct), ‘These people not only don’t know what THEIR mission is, they don’t know what A mission is!’

    In reading these pages with morning coffee (better than the news which I avoid), I see more talk talk talk which has nothing to do with the fundamental mission of employment which, as I see it, is to FIND good employees plus KEEP them safe, happy, and trained.

    This mission must not be happening because stats indicate that HR’s acquisition costs are ridiculous, safety records a joke, and attrition rates ridiculous.

    In the Marines, this would earn them a few thousand push ups and a few dozen GI parties.

    So, how about a suggestion from an old tymer? Shut up about all this extraneous, bureaucratic nonsense, get back to basics, and accomplish your mission.

    Then you won’t hear this from candidates:

    ‘The Recruiters do not understand the disciplines’
    ‘The employment process is painful’
    ‘I never receive a response to my resume’
    ‘I get NO respect from these people’

    Please take another moment…I hit the www/net recently, and typed into dogpile and google (NOT a verb), ‘I want a Management job in hard product Manufacturing’. The result was my fooling around with over 200 ‘Recruiter’ sites without once seeing a job even remotely connected with what I wanted.

    I did, however, do one hell of a lot of reading of irrelevant nonsense(how GREAT they all are!), clicking, typing, and pointing, but no results EXCEPT, ‘Send your resume’, ‘Send money’, ‘Join us know’, and other just plain scam type crud.

    Enough said…

  21. Joshua:

    That is exactly it’s purpose, ‘to kill people and break things’ and to do that as an extension of policy. That’s why a significant portion of the issued equipment consists of guns and bombs. I think you can find it phrased more elegantly in Clauswitz.
    Nor would I fight that definition, or apologize for it. Sometimes people need killing and things need breaking and wisely, we do not send sensitivity trainers to do this when needed.
    Don’t fall into the intellectual trap of validating your opponents definition.
    Further, on this subject, I would say that inculcating military values would be difficult in a corporate environment.The framework of reciprocal loyalty doesn’t exist. Can you imagine Citicorp ‘leaving no one behind’?, or the guy in the next cubicle falling on a pink slip for his buddies? Ha!

  22. Thanks for an article that helps direct employers to the responsibility of preparing a ‘common-goal’ workforce without sacrificing individual thought. An investment to be sure – and I’ve worked for a few companies that have achieved this without the organizations’ leaders being ex-military. It’s certainly possible to indoctrinate employees without a shoot or salute approach (I do like that phrase) but it’s obvious that Todd is reflecting on pulling employees into the fold, ensuring through programs, mentoring, etc. that each employee understands the role, what it means to the organization, how his work will achieve the final goals, and celebrating that victory.

    What’s the advantage? People working together for a common goal tend to communicate more, brainstorm, breakdown the successes for duplication, discuss the failures (and aren’t afraid of taking calculated risks in the future), and overall – tend to WANT to make it happen because they believe in what the leaders of the organization are trying to do.

    Does everyone sign on – no, and neither does everyone make it in the military. One thought presented appeared to be saying that people would appreciate individualistic thought and be resistant to indoctrination. I don’t think folks in the military ‘lose’ their ability to think as an individual but must incorporate their thinking into the greater goal of the group. But I’ve never been in the military so excuse me if I’m misinterpretting. Yet, I’d challenge that you can have individual thinkers within a common goal enviroment and move an organization forward – when everyone is working from the same page. Like the military, everybody can’t be off doing ‘their own thing.’ In either case, I don’t think that anyone is demanding that people act as robots.

    The simplistic response that the military ‘kills and breaks things’ is incomplete in its assessment at best, and I’m guessing here – reflects the individual’s disdain for military operations.

  23. I just got back to my desk from being away for a while and was captivated by the article and by the thread of responses concerning the article. Being Canadian, our military is small and is primarily professional so it’s very rare to find people with military backgrounds in the corporate world in Canada. That’s what makes this discussion and article so interesting to me. I think that turning what Todd wrote about into a value judgment on the military positive or negative, reflects personal bias. The military has passengers and negative junk just as every company does.

    Let’s look at the positive side. I see a great level of ‘esprit de corps’ and ‘natural point of aim’ reflected by military, left wing, right wing, religious and sports groups everywhere; it’s not exclusive to the military. You want a great example of commitment and esprit de corps? Look at PETA.

    For me, ‘Esprit de Corps’ and the ‘Natural Point of Aim’ are synonymous with purpose. Anecdotally, many of the reasons the people I recruit give for leaving their job rarely center on money or even values differences with the company they work for. Quite often it is the feeling that they’re not working with or doing something of importance (what we daydream about). The idea of belonging to something bigger than you is not exclusive to the military. Do you go to church? Play sports? Support a cause? We congregate, we search for a common purpose and we work to that end (simple but true).

    In business, we as an organization want an edge, an advantage over our competition… how do you get that? Better pay? Better perks? Foosball table and beer fridge in the lunchroom?
    Nope. ‘Esprit de Corps’… Purpose.

    Great article.

  24. I agree that: ‘Our job, as executive recruiters, is to pay as much attention to the cultural fit and individual personality/drive/integrity/etc. of our candidates, not just a keyword match that anybody with board access can do.’

    We have found in our research that the criteria for this ‘fit’ differ from one organization to another. Thus it is important that there be a ‘precision’ to this fit, and to the characteristics of the candidate being ‘fitted.’

    We have found one organization, for example, in which both high and low performers were low on sensitivity to others. The high performers had better scores, however, on using this insensitivity in a balanced way and used this objectivity to listen to customers and solve their problems without getting involved. The low performers were more insistent that the customer follow certain requirements, thereby turning their insensitivity into critical impatience and hence poor decisions when it came to managing the customer. Thus assessing for sensitivity or empathy won’t be very useful in this organization. More precision is required.

    In this same, very successful and well known company, both high and low performers were individualists and tended to resist conformity. The high performers had the ability to use this trait to remove obstacles, an ability the poor performers lacked. The poor performers instead used this tendency to break the wrong rules, thereby creating problems.

    We also found that most of our low performers were as high on talent as the high performers. The difference is in their ability to access the talent and translate it into skill. That accounts for the ‘recruiter’s nightmare’ wherein a highly talented hire fails miserably and the client wants to know why. Once again precision makes the difference. It’s critical that, if we benchmark for ‘fit,’ we be precise in making sure the fit leads to performance–that talent is paired with ability to access that talent.

    Such precision is the key to identifying sturdy hires. One well-known company doing this kind of ‘fit’ benchmarking was able to reduce turnover from 15 new hires every 2 weeks to 8 every 3 months. That’s the power of precision.

    Of course 360 feedback and self-report instruments are less effective in giving this precision because of the vulnerability to bias and to inaccuracy in judging self or other. A more objective kind of assessment yields much more precise results.

  25. Joshua:
    Apparently you are ready to take umbrage and assume the moral high ground on the basis of any statement,at all, on this particular subject–no doubt, a very emotional one for you, for whatever reason.

    You also have more to say on it than any military man I’ve ever encountered.

    So in deference to your high state of dudgeon, I’ll drop the subject, but that raises another:

    So what did you mean about that bag of doughnuts?
    Are you aware of the sufferings of fat people?
    The pain and discrimination we suffer?

    The humiliation? The bad knees? HOW DARE YOU, YOU INSENSITIVE BRUTE!!!

    PS A box of Krispy Kremes will serve as an apology and prevent my call to the ACLU.

  26. Ah, Joshua, where do you find all that straw to make so many straw men arguments? You must be getting a volume discount. I do hope you are not violating any local fire ordinances.

    Perhaps I did misinterpret the purpose of out military. What with all the guns, ammo, missiles, bombers, tanks, battleships and nuclear submarines, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we spend billions of dollars on these items so that at a moments notice, we can send our finest men and women to any place in the world to build a bridge, hospital or school.

    My disagreement with the author is based on the simple fact that the discipline, dedication, commitment and attitude that is instilled into people in the military is not somthing that can be authentically recreated outside of that environment.

    So to all of you who served our country with honor, you have my profound grattitude and respect. My belief is that success is who you become and how you live your life and there is probably no finer place to learn that than in the military.

  27. Bill,
    you are a funny guy.. Okay, so maybe I am redundent here… but, don’t the spouses/dependents of the military get any credit as well..

    Seriously folks, we didn’t get those great certificates of loyalty and gratitude from the military because we didn’t earn them..

    Now, this isn’t a gender issue, there are almost as many male military spouses as there are female.

    Geez, I remember ‘my’ 10 plus years served on Foreign Soil; the Angst during the first Iraq War. The hurry up and wait; dealing with the Same ole same ole; Taking of the Family as a single mom, as my husband ‘played’ Army (said tongue in Cheek, it was what the wives called it)

    Yes, we had to adapt to the stresses our spouses felt; the moves from one city, state or country to another; We had to quit our jobs and compromise for our country. Was it an adventure.. Guess it all depended on the day

    Here was the recipe for a Militar Wife quoted ‘1 1/2 cups patience
    1 lb. adaptability
    3/4 cup tolerance
    1 tsp. courage
    Dash of adventure

    Combine the above ingredients. Add 2 tablespoons of elbow grease. Marinate frequently with salty tears. Pour off excess fat. Sprinkle lightly with money. Season the mixture with international spices’

    I wonder, do they also fall into the play of what makes a Solid, Good employee as well. Never quitting, no matter how hard it got..

    There are some great arguments out there for the valid reason for hiring former military.. but does the same argument ring true as well for the spouse?

  28. I was hesitant to get involved in this thread due to my personal feelings about the military. I must applaud you for your ability to respond in such a professional and emotional way without losing it. I was always amazed that when the protestors showed up outside the military recruiting offices we were told not to engage them and to leave via back doors so as to not cause an issue. In other words we were prepared to give up our life in the service of this nation to protect the freedoms which allowed these individuals to protest and harass us.
    I learned a long time ago that if you have to explain they will never understand. Thanks for explaining Joshua, although to those that served your explanation is not needed but it is the core part of the fabric that governs the way we lead our lives. All gave some, some gave all and although I will never know what it was like to be a US Marine I will never be with those ‘cold and timid souls that know neither victory nor defeat’. With pride and honor I sign my name-

    Anthony P. Pivirotto, MSgt USAF (Retired)
    Vice President,
    MSI

  29. Dave,

    and I beleive that was his point from the onset. The ‘Esprit De Corps’ is something learned and earned, never given. If corporate culture would look at its merits and apply some of its prinicpals…well, now that would really change the dynamics of business culture FOREVER.

    Anthony Pivirotto, MSgt USAF (Retired), your comment said it best: ‘if you have to explain it, then they’ll never understand it.’ It’s really unfortunate, because understanding ‘it’ really does change the learning curve at which you adapt to the markets everchagning tradewinds.

    Good thread and even better article.

    Semper Fi

  30. Great post and great thread. As a former Marine, I constantly look for ways to apply the concepts of leadership and Esprit de Corps I learned during my service – with varying degrees of success. In the end, sometimes it is enough to remember that no matter how tough the situation may be, I have ALWAYS been in a worse spot.

    I can sum up the difficulty in trying to transition many aspects of military life to the civilian workforce with this simple example:

    Several years back, when interviewing a retiring Marine Corps Sergeant Major for a management position within our company, we asked him how he would handle the problem of late arriving factory employees. He replied without any hesitation, ‘Easy, I would require them to be here 5 minutes earlier every day until they understood who the boss was.’

    Although the interview team all agreed we would love to see that tried just once, and maybe twice; it was clear (with other examples) that his preferred and learned methods of creating Esprit de Corps would most likely lead to a full scale mutiny, and we passed.

    As much as I loved that man for his straight-forward, straight-shooting leadership style, it was clear that the same qualities that were identified with strength and decisiveness in the Marine Corps were not going to serve him well in the civilian world. The term ‘deprogramming’ was discussed more than once.

    So, Semper Fi, and maintain a sense of awareness that lets you identify and implement what works while understanding what doesn’t and why.

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