'Always faithful' at the office
- By Dan Verton
- May 15, 2000
Every organization needs a mission statement, a set of core values and alist of guiding principles that keep all of its component parts moving inthe same direction. And with today's high-speed business transactions, keepingit all moving in the same direction can be a challenge for even the mostskilled organizations.
However, there are not many guidebooks for government managers thatdemonstrate how to transform a stodgy, brittle and slow-moving enterpriseinto a flexible, aggressive and efficient network-based organization. Thereis a way to do just that, and the Marine Corps offers a good example.
The Marine Corps motto, "Semper Fidelis," which is Latin for "alwaysfaithful," has inspired millions to join the world's foremost warfightingorganization and has motivated countless others to rise up through the ranksof that organization and do great things. A book by former Marines Dan Carrisonand Rod Walsh, titled Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way,gives government managers a guidebook to help their organizations capturethe same esprit de corps.
Semper Fi is written from a different perspective than Corps Business:The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines, by David Freedman [FCW,April 17]. Rather than being a journalist observing Marines in action asFreedman was, Carrison and Walsh are Marines-turned-businessmen. Carrisonis a senior account executive for a leading supplier of automatic tellermachines, while Walsh holds a master's of business administration and has28 years of experience as president of Blue Chip Inventory Service.
The book's chapters cover some of the most basic management issues facingall organizations. From recruiting and training to supervision and managementresponsibilities, readers get the benefit of a logical, step-by-step outlineof how to attract, develop and retain a motivated work force that "wantsto go the extra mile."
But Marines don't like to use the word "management." Management is forpeople who like to hide behind doors and desks and for those who think theyhave a monopoly on truth. Marines, on the other hand, lead. Marine leaderstake an active role in fostering teamwork and a sense of duty throughouttheir organization and regularly take the pulse of those on the front lineswithout compromising or abusing their positions of authority.
The best way to illustrate Carrison and Walsh's view of this is to describesome points under what they call "Leading to Victory: Ten Winning Strategies"(see related story).
Marine recruits are taught courage through a carefully controlled, incrementalprogram run by a respected leader in this case, the drill instructor that instills fear in a measured way, according to Carrison and Walsh. Asa team, they are put through mandatory exercises that first teach them howto tackle the most difficult problems and then challenge them to do so.
"Managers who want to cultivate courage in themselves and in their personnelmust first recognize that there is quite a bit of fear behind the smilingdemeanor of the workplace," Carrison and Walsh write. Moreover, "managementdoesn't always recognize courage as a virtue," according to the authors."While it is eager to praise the determination that gained a customer, managementoccasionally punishes the courageous individual who has lost a customer."
Even whistle-blowers those who identify fraud, waste and abuse withintheir organizations should be praised for finding the courage to speakout, according to the authors.
Command from a Forward Position
In the Marine Corps, leaders lead from the front. Marine officers gothrough training that exposes them to the widest range of experiences andtools so that they are never placed in a situation where they must ask oneof their Marines to do something they either cannot or are not willing todo themselves.
Although this is an extreme "motivator" for the troops, "there is simplyno better way to command troops in combat," the authors write. And businessesare in combat every hour of every Internet day. The Marine officer "wantsreal-time information."
Also, by placing yourself in the forward position, you can see for yourselfthe difficulty of fulfilling your own directives. "The more important themission, the more important it is to be at the front," according to Carrisonand Walsh. "All too often, the walls of his office isolate the manager fromthe battlefield of the marketplace, from his customers and from his ownpersonnel."
But one thing Carrison and Walsh do not touch upon are the unforeseenramifications of leading from the front too often. If you are not careful,subordinates can interpret your consistent presence in their domain as asign that you lack confidence in their abilities.
Carrison and Walsh advise organizations to "instill a fighting man [orwoman]" culture. "It spurs performance, encourages competition and createsthe kind of esprit de corps that inspires individuals to go beyond themselves."Not every unit within an organization is on the "front lines" some playa supporting role. But every Marine is a rifleman first, which gives eachMarine a unique sense of why all the other parts of the organization exist.
"Those who manage the staff "weenies' must be equally assertive," accordingto Carrison and Walsh, referring to the military's benign characterizationof bean counters, expense clerks and other support staff. "The only peoplewho have "got it soft' are the employees of the competition, who aren'tfortunate enough to be working for the most aggressive, the most efficientand the most demanding company in the industry."
In the Marine Corps, some things never change, and for good reason.