Companies Prepare for Business Warfare

Discussion
Jan 30, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Oorah! Businesses are getting their workforce ready to do competitive battle with Marine-style training.


One such company, Jack & Jill Ice Cream’s Food Service Division, wanted to train its customer service staff to handle calls more effectively. Jack & Jill’s sales manager, Michelle Davis, turned to Business Battlefield Seminars of Coopersburg, Pa. to get her group in fighting trim.


Employees from the company were divided into groups and each chose a commander. They then simulated battle scenarios as a group.


The exercise, Ms. Davis told The Courier-Post of Cherry Hill, NJ, “took us out of our element and broke the ice. I think it built morale within the group.”


Matt Daniel, owner of Business Battlefield Seminars, said groups are debriefed after each exercise for members to draw parallels between that experience and specific situations they face at work.


“These missions help people realize who is on their team and what is needed to get the job done,” he said.


Moderator’s Comment: Is there a particular school or philosophy of management that you believe is most successful in retailing and other organizations?


From Sun Tzu to the Dali Lama, it sometimes appears as though there are many philosophies on how to lead and manage as there are companies.
George Anderson – Moderator

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16 Comments on "Companies Prepare for Business Warfare"


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Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 27 days ago

Wow! By virtue of a lousy travel schedule I have come to this liveliest of parties quite late. But what a debate!

I think there is one part of the “military” or “survival” simulations we have not addressed however, and that is the benefit of recreating, sometimes quite realistically, the insight and compassion that can only be realized by facing one’s own mortality. OK, few people really think they are going to get killed in these things. But I can attest to a very real fear created when you realize that the VP of Sales (your sworn mortal enemy as the VP of Marketing) is the one holding the belaying line as you free climb a summit in one of those teamwork exercises!

The point is, you operate differently after one of these experiences if it is done right. You respect others more. You think about doing “the right thing” more. And that has to be a good thing for retailing as much as any other business.

Edwin Tamasese
Guest
Edwin Tamasese
15 years 27 days ago

From experience, having participated in a military type team building exercise – results – management and employees built better rapport after the event, barriers to communication came down due to familiarity and communication during the day, strength of character and leadership ability was evident etc. Most importantly, it was fun and built morale by being a brake from the mundane day to day work “stuff.” This translated into a happier work environment, positive team attitudes, etc. – which translated into how people dealt with customers.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 27 days ago
Since Mr. Zahn confesses that he’s remedial in his understanding of military-based, successful retail business ventures, that will be my “jumping-off point” (a military term). After all, how can one criticize the unknowledgeable? And while he’s at it, Mr. Zahn should also acquaint himself with terms like “supply lines,” “troops in the field,” “hearts and minds,” “tactical geography,” “foot traffic,” “logistics,” “chain of command,” and hundreds of other military-originated terms used daily in the retail business. Almost every successful major U.S. business endeavor that originated or grew significantly following WWII was led or guided by ex-military officers employing military principles of engagement. (You could look it up.) For instance, what is the largest man-made project in world history? Answer: The U.S. interstate highway system, originated by President/General Eisenhower to provide a quick transport system for the U.S. military to protect our borders – sea to shining sea. As many others have done, Mr. Zahn should do: Research the pedigrees of the movers and shakers in bluechip American companies. He’d find military backgrounds and military-originated systems… Read more »
Marc Drizin
Guest
Marc Drizin
15 years 27 days ago
Yeah, it’s a little philosophy of management called the “Golden Rule.” Simply put, treat people the way you would want to be treated. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about a company’s relationships with vendors, customers, employees, shareholders, or members of the community in which they serve, “do unto others” works as well today as it did a couple of thousand years ago. The problem with many managers is they don’t understand the new Golden Rule of Retailing: He who has the gold makes the rules. Whether it relates to customers who have a wealth of choices from which to spend their hard earned money, or employees who recognize that there are more jobs than there are people to fill them, today’s retailers have to compete to win. Pay a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, provide a culture of ethics, offer training and development for the long term, and promote from within. Management “flavors of the week” come and go; long term success with customers and employees takes work, but pays… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 27 days ago

I personally think all these exercises are fun…but no substitute for reality. The lessons aren’t really transferable. Take war for example: How about the business lessons of U.S. Grant — stay drunk as much as possible and don’t worry about how many of your troops get killed, you started off with more guys than your competition, so sooner or later you’re bound to win.

Bernie Slome
Guest
Bernie Slome
15 years 27 days ago

Business has always been akin to warfare. Marketing efforts are called campaigns. Direct salespeople are thought to be on the front lines. There are terms such as “guerilla marketing.” So why be surprised at this approach? No matter what one thinks of the military, one thing is certain, it DOES build a team approach.

Now if Jack & Jill are looking to build a team and knowing their employees, this is a good approach, then this works for them. What impresses me more, on a personal level, is that they are striving to improve their customer service standards and are going to great lengths to make it happen. They need to remember that after they create the team, train the troops and improve the morale, they then need to have inspections and occasional retraining sessions. After all, the military does that as well.

David Zahn
Guest
15 years 27 days ago
Piggy-backing on another question posed about being culturally sensitive; to view business as war is not an analogy that will resonate with everyone equally. The other problem with the example given is the following: 1) Transfer of knowledge – being on the obstacle course, trust falls, paintball field, etc., while fun are rarely shown to transfer back to the work environment. Sure, there is “water cooler” talk and it opens up dialogue, but it has not been shown to change behaviors that move the business forward without there being a parallel movement to change organizational structures, office design to cause interaction between departments, or address the issues in other ways. 2) The goal of this program was not clearly identified. What was it designed to do? How was it to be measured? By their own admission…they “THINK” it improved morale? Where is the proof? What is the link between morale and performance? 3) The analogy may be flawed – is business REALLY war? Do all see it that way? Do you want your customer service… Read more »
Ian Percy
Guest
15 years 27 days ago
Let’s see…take an approach and philosophy used in training soldiers to dominate and subdue (if not kill) an enemy and let’s apply that to teaching an ice cream company named after a nursery rhyme how to do effective customer service. Seems to me that if you have to ‘battle’ your customers to eat ice cream something has gone terribly wrong somewhere. Under the leadership of “Commanders” they simulated battle scenarios as a group. I wonder if they brought in any customers to play the “enemy”? You could use raspberry syrup for blood and chocolate chips to simulate bullet holes. Can you spell M-E-T-A-P-H-O-R? The grand outcome of this strange thinking by Ms. Davis was: “I think it built morale.” I thought the goal was to improve customer service. This reminds me of a company who tried to team-build by having managers and employees on opposite sides of a paintball war game. After 3 hours of shooting at each other, guess the outcome of that exercise. For goodness sake if you’re going to go to the… Read more »
Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
15 years 27 days ago
Establishing a sustainable and appropriate corporate culture in a service business requires several elements. First, the values of the organization must be clear, easily understood, and directly related to emotional connections. These connections are between employees, between employees and customers, and between the brand the customer. Second, the ways in which the company conducts its business must be aligned with those values. Call them methods, processes, or business practices, the day-to-day manner in which business is transacted can and should be tested against the core values. Third, the organization must establish an unyielding expectation of commitment to those core values and aligned practices, with all elements of accountability, consequence and reward structured in support of that expectation. Retail, and service businesses in any industry, must have a commitment to serving the customer in a very clearly defined and specific way. Just “serving the customer” has no emotional hooks to hang commitment from. Is the militaristic approach a useful model? No. Military organizations are extraordinary at creating insular and effective cultures. Sometimes. Most of the highly… Read more »
Michael Tesler
Guest
Michael Tesler
15 years 27 days ago

It is important to have an approach and a plan related training employees to properly serve customers. The military approach may or may not work depending on the people, product, consumers, competition, etc. It looked like a fun and eye opening exercise but as a permanent approach to service it is impossible to answer whether or not it would be effective. The best run stores do not impose ridged systems on people but educate and empower their people to adapt to the needs of any given situation and to be flexible and creative. Atmospheres that are loose, open, transparent, democratic, informed, innovative, fun and passionate work best in my opinion and not to offend anyone but this is far removed from the military (at least the one I experienced).

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
15 years 27 days ago

The only good thing I can see in this example is that the company recognized they had a problem and were trying to do something about it. But if the managers really needed this type of help in encouraging a team atmosphere, they probably need new managers.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
15 years 27 days ago

The management philosophy that motivates your employees to achieve desired goals and meets the needs of your valuable consumers at a profit is the best one for your company. Demassification of the market means that there are more fragmented groups of consumers and employees. One management philosophy does not fit all.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 27 days ago
What a revealing bunch of Kum-Bay-Yah comments. Of course the military model works best in retail management, and it’s been proven over and over again. In fact, the military model works best in most large organizations, including the Salvation Army and the church (Onward Christian Soldiers!). The problem with the naysaying responses here is that the authors are obsessed with their obvious prejudices against war and can see no further. “Customers as enemies?” How about competitors, bad service, late deliveries, and dirty floors as enemies? How about the good that military forces do (how many anti-military whiners out there were clamoring for the National Guard to help out during Hurricane Katrina relief?). How about reaching the absurd conclusion that because General Grant drank, the military approach is bad? Even Martin Luther King Jr.’s organization was based on military concepts. You want clarity of communication? What could be clearer than the tried-and-true lexicon of the military? Very little room for misunderstanding. You want clear goal identification? You want understandable responsibility definitions? You want a proven system… Read more »
David Zahn
Guest
15 years 27 days ago
Dr. Banks appears to have taken umbrage with those that do not quite see the world through his eyes. Unfortunately, he makes assumptions that appear to be unfounded in picking apart the arguments set forth by others. To wit – he says “Of course the military model works best in retail management, and it’s been proven over and over again.” Of course? Proven over and over again? I suppose if you claim something it must be so. I do not see that as proof, but maybe I am a bit remedial. Further in his response, he states, “In fact, the military model works best in most large organizations, including the Salvation Army and the church (Onward Christian Soldiers!).” Well, I guess that is all the proof one needs…”most large organizations” and then he references a couple of religious organizations (though he only offers the example of the religious organizations he is most familiar with, and ignores other religions that do not subscribe to that approach). Dr.. Banks further states, “The problem with the naysaying responses… Read more »
Jason Brasher
Guest
Jason Brasher
15 years 26 days ago
Wow, coming this late I don’t know that anyone will read this, yet I am sure glad I did. It is comforting to know that there are no pre-determined ideals being brought to an open forum here. I enjoy the exploration of the examples given by Dr. Banks being cross-examined with the comparative amounts of investments required and the long term impacts, you know… ROI. For example, the highway system was built to allow the military to maneuver. The same could be said of the internet and satellite communications. All significant contributors to the world we have today. Yet, the model of decision making that created these did not consider the full impacts. Our highways have allowed us the freedom to become independent from mass transit and devour more resources while creating exponential short-term growth. The results have been inefficient means of transportation and dependence upon foreign resources that are forcing further investment. My point is, in all cases, if the decision-makers are behind the changes and commit to them with resources, change happens. Perhaps,… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 26 days ago

Jack & Jill might’ve had great results simply because they changed the staff’s routine, regardless of the technique used. And it isn’t clear that this was an artfully tested, controlled experiment. Any training program, management philosophy, systems procedure, or marketing campaign that can be tested and measured for profitability is worth considering. If the results are measured solely by anecdotes, suspicion will be high. If the experiment ignores the Hawthorne Effect, the testing may be irrelevant. (The Hawthorne Effect: people’s performance often changes when they know they’re being measured, regardless of whether anything else changes.)

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