Training Tips from the Military

June 11, 2014

Training Tips from the Military

By Jim Fleming, PLS

In the fall of 2010, I was on the red-eye returning to DC from a laser scanning conference in San Francisco and a previous passenger had left the November 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review in the seat back pocket. The focus of the issue was on leadership lessons from the military.  In one of the associated online blogs Colonel Bernard Banks, a faculty member in the Department of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership at West Point who has lectured on leadership at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, wrote about how companies can develop critical thinkers and creative leaders and how the military’s attitude toward training can be adapted to the private sector to further those goals.

During the height of the past recession, there was a lot of good advice published, both in print and online, about how to make positive use of downtime.  For those whose workload had dropped to the point where they weren’t working full weeks, or for those who had temporarily been out of work, the prevailing wisdom was that they should take the available time to expand their skills. Whether enhancing existing abilities or branching out into new areas,  there can be no argument that this was good advice.  However, as work started to pick up and the urgency of looming deadlines returned, Colonel Banks’ advice on the importance of training while you are busy still needs to be heeded.

Banks wrote, “In industry, 90% of time is typically devoted to executing business actions, and less than 10% is allocated for increasing organizational and individual capabilities through training. The military, on the other hand, spends as much time training as it does executing—even in the midst of high stress/high risk operations. A unit in Afghanistan or Iraq will not suspend its experiential training program while involved in combat operations, because its ability to cogently and creatively address future challenges is enhanced by an enduring commitment to improving people’s competence and adaptability through experiential exercises, as well as actual experiences.”

He went on to explain that it’s not just training, but the attitude toward training that’s important.  The military doesn’t judge success solely on a mission’s outcome but on whether the lessons learned can be integrated to improve the organization.  And that is a lesson that can easily be adapted to any organization.  Skills for skills’ sake and skills to perform a specific task have their place. However, to get the maximum benefit out of training, you and your staff need to be able to adapt what you’ve learned and integrate it in a multidisciplinary way to improve your processes.

I’ll be the first to admit that training in busy times is a difficult habit to develop. My natural tendency when confronted with a project that requires a new skill is to learn the minimum required to complete the task.  However, as Colonel Banks concludes, “If you wait for the right time to train it’ll rarely occur. Today is the opportunity to prepare for tomorrow, regardless of how much else is going on.”

Portions of this were originally published by the author in Professional Surveyor Magazine and are reprinted with permission.

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