A good friend of mine is a former SOF Operator turned corporate warrior. We were recently chatting about his career and his company and his strategy for surviving an especially challenging corporate environment.
I am always interested in how former highly trained, combat proven, energetic SOF warriors make the transition into corporate life, and how they in turn handle the challenges and uncertainties that so many companies are currently dealing with. I'm equally amazed at how effectively the SOF mindset can de-construct a problem (mission), create a clear path to success (plan) and ensure with 100% certainty that they achieve the objective (execute).
He shared with me the story of his company, a struggling, mid-sized logistics firm based in a major west coast city. The company's recent history had been an unfortunate one of multiple management shakeups, a few minor scandals, declining stock value, high employee turnover, and a recent merger that now placed the company within a much larger structure of a portfolio management group that was focused on one thing, growth. The company faced an uncertain market place, shifting economic realities and competition from smaller aggressive companies as well as larger competitors. The firm had been unable to gain new clients, and was in danger of losing more market share if they couldn't improve performance. My friend, no stranger to hard challenges, had recently joined the company, excited by the opportunity to have an impact by helping the organization grow it's current business and expand into new AO's (markets or vertical channels). As a junior executive he had inherited a business unit that was vital to the overall organization and was responsible for leading a team that had a long history of success, but was also struggling to maintain their performance metrics while achieving aggressive new goals. (sound familiar?) Many business leaders I speak with share the same story.
After a year at the company, he called me to give me a short SITREP of the situation, and to discuss some options for how to move forward.
The company was struggling, he said, with everything, but especially the simple things. It was plagued with sluggishness, and there was angst, dysfunction and even anger within every level of the organization over confusion related to marketing and social media, sales, core capabilities and strategy. He observed morale, cohesion and focus at the company to be dangerously low. The situation was exacerbated, he said, by misplaced and inexperienced mid-level and senior leadership who lacked understanding of the company's potential, or the ability to communicate the company's value to potential clients.
I laughed, "You just described half of the organizations in existence didn't you"? He assured me it was no laughing matter, and we continued on with the de-brief. His understanding of the situation (warrior's situational awareness) was keen and expected from someone who had survived multiple combat deployments and high risk missions but was also educated with business experience. Though far from the only former veteran at the company, he was perhaps one of the few from the SOF world, and by his own assessment was one of a very small group of individuals who "got it" at the company. That mindset is obviously consistent with Type A's who have a history of high achievement and while his frustration was evident, he was also aware that to keep his wits about him, and his objectivity he needed to monitor his frustration level and stay focused on forward progress.
We summed up the overall issues over many cups of coffee, and extracted the core challenges as he saw them:
1) The company could not define it's value or mission to it's employees, clients or shareholders any longer- Organizations have to be able to clearly communicate their mission to the world. Employees and clients both have to understand what the company's purpose and value are, so that they can, in their respective ways make the correct decisions and achieve the desired results. The value message is directly linked to cohesion and growth. Employees at every level have to understand the strategic mission, team mission and their individual mission or the company will be mired in the mud.
2) The company would not advance or grow until there was functional cohesion and unity in thought over the simple things.
I told him I thought the company sounded schizophrenic. He agreed. In true SOF fashion, he was determined and focused on finding solutions and creating impact to reverse trend. In short, he was focused on winning.
I left amazed at his determination, dedication and his well thought out strategy to start with his team, master the basics, lead by example, think three steps ahead, know his environment and create multiple options. He had SOF focus. He was not going to quit. He was up against perhaps his greatest challenge, the most difficult mission, deep behind enemy lines, and had a smile on his face as if to say, "Just another day in the office".
I wondered if his company had any idea how lucky they were to have him. I wonder how many others are out there?
In Corporate survival Part 2- we will look at three practical steps you can take to ensure your success and survival as a leader if you find yourself in a similar circumstance.
"BEYOND NORMAL LIMITS"