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Monday, February 17, 2014

Corporate survival- Part 2

What can you do to survive if you find yourself as a leader a part of a schizophrenic team or company?

1) Stay focused.  When leaders and motivated individuals, especially former SOF operators and Veterans find themselves on dysfunctional teams it can lead to epic frustration.  If approached correctly however, there are valuable personal and professional lessons to be gained.  Focus on your individual mission, your team's core capabilities and ensuring quality output continues (within your sphere of influence). Just like in military selection courses, your personal growth and development will increase exponentially during periods of extreme corporate hardship, and you will be refining your leadership skills to help guide a future team or organization through a similar challenge. Setting the example for others to follow is NEVER a bad personal strategy.

2) Keep the Type A in check- If you find yourself swimming against the current, or fighting an irreversible trend, don't make your personal situation any worse by drawing attention to your obvious disgust with the situation, or by inwardly thinking of "them" as the enemy.  Now is the time to fade into the grey, and adopt a lower profile with respect to any open forums or group meetings.  Now is also the time to increase your observation to ensure your situational awareness is at max zoom.  There are numerous lessons to be learned, so make sure you observe as much as you can and take lots of notes, especially when the negative feelings and emotions are strongest as these are likely the most important "what not to do" moments.

3) Proficiency- Many former SOF operators struggle with the proficiency, or lack thereof from among their peers in the corporate world.  After a career of mastering advanced individual skills, adapting to numerous environments, performing elite tasks in unthinkable conditions and enjoying the camaraderie of an elite team lifestyle, many former SOF and Veterans have difficulty assimilating into a corporate culture that often rewards the very opposite traits of their former professions.  It's rare in corporate America to find the level of accountability that SOF warriors are accustomed to.  Often times, individuals in companies can get away with poor communication, incomplete assignments, lack of diligence and disruptive behavior.   The effects on veterans can be devastating.  Rather than allow a dysfunctional reality to corrupt your positive mental attitude, think of soft resistance techniques and create individual proficiency standards for yourself.  For me, my focus is on email communications. I hate long drawn out email conversations, arguments or worse, the wrong outcomes when employees don't understand the intent of my email. I continually assess myself on how effective and complete my emails are.  Additionally, I hold myself to a high standard of accountability and ensure that I "own" outcomes, both those above and below me.  These areas are my personal proficiency checks that keep me focused on maintaining a high standard.  Now if I can just remember to sign my time sheet.....

Remember, when you make the transition to the corporate battlefield, it's not if, but when you will find yourself in an unfamiliar environment where things are screwed up and not as they should be.  Most companies and teams are understaffed and running super lean, many are reacting to uncertainty  about the economy or the competition and all of them are trying to increase profit. 

Don't underestimate the difficulties of thriving in the private sector as a corporate warrior, it can be done but it takes deliberate action and a disciplined approach.  For former SOF operators and Veterans or any highly motivated individual, remember the steps to surviving the difficult times are to stay focused, keep the attitude in check, maintain YOUR proficiency and be an example for your team.


Beyond Normal Limits


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Corporate survival- part 1

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.