Chad Storlie believes military training can be very useful for businesses

How military skillsets create better customer interactions for contracting business

Nov. 17, 2014
Businesses can train employees like the military trains soldiers to become more efficient and customer-friendly, according to Chad Storlie. Storlie gives six techniques to help train employees and ensure everyone is on the same page. "From dealing with an angry customer to restocking shelves, a leadership style that embraces leadership by example always sets the correct standard for the organization," Storlie said.

Retailers, restaurants, contractors and others across the country have likely set out to begin to interviewing, hiring and training workers for a very busy fall and holiday season. There is nothing new about these hiring trends.

What is new is that we can translate and apply military methods to train, integrate and improve workers effectiveness for a more successful season. More effective, confident and engaged workers create a better customer experience. Translating and applying select military skills to business makes that customer experience better.

Photo of Chad Storlie

The military methods to be employed are not the techniques of a ferocious, barking drill sergeant that R. Lee Ermey so masterfully portrayed in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.”  Rather, these military methods seek to improve employee engagement, discover new ways to do old tasks, place a focus on safety and ensure that we fulfill the goals and desires of the business owners. Likewise, military Special Operations teams like the Green Berets, Army Rangers and Navy SEAL’s have been using techniques like these for years to improve operations.

A store, contracting business or restaurant crowded by demanding customers is a very challenging environment – you need employees at their best to deliver the best to customers. Here are five military-to-business techniques that can help companies be at their best this holiday season:

  1. Connect the Team to the Ultimate Mission: In every organization, it is very, very easy for the junior members to lose sight and understanding of what the company is trying to achieve. In some cases, there can be more than 10 levels of leadership from the CEO to the lowest level of worker. In all of these instances, great front-line business leaders work hard every day to constantly and consistently connect the team’s activities, performance and successes to the company’s mission and strategy. Everyone works harder and better when they know how their actions directly contribute to the company’s goals. Be sure to identify the “why” behind even the most mundane tasks and activities – it helps everyone work harder when they understand.
  2. The After Action Review: The purpose of the After Action Review (AAR) is to have an organization discover how to maintain what they did well and ways to improve what did not go well. The AAR is used after all training and operational activities. Additionally, leaders are trained how to conduct an AAR. In the AAR, the unit allows every member to participate regardless of rank and the team discusses: (1) What happened, (2) What went well, (3) What did not go well, and (4) What is the plan to fix what did not go well. The AAR is a universal, all-encompassing team improvement process to identify areas that need to be improved and figure out how to improve them.
  3. Great Training and Rehearsals Make a Successful Mission: Effective Training and challenging rehearsals will make for delivering a truly meaningful customer experience, whether in contracting, retail or food service. In the military, individual soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen are all rigorously trained so they not only know how to do their job, but also know how to fulfill the critical responsibilities of their comrades. More importantly, military formations of large groups of different specialties rehearse day and night, so vital functions of resupply, vehicle repair and casualty evacuation could be accomplished together flawlessly, all the while ensuring the primary mission is accomplished. Training and rehearsals that show how business can do things safe, more cost effective and with high levels of customer satisfaction that will make the interaction successful.
  4. The Importance of Coaching and Teaching: Leaders think of themselves as responsible for setting the strategy or making decisions, but they seldom think of themselves as coaches and teachers. If you’ve ever been to a military marksmanship range, you’ve seen this leader coaching in action. At a military range, the senior military personnel work the hardest coaching, teaching, and setting higher standards for junior personnel with regard to how to shoot correctly. I remember at one of my last military drills before I retired, I helped coach a private how to shoot correctly. There was more than 20 years of experience between us, and I was the one dusty and dirty from crawling on the ground. Every interaction between a leader and their team is a time to coach, teach and train to higher standards of performance. Whether it’s the rifle range or on a contracting job, coaching and teaching can make good employees great.
  5. Acting Safely and Preventing Accidents is Part of Everyone’s Job: When the U.S. Army starts their daily missions, whether it is a ground convoy or a shooting range, the day begins with a safety briefing, medical evacuation procedures and rehearsal of the day’s most dangerous activities. Anyone, from the newest private to the seasoned sergeant, can call a safety halt if they feel there is a danger to anyone. This adoption of safety is vital to everyone’s jobs. When everyone has a role in safety, then everyone is looking to create a safe environment – no one is sitting on the side lines. Front line contracting and restaurant leaders are at the cutting edge of accident prevention.
  6. Always Lead by Example at Every Level: Leadership by example is one of the central tenants of military leadership. This means that the leader sets a strong and undisputed personal example for every activity the organization does, no matter how big or small. From dealing with an angry customer to restocking shelves, a leadership style that embraces leadership by example always sets the correct standard for the organization. Additionally, this style must also embrace personal passion, humility and courage to guide the organization. Finally, leadership by example must set and enforce high levels of organizational performance.

This coming fall and holiday shopping season will be challenging – no doubt about it. However, adapting these military techniques will make it a better holiday season:

  • Connecting employees to the mission.
  • Holding After Action Reviews to improve performance.
  • Ensuring effective training and rehearsals to meet standards.
  • Teaching and coaching others to higher performance levels.
  • Enforcing safety and accident prevention as part of everyone’s job.
  • Leading by example in all tasks, even the most mundane.

Now go out to lead and do great things!

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