By Mike Olivier
By this time in your career you have probably come across the concept of tribal culture. Tribal culture is also military culture, civilian culture, high school culture, and business or workplace culture.
Culture—or the rules of acceptable behavior and how you engage people—is ever-changing. To be successful in any phase of your life, you need to be able to adapt and adjust through means of observation and reprogramming your actions and direction. Trading the military culture for a civilian one is one of these phases.
For the most part, military culture is a straightforward one in which the language is direct, and there is little room for interpretation. Roles, responsibilities, tasks, and reporting requirements are often a matter of fact, not interpretation. This is due in part to the fact that authority is direct, and in matters of life and death misunderstanding or misinterpretation often leads to disaster. In the civilian world these relationships and the chain of command are often blurred. There are circumstances when you report to more than one person, where there are conflicting duties and responsibilities, and no stated priority.
Nevertheless, in both business and military cultures, there are common elements. One is that change is constant. We know that at first most people resist change. To achieve change in both cultures, there is a need for consensus, which is the result of process not action. Successful leaders are the ones that drive change in any culture.
Perhaps through your military training, class work, or direct experience you have worked through the military decision making process. At its core is a very democratic and consensus driven process for developing courses of action, orders, and for making organizational change. It is a means to deal with the reality that in both business and military worlds there are fiefdoms. In business there is accounting, human relations, production, sales, etc. In the military there is intelligence, operations, logistics, etc. Each of these functional staffs are a world and culture unto themselves. The challenge is getting each of these groups—each with their separate list of goals, objectives, and measurements of success—to work together.
Getting these individual staffs to work together depends upon their participation in planning, developing courses of action and in the decision-making process. The leader’s responsibility is to get these disparate groups to visualize and achieve the strategic objective. Some leaders may not actually follow the process while still others will remain dictatorial, all while giving praise to the collaborative process. Nevertheless, successful change—even if accomplished in a clandestine manner—is through the commitment and cooperation of all stakeholders.
As a veteran, and a member of perhaps the largest bureaucracy in the United States, you’ve for sure had some experience with this process. In the business world, though, the culture and vocabulary may be different, the bureaucracy is smaller but the process in how you approach problems remains the same. No matter what you do in terms of a civilian career, the challenge of managing change will always be there. Besides a technical fit, employers are often looking for those change agents that can assist the organization in moving forward. Being able to adapt and overcome are the hallmarks of military culture; add leadership and consensus planning experience to the mix and your entry into business culture will be that much more successful.