This month’s topic was inspired by the passing of Alan C. Bowman, an electrical engineer, Six Sigma black belt and this columnist’s close friend and fellow U.S. Marine. As in the military, survival in a converged world requires active learning and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone. photography ©istockphoto.com/LifeJourneys
I write this column with a heavy heart. At 17 years old I entered the U.S. Marine Corps with my high school locker partner and standout football player on the “buddy” program. His name was Alan C. Bowman and he was a hell of a marine, electrical engineer, and Six Sigma black belt. When we entered the gates of Parris Island, S.C., Alan was 6-foot, 4-inches tall and 250 pounds. I was but 5-6, 125 pounds. Basically we were Mutt and Jeff (for those under 50, it was a famous cartoon strip; oh, just Google it!). We went through boot camp, infantry training and radar school together, and served in Viet Nam. Alan passed away in September and I had the honor of sending him off to his next duty station.
How does this backstory relate to “lessons learned” in today’s converged security market? Whether you work at a large or small company, your chance to distinguish yourself in a converged systems market is up to you. Your customers need you to have their backs when they migrate to newer network-centric physical security solutions. For many this is a scary adventure, just like Parris Island was in 1970.
You will have to commit to learning new skills and getting out of your comfort zone. Active learning and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone ensures your survival in a converged world. Who does this apply to in your organization? In my opinion, it applies to your entire team and, especially, positions of leadership.
Balancing Teamwork & Leadership
Your sales team is often targeted by your suppliers to push their products into the market. However, without the design, project management, installation and service teams all onboard at the same time … well good luck with your mission! Teamwork is a fundamental competitive advantage in the Marines. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t some friction, personality conflicts, differences of opinion and egos involved. There is. They manifest themselves during the planning, preparation and training stages. However, those issues take a backseat when accomplishing the mission at stake. That takes leadership.
Try to keep your team focused on the mission, not the drama encountered along the way. You must focus on the “what” and not the “how” because that is their job to figure out as a team. Sounds interesting, but how does this happen? By combining your different teams in common workshops, you can start breaking down traditional communication barriers in new and interesting ways.
When consulting with a business, I often find misconceptions, old perceptions, real and imaginary wounds, and plenty of attitudes to go around. The silos created by business organizations tend to fuel rather than extinguish intradepartmental fires. This relates to the idea of technology convergence because unlike conventional products and services you have offered in the past, network-centric and software-specific solutions are complicated, and call for much greater teamwork. This requires everyone to develop new skillsets.
This results in a trained and disciplined sales force that doesn’t oversell “potential” market feature sets. It’s essential to have a disciplined application engineering/estimating team and, even more importantly, an installation team that has been recently trained in the converged solution they are installing.
As the company commander why does this matter? The rules of engagement are changing at a faster tempo than in the past. Speed is a competitive advantage. This is especially true if your customers are increasingly asking for, or specifying specific products rather than asking your advice on product solutions. The Internet, tradeshows, more competitors and new marketing tools inform your customer faster than you can in a traditional sense. Nobody likes doing other people’s work for them, do they? Discipline dictates that you cannot be everything nor offer everything to everybody and still be successful. The math just doesn’t work. Neither does the service response.
4 Tips to Set Your Company Apart
Let’s get back to how to distinguish your company in a Marine Corps mindset. There are some lessons my departed friend and I learned and are appropriate to share here:
Rule #1: Marines recognize the value of “extreme” training almost to an art form. “The more you bleed in training, the less you bleed in battle” was drilled into us. Consider how you train your team from a fresh perspective. Ask yourself, does our training address how the whole team prepares for and executes the convergence solution mission?
Rule #2: When in doubt, innovate. Problems on the battlefield, like in business, are rarely static. Strategies and tactics that were successful in the past have only taught your competitors, and sometimes customers, what your next move will be. So surprise them by learning from past mistakes and innovating through evolution.
Rule #3: Use tempo as a strategic weapon. The Marines understand the tempo of battle can turn liabilities into assets through speed of deployment. Traditionally, we worked through a qualification, evaluation, site survey, estimation, approval and proposal process that became a liability. This is particularly true in the commercial/industrial markets. The liability is time. You may not draw your customer into the “ownership” side of the sale early enough, which can often delay the “decision” to fund or buy a solution.
Rule #4: Drive decision making down to the lowest level in the organization. Planning your business operations and establishing standard operating procedures (SOPs) is a fundamental discipline of running a strong and profitable business. However, in the heat of the battle things can go awry. The best laid plans cannot account for the chaos in business today. When you are presenting a proposal to a customer and you find out your competitor has done something totally unexpected, how will you react in that moment of battle? What if an unexpected technical issue arises during a routine service call? Will your team say, “I’ll get back to you?”