10 lessons for business success from the Royal Marines

Discipline and organisation are skills that business owners and commandos share, but is there more to it? These quick 10 lessons will make sure any business survives the toughest of conditions.

Start making a plan

Absolute clarity of mission is your first requirement. You need to establish exactly what it is if it is at all unclear, then you need to think it through to formulate a plan in some detail. If you start thinking about this it will soon be good to test the outline of the plan with close colleagues. They will almost certainly improve it and give you confidence that the plan will work. But always remember, even the best plan might soon need to be adapted so do not get dogmatic about the details.
Ask for advice

As part of your planning you will have worked out the key people you need to have firmly on your side. You might also need them to contribute people and resources so it will be better to involve them early on in a positive way – rather than to demand further down the track. New thoughts will emerge that might help you modify your plan – be welcoming to these suggestions and incorporate them if you think they improve the plan. Set yourself a time limit – you should by now be working to a time schedule – because you need to deliver on time.

Build a network

You will need allies. It is always good to keep people informed lightly and regularly – even a sentence or two at the coffee machine, by email or on the phone. Your network – ever expanding – is your best asset and you must use it fully.

Locate and learn

You need to know the ground where you will be operating. It is sensible to use both research and local sources to provide information. A little humility in looking to them for information and guidance will pay dividends, and you will soon to get to know the opportunity better. That knowledge will help you develop your plan further. Go there yourself.

Train and train again (& train as a team)

Each and every recruit in the Royal Marines is given the best possible support to succeed by the team. Royal Marines training is not a case of sink or swim. There is no thought of quickly sorting the men from the boys to hone the group swiftly to a hard core of natural commandos. The recruits are given every chance to become a commando. Everyone is helped by those training and managing them but also by their fellow recruits. Because everyone is in this together – genuinely – there is an incredibly powerful team support system that helps to pull people through.

Freedom within boundaries

Organisations need to find the right balance of autonomy. Unbridled autonomy could lead to actions that are inconsistent with the strategy of the firm. These lead to uncertainty and failure. On the other hand, central control is more autocratic in nature, proscriptive in operation. “Do it this way” takes away from the entrepreneurial spirit and empowerment of people. So the idea of “freedom within a boundary” is key to the balance.

Clarity about purpose

The most important boundary of all is that of the company’s purpose. If the company is not clear about this: it can expect its people to exercise freedom in ways that are in contradiction to what your company really would like to achieve. But how will you know if you have not clearly stated that purpose?

Mental agility

The prime need for commandos is to be flexible and creative in their thinking. Sun Tzu in his book The Art of War notes, “The direct approach is used for attack, but the oblique achieves victory.” Taking on the most difficult of missions and thinking the way through them is an essential business attribute.

Risk Management

You have a plan, but no plan survives contact with the enemy unscathed. You have to react. Something happens, you respond, risk management is in play.  There is a need for a weighing of possibilities. No true commando will thoughtlessly endanger himself or his colleagues for the thrill of adventure. There is always a time to know when to retreat, when to pass, when to refuse a challenge that cannot be won.