America’s military has long been a revered training ground for our youth transitioning into the workforce. Few better employers instill discipline, technical skills, and personal development like the permanent pivot that happens when a young woman or man joins the United States Armed Forces.

I experienced that pivot, and absolutely realize that it was invaluable to my own development as an adult. What is better, is that I met some of the most amazing people and made incredible memories during those incredibly fast 5.5 years. Fortunately, I learned a ton of lessons in that blink of an eye, and below are a handful of my favorites:

[This is my grandfather and me, on the day I joined the Navy. An old Navy tradition is for a new officer (me) to get his/her first salute for someone who’d serve in the enlisted ranks in the military and was also important to the new officer. Grandpa was a Machinist Mate, 2nd Class, in the Pacific theater during WWII. What a great honor it was for me.]

#1: After Action Reports are just what they sound like! (Who said the military isn’t literal!!) After any major event, routine or not, an AAR can be sent to other similar groups, these reports discuss what went well (best practices) and what went wrong (lessons learned). The point of these, of course, being to pay it forward and share your experience, so that others don’t also have to learn things the hard way, as you may have. No reason to test the hot stove twice!

Additionally, the best practices can greatly aid in making the task safer, easier, more efficient or cheaper — all of which are benefits to any organization.

Do you practice AARs in some form in your company? If not, how could they quickly be implemented?

#2 An environment where colleagues are afraid to voice their opinion leads to danger. And, no place could this be truer than the Armed Forces. Although, ultimately, only one person is in charge and responsible for an individual military operation, she or he cannot possibly have all the perspectives that other team members have. And, most often, those front-line team members have a vastly more realistic understanding of what is going on within their specific area than does the commander. This rubber-meets-the-road prerogative can sometimes be the critical information that the commander is missing, which ultimately leads to mission failure.

Countless military mishaps have occurred due to unfortunate situations just like this — a junior person did not feel that he or she could speak up, in fear of consequences or rebuttal of their opinion. An opening and welcoming environment, though, that promotes discourse and shared inputs, often can side-step dangers because the whole team is working together and everyone has shared all of the information. One team, rowing in unison, with clear information and clear goals.

Do you work in your company that supports contrary opinions or feedback? How has it helped steer the course of your success?

#3 Having a ready-to-use spare available can be invaluable for ultimate success! Whether it’s a Navy warship in the middle of the ocean, or an Army unit in the mountains of Afghanistan, the availability of replacement parts for components critical to your mission is extremely low… nearly zero! Having a replacement part already with you helps ensure mission success, or at least prevents logistics from being the reason the entire mission failed.

Does your business have a critical task or ‘never-run-out’ supply list? Are their critical items that would completely stop you from doing your job, and making money?

For example, someone who works from home may be rather reliant upon the home’s WiFi system; maybe a back-up router or server would be a smart consideration to ensure availability through any situation.

#4 Practice makes perfect. Ask a veteran what he or she did in the military, and a common answer will likely be “I did a lot of training!” The military is relentless in training its members to handle upcoming situations, and possible outcomes or emergencies; then, when the real event happens, the team plays like they’ve already practiced. Success ensues.

Look at successful business, and you’ll also find an ingrained training program that is one of the foundations that helps the business thrive. Through repetition, team members can hone their craft, constantly improving their skills.

Does your business have a robust training program in place? Does the sales team practices rebuttals? Do managers review standard practices with the admin staff? How could this consistency improve your business and workflows?

#5 Raise the bar. Practically every task and protocol in the military has an associated standard with it — a minimum or maximum acceptable performance. Because of the frequent training that is part of daily life in the Armed Forces, the troops are often maintained well within those acceptable standards. However, that by no means allows for any slack. If we did 59 push-ups yesterday, you’d better believe the goal is 60 today, and 61 tomorrow!

In the same way, businesses are either growing or dying. Are you a manager or business owner, responsible for helping push the rock up the mountain? Are you tracking the right metrics, measuring frequently and involving the entire team, so everyone knows where the team stands?


Oh, and one final lesson: GO NAVY!