Friday, April 30, 2004

Another Lesson from the Army Schools (III)


Part I

Part II

Since World War II, the US military has used its schools to strengthen our alliances and to integrate allies into our military structure. Students from allied countries can be found at all levels-- from the service academies to the war colleges. Similarly, each branch opens the doors of its war college to members of the other branches.

The benefits are obvious. It is much easier to cooperate with Peru on counter-insurgency if the Peruvian generals have been exposed to American doctrine and methods. The cooperation can be even more effective if some of the officers know each other from their time in the classrooms at Leavenworth or Newport.

In many cases, study at the American military schools helps foreign officers in their quest for promotion. Over the long-term this strengthens the ties with allied forces: the top ranks of their services are populated with graduates of our schools.

You see the same dynamic at work in the history of the FBI. After Hoover established the FBI Academy at Quantico, he admitted students from local police departments. Local cops were exposed to modern methods of law enforcement, training, and investigation. Most of them left with a positive image of the FBI and were more willing to cooperate with the Bureau if that became necessary.

It seems to me that these same advantages could be leveraged by private businesses. Two side benefits of a better internal education system are better integration of suppliers into the total value chain and closer relations with key customers.

Corporations are learning what Baron von Steuben discovered with Washington's army-- Americans need to know why they are told to do something. The same holds true with suppliers. You can bludgeon them into compliance, but things will go much better if you explain. Including some suppliers in your training efforts makes communication quicker and smoother.

By including customers a firm does three things: First, those customers recognize that the firm is serious about the intellectual aspects of strategy, technology, etc. This is a powerful form of brand enhancement. Second, it creates champions inside its clients who are favorably disposed toward it. Third, the cross-pollination between clients, suppliers, and the firm itself will generate more and better ideas.

Paradoxically, the benefit may be more important to small firms than to their resource-heavy competitors. A small advertising agency can't match a mega-network like WPP when it comes to global scale, money, or head count. But it can tailor an education initiative to its clients more easily than Y&R or TBWA. It will also see more immediate results; it takes a long time and a lot of money to educate 300 creatives in marketing strategy.

One cardinal advantage of using education in this way is that it is a competitive dimension that overseas competitors will find hard to match. Proximity counts in education: nothing can match having students all together in the same room.

Part IV is here.

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