Saturday, April 24, 2004

Doctrine and Fad Surfing

I've lost count of the number of "change efforts" i've been involved with, participated in, and been subject to in the course of my corporate career. Most of them failed to yield the results they promised. Truth be told, some were actually harmful.

This experience is common, maybe even typical. Books have been written about the propensity of corporations to to seize on the idea du jour.

When i read the Marine Corps FMFM-1 "Warfighting" i was struck by the difference between the Marine Corps approach to instilling a common doctrine and the usual methods inside of corporations.

From FMFM-1:

Doctrine is a teaching advanced as the fundamental beliefs of the Marine Corps on the subject of war, from its nature and theory to its preparation and conduct Doctrine establishes a particular way of thinking about war and a way of fighting, a philosophy for leading Marines in combat, a mandate for professionalism, and a common language. In short, it establishes the way we practice our profession. In this manner, doctrine provides the basis for harmonious actions and mutual understanding.

Marine Corps doctrine is made official by the Commandant and is established in this manual. Our doctrine does not consist of procedures to be applied in specific situations so much as it establishes general guidance that requires judgment in application. Therefore, while authoritative, doctrine is not prescriptive

The majority of corporate initiatives are just the opposite: they are prescriptive without being authoritative. They often demand that detailed templates be followed yet they end up being compartmentalized. Processes will be mapped and reengineered but the results don't translate into changes in the expense budget; managers will focus on delighting the customer in Wednesday's workshop then figure out ways to cut quality on Thursday because they are facing an earnings shortfall. Instead of a holistic approach to strategy, the firm ends up schizophrenic.

A broader problem is that the corporate method suggests that business success is simple and that there is a magic bullet-- reengineering, TQM, an ERP system-- that will make success easy and inevitable. In contrast, the Marines say war is complex and ever-changing. Not only are there no simple answers, even the questions keep shifting. The only way to succeed is for officers to study their profession for their whole lives.

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