Lessons from… The Marines?

30 Management Principles of the US Marines

1. Aim for the 70% solution: It’s better to decide quickly on an imperfect plan than to roll out a perfect plan when it’s too late.

2. Find the essence: When it comes time to act, even the most complex situations and missions must be perceived in simple terms.

3. Build a capability-based organizational mission: Focusing on developing organizational talents creates opportunities; focusing on particular products and services invites obsolescence.

4. Orient to speed and complexity: The ability to react quickly and effectively in chaotic environments usually trumps other competencies.

5. Organize according to the rule of three: In times of stress, most people can efficiently handle exactly three key responsibilities.

6. Build authority-on-demand into the hierarchy: Retain a strong management pyramid, but encourage people even at the lowest levels to make whatever decisions are necessary to accomplish the mission when management guidance isn’t at hand.

7. Focus on the small team: Most of the organization’s critical tasks are accomplished by the lowest-level managers and their subordinates, so anything done to make them more effective will have a large payoff.

8. Task-organize: The size and make-up of groups within the organization should be changed according to the needs of each specific mission.

9. Hire by trial by fire: Challenging a prospective employee makes it easier to determine the fit, and initiates a bond between the hiree and the organization.

10. Employ extreme training: Situations faced on the job shouldn’t seem more daunting than those faced in training.

11. Breed decision by analogy: Managers can’t be briefed on every possible situation, but they can be trained to recognize similarities between novel and familiar situations.

12. Cross-train: Running through different jobs creates versatile managers who understand all aspects of the organization, even if at a cost in efficiency.

13. Manage by end state and intent: Tell people what needs to be accomplished and why, and leave the details to them.

14. Distribute competence: Obsessively and ceaselessly educate and train people at all levels of the organization.

15. Reward failure: Someone who never fails probably isn’t pushing the envelope.

16. Make personnel functions stepping-stones for stars: The development of the most promising managers should include taking responsibility for hiring, training, promoting and transferring people.

17. Glorify the lower levels of the organization: The higher the manager, the harder he or she should work at making it clear that the rank and file are the heroes.

18. Demand to be questioned: Subordinates should feel free to openly disagree with their managers, up until it comes time to carry out a final and legitimate decision.

19. Instill values that support the mission: The ability to get the job done can be a function of shared character.

20. Cultivate opposing traits: Success often requires combining seemingly contradictory approaches.

21. Establish a core identity: Everyone in the organization should feel they’re performing an aspect of the same job.

22. Match strength to weakness: Find ways to tilt the playing field to the competition’s disadvantage.

23. Surprise and disorient the opposition: A confused and off-balance competitor can be routed with fewer resources.

24. Make tempo a weapon: Controlling the pace of competition can exhaust and demoralize the competition.

25. Keep plans simple and flexible: It’s better to have options that can be easily adapted to changing situations than to make specific plans for every contingency.

26. Make organizational doctrine a living thing: It’s good to standardize practices, as long as one of them is to continually refine and occasionally change the practices.

27. Experiment obsessively: Even the most successful organizations will eventually stop winning if it doesn’t explore radically new approaches.

28. Build new tactics around new technology: Fully leveraging technology requires new styles of competing.

29. Don’t depend on technology: Train to be effective regardless of which technologies are available.

30. Get an outside perspective: Insights into organizational improvement can often come from people in seemingly unrelated fields.

Okay, what do you think? Can these principles from the US Marines be applied to work in the mission field or ministry? Or was my professor crazy for having us read this for a class called Strategies for Missionary Work? Let me know your thoughts!

From Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the US Marines by David Freedman (2000)

One thought on “Lessons from… The Marines?

  1. I like the point about rewarding failure. It seems so against what we try to do. We're always trying not to fail it seems or at least I do. Trying not to fail all the time often leads to paralysis, I think. I love being around people who are willing to try new things without fear or doing something wrong or what other people will think of them. One day when I worked at the state park, I was feeling kind of bad because I'd just made a fool of myself in fromt of several people by really goofily trying to figure out how to use a sythe. My buddy Bob, though, told me that failing is how we learn. So true. It's not the fun way to learn necessarily, but it's a fact of life. It'd be interesting if we viewed failure in a different light, with less stigma. Many people who failed in one area went on to excell in another area.

    I also like the parts about technology. Though I'm usually behind on the whole technology thing (usually by choice), it make sense to take advantage of it most of the time. However, I think it's imparative that we be able to function without it. I love computer-free Sundays (most of the time) and don't really care that I don't have a smart phone.

    I think there was soemthing else about small groups. I think they (incident command systems, government emergency management something or other)say you can only have 3-6 people under your command before things don't really work. I'm a big proponent of small groups.

    I'd say there's some good stuff to learn from the Marines even just for daily life.


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