Guest Opinion: Culture lessons from a Marine
Friday, October 04, 2013 7:00 AM
The morning after high school graduation, I headed to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego for basic training. I was 18 years old, confident and in complete control - at least for the next 36 hours. I landed at San Diego International Airport around 10:30 p.m., and what happened next changed my life forever.
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As I walked through the terminal, a smallish man in a Marine Corps class C uniform signaled me toward an open door. He smiled and said, “Welcome to San Diego.” I was just about to say thanks, when he extended his hand, snatched my arm in a viselike grip and proceeded to drag me into the open door with force. I did not appreciate it one bit. Before I could respond, three other Marines cornered me and began screaming in a language I could not understand. I was forced to the ground and told to keep my head down. What had I signed up for? This is all wrong!
After a short bus ride, we arrived at the recruit depot, ran from the bus and took our places on the famous “yellow footprints.” What had seemed like hours actually had been only a couple of minutes. We were broken down and essentially rebooted. Then our drill instructors began the process of building U.S. Marines.
Business leaders should study the Marines because their process builds an elite culture from scratch in only 96 days. Individuals are transformed into a cohesive unit, bonded by core values and the skills required as U.S. Marines. The Marines build their culture by:
1. Engaging recruits with the clear communication of their core values. Honor. Courage. Commitment. Every Marine recruit not only learns the core values of the Marine Corps, but they also understand why these values are important. Recruits feel privileged to be joining a community with a history of overcoming in the face of anything.
2. Being highly specific about the results they need from every recruit. You quickly learn that you don’t know how to do anything the Marine way. Even if you have done something 1,000 times before, you relearn it. The drill instructors teach you the Marine way of making your bed, eating, speaking, standing, thinking, shooting - everything you will do as a U.S. Marine.
3. Holding all recruits accountable to their culture. Recruits are 100 percent accountable to the Marine Corps core values and for producing the required results. Accountability is enforced regardless of the difficulties recruits must overcome or the challenges the Marines create for you during basic training.
Now, you are not about to leap from your chair and paint yellow footprints on the floor of your business. There will be no screaming or physical intimidation. Your business is not life and death, but it’s important to you and your employees. Here are three takeaways for your organization, based on how the U.S. Marine Corps builds its culture:
1. Communicate your culture. Find ways as a leader to communicate your core values and be specific about the results your business needs from every job description in order to be successful.
2. When it comes to culture, 90 percent isn’t good enough. If all of your people are not making a positive contribution to your culture, your organization is at risk in times of adversity. As a leader, you need to prioritize addressing the people who are damaging your company culture today.
3. Culture comes first. Team building comes after. The Marines have team building exercises at the end of basic training, after their core values and results expectations are firmly in place. Team building activities with a struggling culture produce short-lived results.
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