Coming Full Circle ~ From Naval Intelligence to Business Intelligence

Thirty-two years ago this month, I began a long, circuitous journey by raising my right hand and taking the oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.  So began my entree into the world of Naval Intelligence.  Little did I know at the time how formative the experiences that were about to unfold before me were going to be over the next three decades.

800px-USS_Ranger_(CV-61)_conducting_an_underway_replenishment_of_the_Dutch_frigate_F812_Jacob_Van_Heemskerck_during_Operation_Desert_Shield_2Naval Intel imparted strategic skills and a particular way of thinking that still serve me to this day.  First and foremost, was a sense of accountability to the lives of the pilots we worked with on the aircraft carrier.  We were responsible for mission planning, and it was our job to get them into the strike zone and home again, safely.  This sense of accountability to our fellow shipmates was remarkable and unshakeable.  I’ll give you a minor, yet hard to fathom example.  We conducted man overboard drills continuously while at sea.  The drill would often occur in the middle of the night, with the shrill of the bosun’s whistle cracking the quiet slumber of the 5,700 sailors that were not on mid-watch.  Within a minute and thirty seconds, everyone of the nearly six thousand sailors on board would be mustered at their battle stations and completely accounted for.  Picture if you will for a minute, the sight of thousands of people sprinting in coordinated fashion across a 1,079 foot long, 274 foot wide, seventeen story ship with a four acre flight deck, to their battle stations.  That’s engagement.  That’s accountability to each other and the explicit demonstration of our commitment to protecting our fellow shipmates.

Along with this sense of accountability, we were also taught a way of thinking that supported our strategic objectives.  We were taught how to consume massive amounts of information (message traffic that flowed through the Intel Center averaged 5,400 pages a day), identify what was cogent to our mission, interpret how the intel may influence our battle readiness, distill the information into manageable bites, and communicate it on an executive level in support of the Flag Officers decision making processes.  At a very young age I found myself writing Intelligence Briefs for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the head of the NSA and even the President of the United States.  It was exciting work, imbued with an enormous sense of purposefulness.

The experiences and education I received from the Navy served me well as I matriculated up the chain of command in Corporate America.  Over the years, one of my core competencies to emerge was, no surprise, strategic planning.  More importantly, however, was the holistic perspective I brought to strategic planning.  Of how it had to be aligned and coordinated with leadership and organizational culture in order to see it properly executed to achieve our objectives.  Any break in this coordination and the full potential of the strategy would fail to materialize.  Proper alignment would accelerate execution and often position us to over-achieve our expressed objectives.

Information technology has now evolved to the point where it can begin to deliver business intelligence that looks very similar to Naval Intelligence.  An article in the McKinsey Quarterly® defined business intelligence as, “The ability to transform data into insights to help manage a company, business intelligence consists of the processes, applications, and practices that support executive decision making.”  Sound familiar?  In the military, we executed this process manually, and the process was exceptionally robust.  As firms begin to evaluate how to apply this emerging capability, especially in the area of Talent Management, there are a few experiential lessons I learned along the way that can greatly impact the efficaciousness of the application of technology and process parameters.

● Leadership Development.  Much like the military, companies must adapt to changes in the dynamics of their theater of operations.  The leaders the military developed during WWII are very different than the leaders currently deployed in Afghanistan.  Are you training leaders for yesterday’s environment or are you preparing your next generation of leaders with the competencies they will need to succeed going forward?

● Strategy.  This is an area that seems to generate a lot of noise.  Some technology opinion leaders espouse tossing out the old approaches and replacing them with business models.  In reviewing these new business models I’ve found they’re not really any different than the traditional approaches when they are well executed.  The fundamentals of knowing where you are, where you want to go, and a thorough evaluation of the optional paths before you enables flexibility and nimbleness.  It also should guide professional development, to ensure the right skills are deployed in the right areas at the right time.  A well disciplined and open process of strategic planning is the value driver, not the resulting document.

● Organizational Culture.  This is a particular area of interest for me.  The military thoroughly understands the importance of culture.  Both explicit culture (Navy Regulations) and implicit culture (how we actually got things done and interacted with each other) are continuously cultivated in the Navy.  We had a saying, “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Navy way!”  The military consistently focuses on their culture and how that culture supports their current mission.  It is intentionally created and reinforced at every touch point.

The access of remarkable information, emerging talent management software, and today’s connectivity unleash remarkable opportunities for capturing and leveraging cogent business intelligence.  Somewhat ironically, capturing business insights requires some initial insight as to the guiding parameters of intelligence gathering and formulation and how leadership, strategy and organizational culture are positioned to leverage and capture the promise of this emerging capability.

© 2013, Terry Murray.

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Filed under Leadership Development, Organizational Culture, Strategic Planning

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