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Can Southeast Asian Entrepreneurs Do This to Unleash Their Start-up’s Greatest Assets?

Companies say that their greatest assets are their people. Often, this is not reflected in the way decision-making is structured. Here’s how you can change that and grow exponentially.

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BY Bill Carmody - 01 Dec 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

While many businesses have realized the inherent benefits of hiring military veterans, not the least of which is a "can do" mentality, fewer have incorporated the actual strategies employed by the military to increase efficiency, morale and results.

One company that has is the San Francisco startup Rhumbix whose app modernizes large construction projects by successfully bridging the gap between the office and workers in the field. Launched by U.S. Navy vets Zach Scheel and Drew DeWalt, both of whom are also grads of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Rhumbix platform was not only inspired by military technology but the company incorporates many of the organizational elements the two entrepreneurs took from their time in the Navy.

"The idea for Rhumbix hit us like a ton of bricks over beers in a remote area of Chile when Drew and I were overseeing separate construction projects," says Rhumbix CEO Scheel. "We were both frustrated by a lack of productivity and began analyzing the tools we used in the military."

Improving Productivity, Military Style

They remembered a geo-location tool used for tracking "friendly" forces called "Blue Force Tracking" and realized the impact it could have on construction sites to better gauge "tool time" and understand how to improve productivity. "That opened up the door to us thinking about how the construction industry could better adapt to new technologies and improve their operations," said Scheel. "We went to work as soon as we got back to the States and Rhumbix was born."

But it wasn't just the military-inspired tech that drove Scheel and DeWalt, whose company has seen more than $20M in funding to date. They looked to the military organizational model to improve productivity. "We leaned heavily on the way General Stanley McChrystal changed the way the military operated in fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq," said COO DeWalt. "We had the best training, technology and weapons. And while we were winning the firefights we were still losing the war."

Unleashing A Company's Greatest Assets

To address this, General McChrystal moved from an organizational mindset where efficiency was the goal to one that favored adaptability and inclusion. "I remember reading about the key to his command and it stuck with me," said Scheel. "It was about changing the thinkers into doers and the doers into thinkers so everybody became both. This led to faster and better decisions that took rapidly changing conditions and the experience of the troops into account. As our platform is about diminishing the divide between management and workers in the field, it made sense that our company ran the same way."

Many companies rely on a traditional model in which time-sensitive and critical information is kept behind closed doors and accessed only by the decision-makers. So while organizations may say that their greatest asset is their people, it's often not reflected in the way decision-making is structured.

"Our strategy, based on the military model, is to turn the traditional decision-making process on its head," said DeWalt. "We give those who are most exposed to changing conditions the responsibility and authority to make key decisions. It doesn't mean we've given up control. Just like it doesn't mean an Army Private is telling a General how to do his job. But it does mean our decisions are better informed and our employees are more engaged."

Empower Your Team to Respond to Rapidly Changing Conditions

Another military operational value that many companies can benefit from is maximizing data. Investing heavily in business intelligence tools and databases may provide information but how that data is utilized can determine a good or bad investment. According to General McChrystal, "More data does not equal more predictability," and Scheel agrees. "We move our data throughout our company. Even if an employee is receiving information that may not seem applicable to their role, when we meet as a team, which is often, having everyone on the same page in terms of information allows us to move much more quickly towards decisions."

The pace of change in business today requires nimble, adaptable teams that can respond to rapidly changing conditions. Having the right technology, skills and resources is critical, but it's not the whole picture. Companies must evaluate their behaviors and organizational structures and ask whether they are getting the results we want at every level of the organization. Those to take the time to do so will be rewarded with massive opportunities for increased value and productivity.

For more on this topic, see related articles:

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