Training Wheels

Big Red Car here.  Are you tired of hearing how great the weather is in the ATX?  Well, too bad.  Right now it is 40F with 70F to come fluttering in this afternoon.

Sorry, I will not rub it in because it’s going to be cold for the rest of the week until next Wednesday.  Brrrr!

So The Boss is visiting with a couple of his CEO pals — not startup guys but folks who have what appear to be thriving, growing businesses — and they get to talking about training.  On two fronts really.

1.  CEOs have to train themselves.

2.  CEOs have to train their companies.

In much the same way that a good CEO is always hiring and hiring all ways, a good CEO is always involved in training.  As noted above the training is both personal and company training.  Today we will talk a bit about company training.

Military exemplar

In The Boss’s personal experience this first became evident back in the Army when a constant flow of new soldiers would be assigned to a unit and the trained soldiers were discharged or transferred.  This created a constant necessity to undertake both personal training and unit training.

One day all the experienced demo men in a certain platoon (a combat engineer company has three line platoons and a headquarters/weapons platoon) had DEROSed and the new guys were not really capable yet of undertaking tasks which would have been a piece of cake for their predecessors.  That platoon went from being fully trained and combat effective to being a bit suspect.

An individual soldier had to be able to master individual soldier skills as a prelude to being able to take part in unit — fire teams, squads, platoons, company — training.

As an example, a combat engineer had to master the safe use of explosives (C4, non-electric and electric blasting caps, det cord) as a prelude to learning squad skills such as rigging a series of explosive devices as a prelude to learning platoon skills such as blowing an anti-tank crater in a road using shaped charges.  The company could then be trusted to block an entire enemy armored avenue of advance by deploying its platoons to successfully crater every road in the traffic net through say a valley.

A combat engineer company, in an infantry division, was typically assigned to support a brigade which was made up of a combination of infantry and armor battalions.  When the combat engineer company was trained up and capable of blocking a road network, then the brigade could be given a mission such as defending against an enemy armored advance with the combat engineers entrusted with the mission of blocking the road net.

The brigade commander could then plan a defense in depth which provided for the opportunity to kill the enemy armor using the diverse weapons at his disposal as the enemy armor was momentarily stopped upon confronting the camouflaged road craters.  If the combat engineers failed to do their job correctly the brigade commander was faced with a very different challenge in stopping enemy armor.

This type of training, successfully executed and tested, then marked that platoon as fully trained on blowing anti-tank craters using shaped charges — a critical basic combat engineering skill.  The Army used to test individual companies annually in an ARTEP (Army Training Evaluation Program).  Twice units commanded by The Boss got perfect scores.  Only a handful of companies in the entire Army ever achieved such high scores.  It was the training.

The Boss, as the company commander, was constantly designing, scheduling, conducting and evaluating training programs on over 100 different specific skills.  Typically The Boss had a Training Sergeant to keep the schedule/records and one of the platoon leaders or the executive officer assigned to oversee the training.  They worked for The Boss and he was the driver of the training though he had effectively delegated its execution.  He oversaw the testing program wherein individual soldiers and units demonstrated competence in real world situations.

Sometimes when a particular platoon would be hard hit by losses of personnel, he would cheat a bit and reassign soldiers — particularly junior non-coms — between platoons to ensure a basic level of competence and leave the short term training to these ultra competent sergeants until the training cycle could come full circle.

The Boss was not very good at this the first time he was a company commander but he got a Hell of a lot better as time passed.  It is very much a learned skill.


These comments are targeted more toward companies which are going concerns with real revenue, profits and wrestling with growth challenges.   This is not a discussion for startups who are just throwing their leg over the bassinet sides and anticipating jumping.  You have other challenges more important than short term training.

In the business world every individual worker and unit requires training.  Nobody is ever as good as they can be.  Simple fact.  Includes the CEO, of course.

Much of the training required in a good company is similar to the description of the military training outlined above.  It starts the first day when the new employee is confronted with the Vision, Mission and Values of the company.  Depending upon one’s position, the initial contact may also include familiarization with the company’s Strategy, Tactics and Objectives.

The new employee is quickly confronted with the first whiff of the company’s Culture when reading the policy manual of the company.

If you don’t have a written Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values and Culture then you are not quite ready to undertake effective training.  When it is only in the CEO’s head, it cannot be communicated effectively and reinforced by repetition.  Repetition is critical element of any training program.

Much of what makes a successful business is process driven and thus successful companies have exquisite documentation of their basic processes.  There may be 50 critical processes which scream out for documentation, standardization and training.  Think about how this applies to the sales process and the pipeline documentation.  This is true in the accounting shop and when using video as a critical element of marketing.  There are a huge number of processes that must be identified, defined, documented and followed.

In this manner, a company is “training to the test” but it is a real world application rather than an academic exercise.

In many instances, the elemental difference between good and great is the quality of the business process documentation and training.

Can you operate effectively with all of this process mumbo jumbo in your head?  Sure.  Can you ever be as good as the SAS without the SOPs and standards of process definition?  Not bloody likely.

How good do you want to be?  Get there by breaking a sweat, Old Sport.  The road to any success goes through the gym.

CEO training

We chatted about the notion of the loneliness of leadership in this post — The Loneliness of Leadership — which touched on many subjects which are elemental to developing CEO talents.  That is a good start for framing the challenge of how do CEOs self-train themselves.  A real challenge and one that CEOs constantly struggle with.

A perfect process which screams out for training by and of the CEO is the conduct of Board meetings which require a clear understanding of how the process should work.  This is a process which is unique to the CEO and the only guys who can fire him.  Whoa!  Take note, CEO.

So, Grasshopper, that is enough for today.  Give this a read and promise to do some thinking about training.  It will pay a big dividend.  Tip toe into it.  You can do it.  Who knows when you will need to crater a road in anticipation of enemy armor rolling through your hood.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.  Be kind to yourself.  You’ve earned it.  Be kind to someone else, they’ve earned it also.




6 thoughts on “Training Wheels

  1. “The Strategikon of Maurikos is the most complete Byzantine field manual in spite of its brevity… It was certainly the most useful of all books for Byzantine military chiefs down the centuries, and is not entirely useless even now. … immediately turning to the training of the individual soldier, the right starting point for any serious field manual then as now. Military history is often written without even mentioning how the soldiers on each side were trained. Yet that is routinely the decisive factor in the strength of armies. It is not only historians who disregard the essential importance of training in general, starting with a thorough course of initial individual or ‘basic’ training. If new recruits do not acquire their weapon and field-craft skills while still in basic training, before they are posted to their units, the latter cannot practice their unit tactics and are instead forced to remedy the lack of elementary skills of each new intake. … Only a small proportion of all contemporary armies train their soldiers seriously, and therefore enjoy a decisive tactical superiority over the ill-trained majority of military mankind. That was the aim in the Strategikon, whose primary type of soldier was neither an infantryman nor a cavalryman but rather both, and a bowman first of all. He therefore required training in both foot and mounted archery with powerful bows, in using the lance for thrusting and stabbing while mounted… Under the heading ‘The Training and Drilling of the Individual Soldier’ we read:

    ‘He should be trained to shoot [the bow] rapidly on foot, either in the Roman [thumb and forefinger] or the Persian [three middle finger] manner. Speed is important in shaking the arrow loose [from the quiver] and discharging it with force. This is essential and should also be practiced while mounted. In fact, even when the arrow is well aimed, firing slowly is useless.’

    … The second notable point is the recommendation to quickly alternate from shooting one or two arrows, to pulling out the spear from its back strap, to taking out the bow again. That is how useful weapon training must be conducted in any epoch.”

    From The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, by Edward Luttwak, pp 269-272.

    • .
      Great comment. Not much has changed in the training of soldiers.

      One of the huge advantages of special operations units is their cross training and ability to cover for other men when wounded or killed.

      If ever you have a sick orange, The Boss is your boy as he spent a bit of time learning how to give shots to oranges.

      Soldiering is a science and a noble undertaking. We do not appreciate the professionalism of our current American volunteer Army. Of course, we are getting ready to throw them on the ash heap as soon as Afghanistan winds down. We always do so and regret it afterwards.

      Well played.


      • The Boss would enjoy the discussions of Byzantine river crossing and other engineering also. Both of Luttwak’s books well recommended.

        • .
          The Boss has read Luttwak’s tome on coups. It was an interesting read. I think it was published in the late 1970s.

          Which book do you recommend?

          The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire?


          • Yes, that one and the corresponding volume on Roman grand strategy, which is shorter. I’ll look for the one on coups.

          • .
            The Boss has already bought the Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire — Amazon used hard cover at less than $4.

            The Boss likes a bargain.

            Thanks for the recommendation.


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