Military Matters

Clockwork precision, Army style

Clockwork precision, Army style

Illustration: Sandeep Joshi

Brig Sandeep Thapar (Retd)

Everyone who attends an Army function does not fail to praise the clockwork precision and meticulous execution of the event. I have often been asked, “How do you guys do it?” To most, I reply, “It’s the armed forces’ ethos and management style.” Eyebrows are often raised at the last part, but it is the truth.

At the Armed Forces ‘College of Defence Management’, the opening lecture invariably starts with a tall claim: “Gentlemen, management concepts first emanated in the armed forces, the civil setup discovered these much later. It’s a different matter that they then took it to a different level altogether!” To the cynical, I add that this is entirely due to the unique armed forces’ approach to any task and our grooming — a process of sustained, gradual learning.

Let me share some of our management mantras:

Detailed briefing: The moment any task is allocated, the leader conceptualises, breaks it down to manageable proportions and briefs the subordinates. Details are discussed threadbare, doubts clarified. This is followed by a note delineating the responsibilities. This removes any ambiguity. Subordinates are also expected to evolve their allotted tasks to cover any related eventuality. This totally removes the ‘I didn’t know, did not visualise’ attitude.

Delegation: Each task is allotted to an individual based on his capability, experience and competence. He is then given a fair amount of leeway. And is thereafter held responsible for it. There are times early in your career when you ruin the simplest of jobs allotted. After a mouthful, you learn and move on. As a youngster, I was tasked to manage switching the lights in a presentation. I messed up since the room was dark. As I apologised to my CO, he said, “Don’t worry, we will give you a torch next time.”

Monitoring: There’s an old saying in the armed forces — one look on the ground is better than 10 reports. A monitoring tour is extremely essential. A word of caution — do not breathe down the neck of a subordinate. It kills initiative and inhibits learning. My commander, when asked “sir, when would you like to see our training?”, said, “I will see you in war!”

Rehearsal: Nothing reveals flaws better than a rehearsal. All major events in the Army essentially have a dry run. We rehearse briefings, inspections, tests, training, presentations and events. We also rehearse dining-out dinners. In one such instance, we discovered that the sturdy-looking chair in which the posted-out VIP was to be finally carried out from the mess to the chants of ‘he’s a jolly good fellow’ (a services tradition) was brittle and broke. Fortunately, only the Major being carried that day was bruised and not the Major General (or his ego) on the final day!

Plan B: No planning, however immaculate, will survive nature’s fury or God’s wrath. So we always devise an alternate plan — Plan B. Whether the chances of it coming into play are less than zero, a fallback scheme is always ready. So, an outdoor event will have an indoor ready, back-up vehicles, escorts and routes are earmarked. Quick thinking and early decision are other key ingredients linked to this mantra.

In the end, it is not only the mantras but the desire to excel that is the key to success. Each task is approached with the thought that in a battle, there is no room for error or being bested.

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