Military Methods and Broader Management; (Speech at Sime Darby Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 3, 2007.)

Article excerpt

Byline: Energy Secretary ANGELO T. REYES

MILITARY Strategy and Management Principles

According to the programme schedule of the Challenge Lunch 2007, my task this afternoon is to "close the case," so to speak, on the subject of military methods and their broader management applications. But before I do so, I would like to thank General Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Hj Zainal for refreshing my perspective of military strategy, six years after my retirement from the active service. More than 20 years separate our stints at the AIM, and this adds flavor to my substantive enrichment in terms of getting an appreciation of how management theory and practice - or at least how these are taught at the AIM - have evolved over time.

In closing the case, I would first like to dispel the notion that the rules of military strategy are conceptually distinct from civilian management principles. I submit that these two branches of management, if you will, have evolved along parallel - and mutually influencing - tracks. We must remember that centuries before modern corporations came into being, the two biggest institutions that could incubate a formal system of management had been the government bureaucracy and the army. Further, we need to bear in mind that the force of arms is but an extension of state power - which is to say that, ultimately, military strategy is just a subset of the larger game plan of the state, which more often than not is controlled by civilians.

A number of factors make the study of military strategy particularly compelling. Among these are the epic sweep of the great battles that constitute its case studies, the graphic allure of attack and defense formations and maneuvers, and, of course, the romance associated with the exploits of brilliant generals and heroic soldiers. And, let us not forget: It is in the military context that management pressure is at its extreme. Since human lives are often on the line, commanders must face up to low margins of error.

It is no wonder then that students of management lap up books that analyze the broad applications of principles put forward by classical war strategists like Sun Tzu and Clausewitz and famous warriors like Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte. I am certain that everyone in this hall, regardless of background or area of expertise, has scanned such a military-inspired book or article at one time or another.

Objective and Offensive

On that note, let me try to refresh your memory on certain lessons you might have picked up from those war stories by taking a page, almost literally, from the Army Handbook. I will tackle the nine principles of war and attempt to draw parallel applications in diverse civilian contexts.

The first principle is objective. The handbook states: "Direct every military operation toward a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective...When undertaking any mission, commanders should have a clear understanding of the expected outcome and its impact. At the strategic level, this means having a clear vision of the theater end state. This normally includes aspects of the political dimension. Commanders need to appreciate political ends and understand how the military conditions they achieve contribute to them."

This principle seems self-evident. But when a war gets protracted, this principle tends to get obscured. The current situation in Iraq, for example, has placed the US armed forces in a predicament as its troops have become vulnerable in the midst of an internal civil war. As more American soldiers get killed by suicide bombers and snipers, the US high command will feel intensifying pressure from the American public to rationalize troop presence there. At what point can it be said that the military objective has been met and the troops can go home?

The situation is eerily reminiscent of the great American debacle more than 30 years ago. …