Is Your Company Battle-Ready?

Dec. 12, 2014
Business lessons through the lens of military strategy

Very few institutions have been forced implement procedures, doctrine, strategy and discipline like the military. From conception to execution, every plan and decision is tested under the most adverse conditions in an ever-changing environment, and there are dire consequences if there is failure in any step of the process.

Many of the lessons I learned in the U.S. Army can transfer to a variety of different industries and occupations, including our own. When working with clients, I often find that utilizing some of these strategies can be an eye-opening experience when it comes to evaluating risk, procedures, sales/business ventures, manufacturing or distribution. Here are some of the more common military concepts that may be useful to consider in your business, from market development to litigation management.


Reconnaissance, or “recon,” is a concept that is well understood in the civilian sector. It is fundamentally defined as the process by which designated individuals embark on a fact-seeking mission.

The most obvious examples of where this type of skill might be useful from the security industry perspective would be sales. The desire of a central monitoring station or monitoring service dealer to enter a particular market would be an example; or for a manufacturer to embark on designing and producing a product.

In both instances, there will be an opposition force (OPFOR), which is the competition. This is where the difference between the general civilian understanding of reconnaissance and the true military version is useful. Conducting a cursory review of the potential market, be it for security services or a product, can often mean the difference between success or disaster in a company’s desire to accomplish its goals. In the example of the monitoring company, perhaps sending a sales manager to an area to drive around and note competing signs on residences or businesses, or the concentration of such services in a particular area would be a good idea.

On its face, it would appear that a full tank of gas in a rental car coupled with several good hours of surveying a particular area would be sufficient; however, the process of military reconnaissance is undertaken at all stages of operations — before, during and after. In other words, it is a continuous undertaking. It is probably true that you are constantly watching the activities of others sharing your space to determine openings and opportunities, but without a proper framework, much can slip through the cracks. These details are the ones that can make the difference.

As business owners, quite often the driving consideration is getting a deal done; however, continued reconnaissance during an operation — ie. due diligence — is still paramount. An obvious example would be an asset purchase of a smaller, local alarm dealer, by a larger, regional one, which is quite popular in our industry. Questions and areas that should be explored beyond the “paper” of the deal are some of the actual client sites where the dealer performed equipment installs. For example, go and inspect residential and commercial sites — you may be shocked to find that many of the systems are poorly installed. This is an early warning sign and should play into one’s valuation of the purchase.

More frighteningly, the provisions in your asset purchase agreement that purportedly protect you through indemnification and other provisions may be meaningless if the seller is long gone from the industry and a motivated plaintiff’s lawyer sees only your pockets. Proper recon could have avoided the whole issue years in advance, or at least better prepared you for it.

Litigation: The Battlefield

For all practical purposes, by the time my involvement as an attorney is called upon, the “battlefield” has been already set. This certainly does not mean the course of the battle cannot change or that defensive maneuvering or counter-attacks cannot move forward. What it does mean is that many of the items relating to a matter in litigation have literally been “frozen in place” — permanently occupying the position they were in, leaving the difficult task of having to deal with bad evidence, difficult witnesses, or in the worst case scenario, a simple failure of the obligation to protect property or to carry out whatever security duties were required for a particular customer. It is the role of the litigation attorney to look for and create these necessary opportunities and defenses.

In the case of a central station monitoring service, it could be the mishandling of an alarm signal; in the case of a company providing physical security officers, matters involving false arrest, malicious prosecution, or use of force; in the case of a catastrophic fire or other similar loss, it could involve the manufacturer of a particular alarm or access control component.

The “battlefield” has progressively turned into a more adverse environment for our industry. This is due in large part to the fact that as an industry, we position ourselves in a special relationship of trust with the public through our protection of life and property. In this modern era of heightened security, with the threat potential of terrorist attacks and other catastrophes, the security industry as a whole is being given a greater degree of responsibility — and with it, scrutiny and heightened expectations by the courts. Thus, a company needs a litigation plan in the event of catastrophic events.


When a military unit is not engaged in battle, it is training for one; in fact, those are the two basic conditions of combat effectiveness. Effective training must mimic the real situation in every reasonably possible manner and is meant to measure responses, effectiveness, strategies and most importantly, failure points. From a central station operator taking an emergency call to a security guard being faced with a situation where he must use force, the body's natural alarm response must be tested and refined in each individual. Only through accurate and scenario-specific, dynamic stress situations can positive results be expected when those actions are actually needed in the real world.

Therefore, the most important component, without question, is preparation and training. Depending on the specific area of the security industry your company is involved in, a variety of certification and training providers designed to certify a particular responder in the tasks they perform is a necessary first step. In my experience in litigation, however, I have learned that the basic level of training is simply not enough. A company must continue reviewing its processes, responses, and place its first-line responders in a continued training cycle to ensure that industry standards are not only complied with, but complied with in a confident manner.

Continuing with the example of the central station operator, one can imagine that the majority of calls being taken are false alarms. The day-to-day operator shift can be filled with hundreds of calls that do not require critical action. What would the operator do if a subscriber was in an absolute panic and screaming but at the same time saying that everything is okay and no response is needed, even providing a passcode? What if a subscriber answers and indicates their relative is choking and they immediately need the operator to provide instructions on how to perform emergency resuscitation?

Central station operators are probably saying that a central station operator is not an emergency responder and their job should be focused on handling the signals under the particular protocols that are set forth in the account instructions — fire, burglar, panic, etc. But I can assure you that in these types of scenarios unprepared operators make errors, attempt to assist and delay dispatch, or panic. In other words, it is not uncommon for them to fall off of the tracks of their training.

Organizing periodic training meetings with central station managers and role-play exercises better prepare these operators to face these types of issues. Investing in continued training is tantamount and will preserve your company's reputation when adverse scenarios rear their ugly heads.

I cannot tell you how many times in depositions I hear security personnel testify about their job training, and it always ends with the plaintiff’s lawyer asking a question similar to the following: “So other than the training you received for a few days after you were hired, your company had no other programs in place to ensure you developed and maintained your necessary skills to protect life and property, correct?” In what manner would you prefer your employee answered that question?

After Action Review

One of the most valuable tools used by military units after training exercises is commonly known as the After Action Review (AAR), designed to ensure that post-training/incident review is done in a systematic manner with the goal of improved performance.

AARs generally ask four basic questions: (1) what were the intended results, or what was planned; (2) what were the actual results, or what really happened; (3) what caused the results, or why did it happen; and (4) what will we sustain or improve on, or, what can we do better. While many business models that have adopted a similar approach to reviewing performance during critical actions, very few embrace the 360-degree method of a military AAR.

Ideally, in a military AAR, all individuals involved in a particular action convene to discuss the four points above, and every soldier is encouraged to actively participate, regardless of rank, experience or role in the operation. Applying this to the security industry, there are numerous training scenarios where such an approach could truly enhance performance and therefore, customer satisfaction. Sales pitches, security drills, central station call centers, customer service and installation are just a few.

Tap Your Vets

Many in the alarm and security services industry likely have the benefit of having veterans as employees. While many of you have come to know them for their “traditional” military characteristics — discipline, punctuality, team-oriented, work ethic — also note that many of them may have a very strong familiarity with these topics. Use them — many of these vets can add tremendous insight into improving your company in ways that might surprise you.

For those that do not have the pleasure of working with any veterans in your staff, I strongly encourage you to seek them out in your hiring practices. They have given a lot for their country, and they can give a lot back to your company as well.

Editor’s Note: If you would like to learn more about these concepts, Mr. Nowak will be conducting a live webinar on Jan. 14 at noon central time. To register, please contact Carrie Ephgrave at [email protected].

Conrad C. Nowak is a partner and Co-Chair of the Alarm and Security Services National Practice Group at the law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP. He has assisted clients in litigation and commercial matters throughout the country, and is also a proud veteran of the United States Army.