Unleashing Creativity

How do you make your franchise the best of the best? How can you meaningfully contribute to the franchise’s evolution? You may be lucky, and simply following the guidelines of the franchisor will lead to success. But, rising to the top and seeing truly exceptional results typically requires more active involvement. Your franchise has to become something special and take the business model to new levels.

A franchising opportunity is quite similar to the situation faced by peacetime military commanders who gain command of a unit/ship/squadron. The new commander walks into a military unit with solid methodologies already in place. The military provides a defined set of equipment and staffing. How do they make their command tour stand out? How do they rise above the fray and deliver truly exceptional results?

The history of a US Army task force that accomplished what experts thought impossible during the late cold war era offers valuable insights.  Task Force 4-68 (TF 4-68) won an unprecedented nine of nine engagements at the Army’s grueling and highly realistic National Training Center (NTC), a feat never equaled. TF 4-68 achieved these incredible results following three magical leadership themes. First, its new commander, Fred Dibella, provided absolute clarity of purpose with a simple, three-word, all pervasive mission. Second, he empowered an obsession to go “9 and 0,” and achieve the mission. Third, both of these enabled the most cogent of the three magical themes—unleashing creativity.

TF 4-68 directed ingenuity toward developing highly effective new ways to conduct combined arms combat operations. In this effort, Fred Dibella was out front, voraciously collecting ideas, asking for input, and inspiring the refinement of procedures across the task force. He was the primary catalyst in developing a playbook for battle plans patterned after the well-known wishbone offense in football. The playbook concept boiled the complex task of combined arms operations into six simple plays (2 attack, 2 defense, 2 movement).

The whole unit became engaged in perfecting our execution of the plays to win every maneuver battle. While dynamic, the creative environment was not an artistic, open-thought community; innovation was supremely purposeful. TF 4-68 looked for ideas that would tie to improved effectiveness in combat. To achieve a similar impact, a franchisee could focus creative energies on generating ideas that contribute to their top goal. Let’s consider how you could apply three methods Dibella used in stoking the creative fires.

First, through personal involvement, create an environment of direct and open communication that elevates ideas on the basis of their merits. Dibella set a great example challenging the status quo with the playbook concept. Celebrate the ideas and recognize inventors. Make evaluation criteria simple and objective. In TF 4-68 criteria were widely known: “If it works, do it.” The definition of “works” meant adding to our combat effectiveness. Everything tied to the 9-0 goal.

Second, ensure the ideas have a champion and that champions can find resources to experiment. This is not to say that you need a magical pool of assets available to go after every idea. Dibella did not have such a luxury. Time, money, and other resources were precious commodities. Champions had to fight for them, but the effort to secure these crucial assets typically strengthened the resolve to make the ideas work. It also weeded out those with lukewarm commitments. There was high accountability but also a high tolerance for failure.

Third, establish a pervasive organizational mindset in which people at all levels work to constantly improve. Many of the most important refinements arose out of the relentless energy poured into making communications, systems and processes just a little better every day. For example, other task forces were taking 6-10 hours developing their battle concept for the next morning’s mission before distributing orders to subordinate units. In TF 4-68, the playbook and myriad other innovations cut this time to two hours, giving the soldiers and subordinate leaders time to develop their own plans, rehearse, and prepare for the impending operation. The impact was transformational.

Similarly, you can engage your people in identifying the most critical methods or systems holding back the franchise’s performance and unleash their native ingenuity finding ways to alleviate bottlenecks, improve communication, and optimize procedures. Like the wellspring of ideas generated in TF4-68, the impact will be dramatic. It all stems from defining a crystal clear goal, empowering people to embrace the goal, and unleashing creativity.

For a franchiser or franchisee, the leadership lessons from TF4-68 are almost directly transferrable. The scenario is similar; you have a structure and requirements from the franchise/brand, but you can also follow three magical themes and set your franchise apart. Techniques developed in TF 4-68 became incorporated into Army doctrine. Similarly, an entire franchise could benefit from your amazing success.  As a franchisee, inspiring purpose, passion, and ingenuity creates the extraordinary.

Gary Morton graduated from West Point with honors and had a five-year career as a tank officer, the highlight of which was being part of an extraordinary unit that achieved unprecedented results at the US Army’s grueling National Training Center—the only unit to ever win every simulated battle it fought. Morton completed a master’s degree, also with honors, from the University of Southern California, and transitioned out of the Army to medical-device manufacturer Stryker, where he held positions of increasing responsibility in project management, engineering, R&D, operations, and marketing leadership becoming the youngest VP at the company. This culminated in twelve years as Vice President and General Manager of the EMS equipment business that he cofounded. Today, he is retired from Stryker and lives with his wife in the Midwest, where he writes and invests.  His new book, Commanding Excellence: Inspiring Purpose, Passion, and Ingenuity through Leadership That Matters, will be in print on September 5, 2017 and is available for pre-order now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BooksaMillion, Indiebound, and 800 CEO Read (for bulk orders) along with other fine booksellers.


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