When I was in the Army, we had a saying: “train as you fight.” This is an important concept, and one that can be applied throughout our lives. In the Army, it was straightforward: the more your training environments resembled actual battle environments, the more your training would prepare you and your team for actual battle. In other environments, it is also fairly straightforward. I was listening to Jim Harbaugh in an interview yesterday (GO BLUE) and it struck me how well ‘train as you fight’ applies to football – the more practice resembles an actual game, the better practice will prepare players for games. This means practicing in pads, while mimicking game situations as much as humanly possible. A football team cannot learn a two-minute offense in five minutes. They can only learn the two-minute offense in two minutes.
Obviously, you don’t want injuries when you train. In the Army, we did not use real munitions. You want realism, but not injury.
“Train as you fight” applies to business as well. Most businesses have information systems that help them run operations. Most of these systems have both production as well as test environments. The more these test environments resemble production, the more likely testing is to find potential issues. Ideally, every system has a test environment, and those test environments all interoperate just as they do in production.
Most marketing departments have what they call ‘war rooms’, which are rooms that contain competitor products. Marketing people will pour over competitor products to see what consumers might prefer about them. If marketing departments ‘trained as they fought,’ they would conduct this research where their products are sold, watching consumers look over different product offerings and asking them what they like about the different options available. Why guess what consumers are looking for when your consumers are happy to tell you what they are looking for?
Do you ‘train as you fight’ when you have internal meetings? You would never allow an employee to be late to a meeting with customers. Do you allow employees to be late to internal meetings? Are you ever late yourself? Do you have a meaningful agenda? Do your meetings always include takeaways, and deliverables with due dates? Do you train new managers on how to hold meetings? Do you ‘train as you fight’ when you conduct that training?
Managers have important jobs. How many managers are trained in management? Based on the performance of the managers I’ve seen, the answer is ‘not very many’. Rather, an effective employee is promoted to management, and other managers assume that because the employee was effective in a line role, they will be effective as a manager too. Without leadership experience or training, it is unrealistic to expect that new managers will be effective. Long term managers who have never learned how to manage effectively, and who have a boatload of experience managing poorly, may never be effective. Smart companies take the role of management seriously, and train their managers to be effective. When you train your managers, remember to ‘train as you fight.’
Most sales teams don’t train at all. Not only should they train, but they should role-play when they train, trying to sell to each other. Make these sessions as realistic as possible. Your sales people will learn from one another, tightening up their techniques, and selling more than ever before.
‘Train as you fight’ is applicable to every role in business. Training should exist for every role, and training should be as realistic as possible. After each training session, conduct an After Action Review, where the trainer and trainees can discuss what went well, what went poorly, and what can be improved. Training should then be conducted again, utilizing the lessons learned from the previous session to improve.
‘Train as you fight’ is applicable in your personal life too. When you learn a new skill, are you trying to simulate a real world environment? When you go to the driving range to practice golf, are you trying to see how far you can hit your driver, or how accurately you can place your shots? Are you envisioning a fairway in front of you and trying to keep your shots in it? Are you practicing with your wedges as much as you practice with your woods? Ideally, you would practice primarily with those clubs you use the most, on those shots you need to make the most frequently. Very few golfers do that.
If you want your family to be able to get out of the house in an emergency, such as in a fire, do everything you can to create a realistic environment (short of setting your house on fire), and let your family practice under those conditions. Not only will your family gain the skills to escape, but you’ll find obstacles that can be removed to make escape easier. Use a stop watch, and include a rally point. Really, any skill you teach your children can be done in a ‘train as you fight’ manner.
The number of places you can use the adage to ‘train as you fight’ is endless. The applicability of ‘train as you fight’ is endless. ‘Train as you fight’ should be a central tenet of everyday life.