Plan for Uncertainty, Prepare for Success: Leveraging Military Frameworks to Accelerate Enterprise Future of Work Models

By Jonathan Shaffner | March 7, 2023


Key Points

Businesses need to adopt a dynamic approach to drive innovation.

Independent talent are the foundation for supporting productivity and action in changing times.

Using independent talent can help businesses build better internal strategy and create greater value for customers.

In the last few years, a health pandemic, supply chain challenges, geopolitical risks, inflation, and social unrest disrupted our economy in ways we had not felt in nearly a century. In a business sense, these disruptions do not drive destruction, they drive innovation. To adapt to this environment, businesses need to adopt a dynamic approach 

Military planning offers an ideal framework for future enterprise success. It is an approach that embraces uncertainty, builds contingency, and involves actively organizing against current opportunities while maintaining flexibility and vision to conquer new challenges. 

Legendary leaders rise in response to adversity, crisis, and change, as often seen on the battlefield and in sport, but just as relevant in business. Recent events present an opportunity for great companies to emerge as industry leaders by recognizing and responding to changing circumstances faster than their enemies (competitors). Businesses that optimize for their current environment by understanding customers, competition, supply chains, distribution, and marketing will be successful. But when these realities change, it is their speed to course correct that will determine their future. 

While some industries will be hit harder than others, it is hard to imagine a company whose risk profile and real value proposition has not changed due to recent shifts in economic realities. 

The most important question is: who has the depth of knowledge and understanding of environmental and market variables to fully define the scope of the risk and opportunity? Usually, this function does not exist within the company because employees need to focus on making the company work in its current structure. They do not systematically envision the future, so businesses must seek outside talent with broader knowledge of the business environment and skill sets to adjust or pivot the business to new opportunities. These individuals, generally independent (self-employed) professionals that possess the repetitions in identifying opportunities and driving productive change, will leverage the knowledge, skills, and capabilities existent in a company and create a stronger delivery of these strengths to customers and clients. 

Independent talent provides the foundation for supporting productivity and action in changing times. This talent has a greater technical depth, and broader experience in change than the employees who run the business. While focusing on improvement is of great importance in making a business process work, looking at the output and functions in their totality—to include the supporting environment—requires a degree of disconnectedness and broader knowledge than what normally exists within a company’s internal staff. Regularly utilizing such independent talent to review dynamic circumstances, develop a refined business approach, and shape strategy allows businesses to create greater value for customers and clients in improved ways. 

It’s good for the worker, as well. Today, there are nearly 65 million independents in the United States, a total up 69% since 2020 and this number is continuing to grow. These workers report significantly and statistically higher levels of satisfaction, happiness, and health than traditionally employed counterparts. In a tight labor market, they also command higher wages. So, it stands to reason that leveraging independent talent isn’t just good for business, it’s a business imperative to reach high-performing talent.  

As such, businesses should think strategically not just about engaging independents but also about developing ongoing relationships with specific types of independent talent (a practice known as ‘direct sourcing’ and ‘talent pooling’) to develop the ability to react quickly to changing market conditions and have talent ‘at the ready.’ 

They should also look for opportunities to support their growth model. If the past is any indicator, there will be several opportunities to expand business, build market share, and take advantage of targeted government programs to set the foundation for future success.  

To maintain pace in a constantly changing environment, updated business plans should include a dynamic approach like military planning. They must build a task organization: a purely operational formation built to tackle a problem given the circumstances of the moment. A task organization has a method for continuous adjustment of the workforce as well as a process to achieve a viable value chain while maintaining flexibility to meet the next problem.

Independent talent provides the foundation for expertly supporting productivity and action in changing times by creating a cycle of action and improvement that can effectively deal with change. Independent talent have the knowledge and depth of understanding to identify opportunities, and they can offer flexibility to test new business processes in a more cost-effective manner than using a full-time workforce alone. 

By consistently utilizing this process as part of an operational approach or strategy, businesses can stay up to date with changes in technology, structure, business processes, or the marketplace to create new opportunities. Especially when we are in a period of great change, this cycle must be more frequent.

A desired output of this activity should be a business that systematically and continuously identifies and adjusts towards opportunity. In the case of post-pandemic uncertainty, businesses need to adapt to a changing landscape that includes staffing shortages, new remote practices, supply chain disruptions, and inflation. Using independent talent to develop a refined business approach and shape strategy will allow businesses to pivot away from risk and towards increased market share. 

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