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Understanding Culture – The Military Language

Understanding culture is understanding language. In this example the focus is on the military language.

The military language offered the first supplies for early organizations in managing their workforce and business process. The military slang has been widely used, it is still popular and companies use the terminology to communicate irrespectively of their business background; the military language fits everywhere.

A selection of the widely known military terms are:

mission, strategy, defense, attack (offensive strategy), tactics, operation, scenarios, but also terminology like: resistance (war), and of course: discipline.

The typical organizational form is the hierarchy and is based on authority and obeying orders.

The context of language defines its meaning. “Rock and roll ” in the military environment can mean ” The fully automatic fire setting on a weapon. “The M16 selector switch has three settings: safe, semi-automatic, and rock-and-roll.” (

One example:
Now that the economy is slowing down into a world wide recession, companies return to defensive strategies. A main element is to re-centralize activities because they are cheaper to organize. Costs is an issue in defense, not or less during growth. But the central strategy is also an example of the military defense strategy. When preparing for a foreign attack, a normal strategy would be to close the gates and to build a wall around the territory. An offensive strategy would be to attack in a de-central way at different places at the same time. This is what has happened over the last years when the economy was booming; new businesses were attacking the marketplace with whatever new product or additional features. Now the catalog is returned to the save base of a limited set of products that can be organized centrally and are easy to oversee (manage).

One of the challenges of war and the military language is creativity. The focus is often on discipline where the reconciliation with creativity is a tough one. This is a problem area where organizations still struggle with. And not only the military ones.

But also military organizations change. And the military has learned from and is influenced by other organizations for example by the concepts of marketing and sales. In the Iraq war various interviews show that managing stakeholders is key in surviving the war. Building roads for local citizens is an example of a bargain where money is spent not on war-material but on housing and infrastructure to gain the support of the local citizens. A principle learned from the field of marketing.

The focus on language is essential to manage and understand cultures. This article is exemplary; the main idea is to focus on the language people use in the organization. It gives a real clue on the organizational culture.

© 2009 Hans Bool

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