The Hopeless Task of Turning Employees into SEAL Team Six

Few people knew about the existence or capabilities of SEAL Team Six -- until the elite squad of fighters dropped out of the sky to take out Osama Bin Laden. Suddenly management mavens everywhere were touting the principles to be derived from an ST6 approach to business and even the need for managers to create their own warrior squads to take on difficult, high risk/high reward projects.

And though the idea of a highly trained team of superior achievers launched to accomplish can't-fail missions sounds exciting, you can forget that ever happening in your organization. Here's why.

SEAL Team Six members were developed over years of intensive, task-oriented training. Now think about your own business. Do you even know what your business model will look like in five, seven, 10 years? Can you guarantee your employees will be still be around then?

Long-term "asset" training is not what businesses do. "Rather than creating a long development arc for talent, organizations educate people in short and often unconnected bursts," observe Babson Executive Education researchers H. James Wilson and Elaine J. Eisenman, in their post on HBR.org, Why Your Business Doesn't Have a Seal Team Six.

Factors contributing to this short-term development horizon include an unpredictable business environment, reliance on ad-hoc teams brought together for specific projects, and the largely autonomous learning that goes on in social networks. In other words, employees don't often work and train together over long periods of time like commando teams are required to do.

Which begs an interesting question. What can employers do to equip their key managers with the skills, values and experiences necessary to operate over an extended period of time, regardless of short-term changes in the environment?

One thing that likely doesn't change much over time is the company's mission. So linking an employee's development plan to goals and values identified in the mission can create lasting meaning and purpose, say Wilson and Eisenmann. "You've got to 'arm employees' with the responsibility to grow their careers while growing the top line."

Given the short-term development needs of most businesses, do you see a way for companies to develop long-term, team-related skills in their employees? Do companies even need their own SEAL Team Six?

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(Photo by Flickr user Seth W, CC 2.0)