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Thriving in a COVID-19 World: Lessons From Marine Corps Snipers

As we deal with the uncertainty of reopening, AED knows many of its members are looking for ways to thrive in a business climate that COVID has forever changed. Because heavy equipment distribution will be altered whether we like it or not, to succeed, we’ll need to reset our ideas of success, and the ways we define it in our industry. It’s going to be a difficult transition, but those who embrace this new environment will be the ones who make it through this tough time and flourish in the future we’re all stepping into.

In the world of tough jobs, few are more stringent than that of a Marine Corps sniper. These teams lie still in the mud or crouch in sweltering attics for days, waiting for targets often more than a mile away. As part of my work studying those who thrived in challenging environments, I accompanied sniper teams during their combat deployments, and the lessons they taught me about performance apply as much to succeeding in a post-COVID world as they do to putting rounds on target.

1. We can’t hit what we can’t see


Night or day, whether covering the advance of troops or looking for a particularly bad guy, the snipers I lived alongside were always crystal clear on what their targets did – and didn’t – look like.

Yet many of us are sending out our teams today with vague objectives like “Get in touch with new customers so we can reclaim lost sales” or “Try to rent and lease more,” and then we wonder why our folks aren’t hitting their targets. Like snipers, if we’re going to prosper in a post-COVID world, we need to ensure we’re communicating specific targets whether we’re talking with salespeople, our maintenance department or back-office staff.

2. Bring the right gear – and know-how to use it


The first time I met a sniper team as they prepared to step off on patrol, they threw all my extra gear into the dirt. Soon, I was showing up with only a rifle, ammunition, water and socks. These sharpshooters knew exactly what they would need and didn’t waste energy carrying things that wouldn’t serve their mission.

A salesperson meeting a potential client or a maintenance technician dealing with a repair shouldn’t be wasting time finding charts, getting their laptop working correctly, or struggling to find the latest pricing specifications; none of those project the image of an elite professional.

When we’re reconnecting with clients in person at our dealerships or over the phone, it’s imperative that we decide what resources each team needs to provide exceptional service (and to line those resources up beforehand). Whether it’s a piece of technology, a reference manual or a pricing sheet, we as leaders need to ensure that our teams have what they need to hit their targets.

3. Recon the target

A sniper’s job doesn’t start behind a rifle – it begins weeks beforehand. I discovered that snipers spend hours before their missions poring over maps and rechecking intelligence.

Success in a post-COVID world will depend on up-to-date information, so we need to ensure we regularly update our teams on the intelligence they’ll need to be successful. Snipers’ lives depend on having good intelligence, and thriving in a post-COVID world will be no different.

4. Never go alone

Although shooters might have the more glamorous job, there was no way they could accomplish their missions alone. Each shooter had a “spotter,” someone responsible for helping them identify targets, account for wind and distance, and keep an eye on the environment so the shooter could focus on taking the shot.

Whether our teams work individually, in pairs or as a group, it’s up to us to ensure our folks know how to get support from us and the departments in our dealerships when they need it. It will give them the confidence they’ll need to hit their targets, whether those targets are oriented toward revenue, repair or customer service.

5. Success isn’t static

When in Iraq, I interviewed a sniper who held the record for the farthest successful shot. Although he was at the top of his game, he continued to practice, stay in shape, and attend intelligence briefings. He knew success wasn’t static. To continue to perform at a high level and support his teammates, he kept doing what had made him successful in the first place. Our post-COVID equipment dealership world is no different.

Are we encouraging our high performers to mentor others and continue their professional education by scheduling virtual meetings with each other? As AED knows, our best people can help raise the bar for everyone, and as leaders, we can ensure that they continue to raise the bar for themselves as well.

Shawn Rhodes is an international expert in improving organizational performance, and his work studying organizations in more than two dozen countries has been published in news outlets around the world. His clients have included Deloitte, ConAgra, Coca Cola and dozens of similar businesses. He is author of the new book “Pivot Point: Turn on a Dime Without Sacrificing Results.”

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