Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

November 13, 2013

Four-star general speaks to Indiana business leaders

By Brenda L. Holmes
Hendricks County Flyer

INDIANAPOLIS — INDIANAPOLIS — Business leaders from all over the state converged on the Indiana Convention Center this week to hear retired four-star Gen. Stan McChrystal speak. Honoring military service was top priority for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce as it hosted this year’s annual awards banquet.

McChrystal spoke directly to the business leaders in the room about how to elevate their companies and stay competitive in today’s economy.

“The rate of change has sped up and an organization has to be able to adapt,” he said. “Instead of getting ahead of issues we are chasing problems. We have to change our DNA by using what I call organic adaptability.”

McChrystal led the top secret Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War and was the top commander of American forces in Afghanistan.

In June 2010, a Rolling Stone article featured “unflattering” remarks about the Obama administration from both McChrystal and his aides. There was a barrage of media coverage and he decided to resign and retire from the military. Later, McChrystal was cleared by the Pentagon, which had strongly questioned some of the alleged statements in the article.

After retirement, McChrystal started a consulting firm — the McChrystal Group — which he aims to “help change America by helping businesses operate better.”

During his presentation, he described simple principles that he believes any company can use to improve and thrive.

“We have got to adapt or fail,” McChrystal said. “And it’s not in our DNA to fail.”

In his previous job, he said the chain of command had made the military too slow to respond. Al-Qaeda was a totally different organizational type. It was geographically dispersed and was dynamic and always morphing.

“We needed to deal with an enemy that had a flexible network,” he said. “We had a hierarchical organization.”

McChrystal learned that the different special operations units in the different branches of the military had good intelligence but they were not sharing it.

“I was frustrated and sat down with the intelligence agencies,” he said.

The problem was communication within U.S. military forces and giving personnel the power to act when they needed to. Asking permission from the chain of command was making responses take too long.

“When you decided you need to drop bombs you can do it,” McChrystal said. “I trust you to make that decision. And people took ownership and our culture changed.”

He told a story about a company that empowered their employees to make their own decisions on scheduling and uniform choices.

“They took over and improved their productivity by almost 20 percent,” he said. “This is shared consciousness. If you trust them it will become a common purpose.”

Instituting these basic principles helped the military from completing 18 raids every other night in August of 2004 to 300 raids every night in August ’08.

“You just need to create the vision and develop this environment and you will put together something truly special.”

McChrystal said he spent a month in Indiana while serving at Ft. Benjamin Harrison.

“I loved Indiana,” he said. “My time here was great.”

He said he does not have any political aspirations, but enjoyed his time teaching at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.

brenda.holmes@flyergroup.com