Understanding Military Culture

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When we think about workplace culture, it’s fair to say that the military is unlike any other career out there. Military members do not consider serving as just a job, or something that they do, but rather as a call to action that more deeply defines who they are. The military provides for a strong sense of community and camaraderie amongst those that serve. It embraces a “warrior ethos,” by rewarding physical and emotional strength, while looking down on weakness and timid behaviors. This high demanding environment is one that instills in its members a unique set of ethics, ethos and values deeply rooted in military history and tradition.

For those that want to draw on new military talent or better support those in your workplace, it requires a deeper insight into the culture that veterans have come from while serving in the military. This will serve to provide you with a better overall understanding of what makes our service members unique.

The military is a highly structured and mission focused organization, and it demands that all members amongst its ranks approach their tasks from a mission-oriented perspective. Those men and woman always know what the task at hand is, they understand that the “task” or “mission” comes before self, and that mission failure, or giving up, is simply not an option. Further, they understand the roles and responsibilities of all those around them and how together they must operate to accomplish the task they have been given.  So whether it be securing an enemy stronghold in a foreign land, or training a group of junior personnel on financial responsibility, service members approach everything they do as a mission.

This type of behavior is expected from all and strictly enforced by hierarchy of leadership known in the military as a “chain of command”. Commanding Officers issue their directives through a hyper-organized multi-tiered set of ranking enlisted personnel and commissioned officers – each with their own set of management responsibilities and decision-making power. These orders are passed down from appointed person to appointed person until those who implement the orders have received them. As such, military members expect those with authority to take charge and make clear and confident decisions – regardless of what is going on around them. Service members are used to receiving orders with directness and simplicity.

Similarly, requests and inquiries are moved up the chain of command until they reach the individual with the authority to make a decision or take the action required. So whether it’s an order coming down the chain of command or an issue being raised up the chain, there is a strict understanding that no level or step is skipped, and that clear communication is paramount.

Service members also maintain a very close-knit community amongst their peers. While training and living in such close quarters, and with little personal space, everyone seems to know everything about one another. But because of this constant personal transparency, it creates an environment that promotes trust and respect amongst military members.  

Another difference that is important to note is that military members always use sir and ma’am when addressing superior officers, and never refer to anyone by their first name. Respect is a key value when addressing one another in the military. What may come as surprise to you is that many service members do not even know one another’s first name because they are never used in the service.

While the culture in the military is very different from the rest of the world around it, the culture amongst each branch of service also differs greatly; each branch has their own motto and set of core values.

It is these ideals and core values that set service members apart. Military culture demands that those who serve set aside personal needs in exchange for teamwork, selflessness, and shared goals. Service members understand these principals, and they strive to selflessly serve others. When they join the military, they take an oath to that effect. And once they depart from the service and return back home, these values continue to be deeply held by so many.