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Don’t Call Us Contractors – We’re Entrepreneurs

Getting left of bang is more than a tagline or a point on an attack timeline. It is also a mindset and a pursuit that the professionals who make up our nation’s military, police departments and security companies strive to accomplish. Our goal at The CP Journal is to help these protectors attain that ability by teaching them how to read behavior, but doing that requires that we maintain a specific perspective about our business to support that effort. Even though we work with the government from time to time, we are not contractors. We are entrepreneurs. This might seem like a small difference in wording, but an entrepreneurial mindset means that we define success differently than government contractors, and this has a significant impact on the Tactical Analysis ® program we offer you.

While I was in the military, whether a civilian standing in front of me associated himself or herself as a contractor or an entrepreneur wasn’t a question that I ever asked. I didn’t know that I needed to care. To show how our approach is entrepreneurial, let’s start with some simple definitions of the terms. A government contractor is a company or a person that produces goods or services under contract for the government. An entrepreneur, on the other hand, is a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money. The difference in definitions results in different definitions of success.

If we considered ourselves to be government contractors, our business would be based around securing contracts and providing instructors to teach existing programs that the military is already providing. I’m certainly not saying there is anything wrong with that approach, but it has a direct impact on how a company measures success. Because the defense contractor doesn’t own the content of the program they are teaching, success for a defense contractor is in how well they can capture a contract, negotiate terms that are the most profitable and perform at a satisfactory level and not do anything that would cause the government to withdraw the contract. Success is determined at the decision-maker level (the contracting and purchasing officers) and not the end-user (the men and women actually using the skills taught in the program.) Success is measured in transactions, not in the actual performance of the people coming through their program. Once a government contractor has won a contract, they are playing not to lose. This is the point where we take a different approach.

As entrepreneurs, we can’t afford to play to “not lose.” We would rather play to win, so instead of defining success at the decision-maker level of an organization, we are constantly looking at how well we can improve the situational awareness of our students. From the content included in the courses to the method in which we deliver it and the resources we provide to our clients get after they come through a course, everything gets evaluated from the perspective of how it impacts the man or woman on the ground. Every picture, video and teaching point has to improve the way protectors make decisions in situations where there is only a limited amount of time and limited amount of information available. If our product becomes stale, outdated, or if the value is no longer there for our students, then we haven’t succeeded. How we make these improvements is the second significant difference in our approach from that of the typical government contractor because we willingly take on the risk associated with those changes.

Making changes to a product is risky because it is a change from the status quo. Changes require resources, both time and money, and there is the chance that those changes are not seen as valuable by the customer. Because government contractors don’t have a vested interest in the training programs they provide (they don’t own them,) they want to reduce the risk of spending any time and money on that effort to as small a number as possible. If the government wants a contractor to make any improvements to a course, that is something that is going to be negotiated to ensure those costs are covered. While it makes absolute business sense to do that, the people the contractors are negotiating with are rarely involved in the actual program. They are contracting officers who are talking to program managers and at least a few degrees removed from the end-user. Because there is no guarantee that the contractor is going to be compensated for improvements, maintaining the status quo often becomes the preferred answer. That is what I mean when I say that they are playing to “not lose.” They won’t be removed from a contract for delivering what they agreed to.  The result is a satisfactory, but rarely an exceptional, course delivered to the men and women who rely on the training to provide skills that might save their life or allow them to do their job better.

As entrepreneurs, we embrace the risk of making changes to our courses, and we can do that because we own the intellectual property on them. Because we are constantly looking at making our courses better for the end-user, when a needed change is identified, it is made immediately. There is the risk that the time spent improving the course will not be compensated for. There is the chance that our customers will not find value in the new product and we will lose money as a result. We take that risk because if it means that a Marine, Soldier, Police Officer or Security Professional is more likely to recognize a criminal or attacker left of bang, then those changes to our courses are worth it. We believe that even if the short-term compensation isn’t guaranteed, the time and money spent will pay off in the long run.

I know that I’m painting government contractors with a very broad brush in this article and know that there are exceptions to any rule. From my experiences as a Marine and from the time I spent as a contractor, I saw many contractors who were able to separate the business side of the contract and display a high degree of commitment to the people they were teaching. There are people like Lanny Roark and Yousef Badou at the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton and who have written for Pre-Event Indicators, The CP Journal blog, in the past, who have dedicated themselves to improving the Combat Hunter program above and beyond what is stated in their contact. I also don’t write this to say that by not being a government contractor, we don’t work with the government. Working with the Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors from the SOCOM community is hands down one of the most rewarding things I do. By maintaining an entrepreneurial mindset, I’m also not saying that we wouldn’t pursue government contracts if it is the right business decision to make. But when you come through a class in the Tactical Analysis program, you will never get a contractor mindset. You will always get an entrepreneur’s mentality, which means that your instructor cares about how well they can improve your performance on the job and your ability to recognize criminals hiding in the crowd.

Getting left of bang is more than just a tagline, it is a commitment to make the world a safer place. While that goal is attainable, it isn’t within the confines of a contract and not without constantly improving our course. Our nation’s protectors deserve the best training available, and our entrepreneurial focus is our way of fulfilling on those expectations.

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