Why Does a Lt. General Outrank a Major General?

Bear with me, this has to do with implementing Predictive Analytics within a Performance Management framework 🙂

A Lieutenant General has 3 stars whereas a Major General has only 2 stars. However a Major outranks a Lieutenant. The reason for this can be found by looking back at the organizational structure of the armies when the ranks were first created.

Basically, there was the recognition that execution required strategic, tactical, and operational roles. The strategic roles developed plans to achieve goals. The tactical folks were assigned specific aspects of a strategy to execute upon. They also played a buffer between the strategic guys to the operational guys. Those operational folks are the ones who physically execute the aspects of the plan.

With that in mind, if we look at the ranks like this, we can see that three-tiered structure of strategic, tactical, and operational:

  1. General, Lt. General, Major General
  2. Colonel, Lt. Colonel, Major
  3. Captain, Lieutenant, Sergeant (Major)

On the third line, we see the Captain as the head of a “Company” of soliders. The Captain is the manager of this group of soldiers. This is like the coach of a football team standing on the sidelines owning the entire strategy and directing the big picture.

He also has a couple of Lieutenants who in term manage a subset of the Company called a Platoon. This is like the “coordinators” of a football team such as the Offensive, Defensive, and Special Teams Coordinators. These tactical guys are responsible for specific aspects of the strategy.

The Sergeant (Major) commands a sub-unit of the Platoon which is the smallest unit actually fighting on the field. This is like the Quarterback who is on the field executing the play commanded by the coach.

But the Captain’s Company is one Company under a bigger picture unit called a Batallion, which is commanded by a Colonel. The Colonel has a “tactical” Lieutenant Colonel who takes the Colonel’s big picture, figures out how to achieve the big picture, conveys the tactics  to the Major who is in charge of a group of Captains of the Companies under the Battallion. The Battallion is focused on a bigger picture than the Company. Let’s call it a “battle”.

The Colonel’s Battalion is in turn under a bigger unit, which can be a Division, Brigade, or the entire Army. For this purpose, let’s say it’s the entire Army. The army is commanded by a General (four stars). This is the guy who formulates the strategy to win the entire war (started by some king for God knows what reason). This 4-Star General also has a number of lieutenants (3-star Lt. Generals), who formulate objectives to each in order to win the war. These objectives are then assigned the the 2-star Major General, who is in charge of a number of Colonels, who are in charge of the battles required to win the war.

Most of us know that Corporate culture is based on a military-style, top-down hierarchy (the “Org Chart”). But it also has a strategic/tactical/operational tiered structure as well.

The senior executives formulate strategies for companies to achieve goals. For most “for profit” corporations, the goal is basically more profit. For non-profit organizations, the goal is to achieve better conditions towards some cause (save the whales, save the rain forests).

Then there are the junior executives who are assigned certain aspects of the strategy. These can be leaders of a Division, Region, or Function, for example.

Last are the middle managers in charge of specific operational tasks, the line managers. They are the folks in charge of the guys who actually carry out the work such as the practice manager of a group of consultants or the manager of a McDonalds.

With all that said, in this Information Age, we are all Information Workers, part strategic, tactical, and operational. Or at least, for the operational folks (like me), we really need to be, lest we be replaced by a robot or AI program some day soon.

Figure 1 illustrates that whether we are executives, managers, or the guy in the trenches, our respective strategic, tactical, and operational natures overlap to various extents.

Figure 1 – Information Workers are Strategic, Tactical and Operational.

The savvy information worker takes the goals (targets) assigned to them from his/her boss, then develops her own strategy to achieve those goals. Of course, she must then ensure she has the capabilities to execute her strategy, then executes it.

For example, we’ve all had enterprising waiters/waitresses at restaurants. Those are the ones who are working to win. They adopt or create a strategy; friendly, professional, knowledgeable. The best know how to adapt to a particular sort of customer or mood of a customer. 

They also execute impeccably, ensuring we aren’t waiting too long for anything, feeling rushed, etc. They don’t seem to be just going through the motions (even if it is just a job until their big break comes along). The exceptional waitstaff I’ve encountered during my too many meals are like the commando in the middle of Figure 1; stratetic, tactical, and operational.

In my case, as a BI consultant, I certainly am strategic in that my career strategy is to ensure I stay on the bleeding edge and capable of delivering excellent service to my customers. I’m also tactical in that I formulate plans to execute upon that strategy by writing software and blogs, beyond what is required of me in my day, and spend about 10 hours per week on continuing ed activities. Hopefully that means I’m able to deliver excellent services to my customers, which means I can achieve my goals of enjoying my work and providing for my family.

The real point of this blog is that we Information Workers are all responsible for owning our strategies and tactics. If our roles are primarily operational, we need to do all we can to stay ahead of those nasty improving robots and AI applications.

If we are middle managers, we must more than embrace Predictive Analytics to provide superior “best guesses” as we formulate our strategies to achieve our assigned goals. Since most of us aren’t analytical wizards (Quants, Wonks), we can at least meet halfway by embracing the notions of “self-service BI and Data Mining” for that superior edge.

When engaging in self-service BI/Data Mining/Predictive Analytics projects, keep in mind this notion that there are strategic, tactical, and operational aspects for every information worker. This means that every information worker could greatly benefit from superior best guesses obtained through the ability to prepare and analyze data without needing to wait for IT and without needing to be an MBA or PhD in statistics (or at least employing them).

CEOs have at their disposal expensive quants. But managers and operational workers  don’t have such luxuries, even though the skills provided by quants could significantly help to provide superior performance at those levels, which only helps the guy at the top.

About Eugene

Business Intelligence and Predictive Analytics on the Microsoft BI Stack.
This entry was posted in Data Mining and Predictive Analytics. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Why Does a Lt. General Outrank a Major General?

  1. You might want to check out the 2010 November issue of the Harvard Business Review. The theme of the issue was lessons learned from the military. Specifically around Leadership, Strategy, and business.


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