Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mission Planning IV

A recent study by the US Army War College investigated critical behaviors of senior military leaders. Few skills ranked higher on the required attributes list than the ability to plan missions, solve problems and make decisions. Previous posts here looked at the first four steps of mission planning. Now we will look at some applications such as planning in a timed constrained environment and other uses of this planning process.

Mission planning in a time constrained environment.

Many scenarios require immediate decisions and do not allow for such a deliberate planning process as we have described to this point. In these instances, steps are not skipped but are compressed to fit the time available. If possible, include the input of one or two trusted agents. (In combat, leaders will grab a few key subordinates and huddle over a map, spread out on the hood of a Humvee)

It might be as simple as this:
-- What’s the problem?
-- What are the available options?
-- What is the best course of action?
-- What are the possible 2nd and 3rd order effects of this alternative?
-- What are the risks and how can they be mitigated?
--'s the decision...let's go. We'll work out the rest during execution.

Understand that this approach to planning is not a constraining, lock-step process but a framework for logical decision making that can be applied to any business and any problem. Military commanders find that once they understand the process, it can be adjusted based on the enemy and friendly situations and the time available for making the decision.

Great leaders are ultimately able to do this exercise in their head, especially in time constrained situations. They are able to “see” relative future positions and anticipate second and third order effects as a way to shape decisions and anticipate outcomes. No doubt it is an acquired skill - one that comes from the experience gained through the more deliberate exercise.

Caution: Leaders who consistently find themselves in time-constrained decision making situations would do well to examine the cause of time constraints. Deliberate planning helps leaders anticipate (and often eliminate) future problems and enables early positioning (organizationally and individually) for future opportunities. Time-constrained decision making is usually a self-inflicted wound!

Application of the Mission Planning Process

Leaders should engage in mission planning only for those problems and decisions that must be made at their level. If subordinates are empowered to solve problems and make certain decisions at their level – don’t pull this authority back from them. Similarly, don’t allow them to get lazy and push it back up to you!

Communicate your decisions and mission plans. Ask “who else needs to know?” Check higher, lower, left, and right. All mission plans must have a communication component that includes the workforce, customers, suppliers, shareholders, your boss, and anyone else impacted by your plan.

Allocate an amount of time for mission planning that reflects the needs of the situation. Take all available time…but not one second more. If decisions must be made right away - make them. If not, allow the situation to develop, gather additional information, test your plan with those whom you trust, and wait. Don’t be in a hurry to execute poor plans drawn up in haste.

Be bold in your mission planning and decision making. As you identify possible alternatives, ensure that at least one takes the “road less traveled.” The future of your organization lies not in the safety of being good but in the excitement of bold risk taking that defines greatness.

Never allow the urgency of the situation to create an excuse for taking short-cuts. Commit to plans that are morally and ethically sound, regardless of how others may justify the ethics of the moment. No personal or professional short term gain from a dishonorable decision is worth its long term cost – ever.

Conduct regular after action reviews with your subordinates and review your plans – good and bad. Your growth as a leader will be directly related to your ability to learn from your mistakes. As you apply lessons learned to your subsequent mission plans, you will constantly, consistently improve yourself and the organization that you lead.

Good leaders make informed decisions. Great leaders understand that, when they follow this methodology and provide the necessary input to guide the mission planning of the team, they create an empowered organization. They unlock creative energies by providing the stimulus for subordinates to debate issues openly and with the freedom to determine how to accomplish the mission – consistent with the leader’s overall intentions. That makes mission planning -- Leader Business.

Stay tuned for one more in this series on mission planning as we look at applications in today's business and leadership environment!

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