Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mission Planning V

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.

In the last several posts, we have examined the key elements of mission planning and decision making. It can be used for any number of possibilities:

-- Putting together a strategic plan that will deliver your company (or your school, city, or bank) out of its current financial challenges.
-- Analyzing courses of action for your next job, your choice of colleges to attend, or your next home.
-- Managing crises that occur at home, at school, at work, or in our government.

This 4-step process is quite simple: analyze the mission; develop alternatives; analyze alternatives; make a decision and communicate the results. We just need to get more leaders to follow this process. Doing so would help us avoid some of these common leadership shortcomings:

-- Failing to understand the overall mission requirements leads to solutions that don't work, solve the wrong problem, or do not address customer needs or concerns. How often do we make decisions without a full understanding of our own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, or threats (SWOT)? How many products have we produced without actually addressing a consumer preference or considered what our competition is already doing. Good decisionmaking comes from this sort of detailed examination of the mission. This is step 1: Mission Analysis.

-- Failing to develop multiple alternatives causes leaders to be blind to the shortcomings of their plans or to consider more appropriate solutions. How many times do we fall into the trap of traditional thinking, following the "we always do it this way" approach? If you find yourself "inside the box" -- it is probably because you are not taking the time to develop or consider multiple, viable solutions. This is step 2: Develop alternatives.

-- Failing to evaluate potential alternatives produces too many surprises during execution. Evaluating various courses of action can help leaders see second and third order effects of their decision: "If I go make this decision, then this is what will happen; if that happens, then here is what might happen after that." This sort of foresight comes from a detailed evaluation of alternatives. When we don't, we learn of problems too late. We stumble upon complications we should have understood before implementation. This is step 3: Evaluate alternatives.

-- Failing to make a decision and communicate the results can play out in several ways. First, too many leaders hesitate after working through this deliberate process. MAKE A DECISION! That is what they pay us to do! Then, make sure people fully understand the details of your decision. If it is a major change or controversial decision, teammates had better understand the background and key components of how it will make the organization, or its products, better. This comes from communicating the results of our decisions, in a deliberate, comprehensive methodology. This is step 4: Make a decision and communicate the results.

My friends, this works. Most of us cannot say that good decision making is easy or something we are born with. Rather, it is a learned skill. Keep practicing. Tell me if I can help you. If you have used this approach successfully, share your story here. If you are struggling to implement this mission planning framework, let's talk! I have taken hundreds of leaders from amateurs to seasoned pros by following this time-tested approach. I can help you or your team as well. It's not rocket science. It is Leader Business.

1 comment:

Duane Davis said...

Thanks Tom,

This last post sums it up all nicely.

I particularly like the 'cause and effect' descriptors that outline failure. This is something that many leaders do not want to face up to (I don't know why, excellent learning opportunity and endearing quality to admit you were wrong).