Building Rock-Solid Plans – 5 Tips for Business from the Military
Effective planning helps you adapt to real-world events. These tips will help you with building rock-solid plans that stand up when reality gets in the way.

Building Rock-Solid Plans – 5 Tips for Business from the Military

General Dwight Eisenhower said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”. No matter how effort we put into a plan, we almost always have to modify it when we execute. Sometimes we have to throw it out entirely. A mentor of mine said it even more simply. “You’ve gotta have a plan before you can deviate from it”. There’s no way to plan for every possible outcome, but effective planning can help you adapt to real-world events. These 5 tips will help you with building rock-solid plans that stand up when reality gets in the way.

In the military, we use the Deliberate planning process to create plans for military operations. The advice I’m going to give you today comes from the Concept Planning phase of this process. There’s a lot more to military planning, so please don’t think this is the whole process. It’s just a taste for you with some nuggets to help you with your planning. I’m not going to go into detail because it’s not important for you to follow this process exactly. This is just some advice that can be pulled from military planning to make your planning a little more robust. Your company probably has a plan format, but including these elements in your plan will make it stronger.

Building Rock-Solid Plans Tip #1 – Analyze the Mission and Situation

This is really just a very formal term for what it is you’re trying to accomplish. We’ve talked about the 5W’s (Who, What, Where, When, Why) in other posts. I didn’t just make those up, it comes from my military planning experience. Be as specific as possible with Who, What, When, Where and Why. This will make it easier for the people executing the plan to understand your expectations. Make sure to include any constraints that your boss or other stakeholders have imposed on the plan. This includes the enemy, the environment and all kinds of other factors. In business, hopefully, you don’t have enemies, but you may want to assess your competition if that’s appropriate. At the very least, this is where you look at all of the outside forces that may influence the outcome of your plan and start to think about how you can mitigate them.

Building Rock-Solid Plans Tip #2 – Define the End State

It’s important to clearly define the outcome you want your plan to achieve. You can think about this in terms of “How will you know when the plan is done?” Try to make this as quantifiable and measurable as possible. In flight testing, we wrote test plans that showed how many data points we needed to complete the test. The plan usually had a minimum number that we absolutely had to hit and then some goals above that if there was still time or money left in the budget. We knew that we could stop after the minimum, as long as we had enough data to make an educated decision about the test.

Building Rock-Solid Plans Tip #3 – Define Your Intent

For any planning effort to be successful we need to communicate our vision of the desired end state. In the military, this is called Commander’s Intent. This translates pretty well to business, although I don’t recommend that you call this commander’s intent. Come up with some other term that gets the idea across to your team. We talked about making that end state as specific as we can. We want to take it one step further by providing a little more info to help our team plan. This is where you want to talk about the priorities for your team to follow, as well as areas you are willing to accept risk.

Building Rock-Solid Plans Tip #4 – Think About Logistics

In the military, this traditionally refers to moving people, equipment, assets etc. That may or may not be appropriate for your project, but it’s always good to map out how people or things are going to get from A to B. Don’t forget to include your data and information flows. A lot of projects get derailed because planners assumed lines of communication were in place that didn’t actually exist. Include how you’re going to develop new information flows or modify existing ones for your plan to succeed.

Building Rock-Solid Plans Tip #5 – Include Branches and Sequels

In military planning, branches and sequels are very specific terms about completely separate plans that start upon a specific set of conditions coming true. I don’t want you to get too wrapped up on the definitions, just apply the concept in your plan. Think about elements in your plan, that if they happen a certain way, might allow other plans to go forward. And it doesn’t have to be positive. There could be a situation where if your plan runs into a wall, that it kicks off an entirely different plan.

The military also has Crisis Action Planning which is basically the same process, but faster. And in the military, we also have a saying,  “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Going back to our Eisenhower quote, your plan may not be perfect and will almost certainly need to be modified once reality hits it, but good planning will help you make those modifications go as smoothly as possible.

Remember, this is not the actual military planning process just some helpful nuggets to make your plans a little more robust. If you want to learn more about military planning, Joint Publication 5-0 is a good place to start. It’s a big document so I recommend starting with these tips and our checklist that you can download first. Then, if you’re looking for more, check out Joint Pub 5-0.

While strategic thought and planning are important to achieving any goal, it's crucial to keep taking action on completing your mission while you contemplate your mission and vision statements. In this video, Jason LeDuc emphasizes the need to keep taking action and talks about how to avoid decision paralysis that is counter-productive.While strategic thought and planning are important to achieving any goal, it's crucial to keep taking action on completing your mission while you contemplate your mission and vision statements. In this video, Jason LeDuc emphasizes the need to keep taking action and talks about how to avoid decision paralysis that is counter-productive.

Commit to Taking Action!

While strategic thought and planning are important to achieving any goal, it’s crucial to keep taking action on completing your mission while you contemplate your mission and vision statements. In this video, Jason LeDuc emphasizes the need to keep taking action and talks about how to avoid decision paralysis that is counter-productive. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to try to take big, drastic, exciting actions to feel like things are still moving forward. Continuing to work on the day-to-day tasks that you know you need to get done that will help you keep making progress while still giving you time to do the strategic thinking necessary to lead your team effectively.

5 Examples of Ways to Keep Taking Action

  • Build your website
  • Refine your product design
  • Network with others in your industry
  • Promote your service
  • Engage with your target market on Social Media

 

Jason LeDuc from Evil Genius Leadership Consultants discusses how leaders must be clear about their vision that drives the mission forward. Items to consider and practical tips on how to craft a powerful vision statement.

Vision Goes Hand-in-Hand with Mission

All truly great leaders all have a mission that they put their heart and soul into and are able to articulate that mission in enrolling and inspiring ways.

Your own mission statement describes not just what your mission is, but why it is important in a larger sense for you and your team to achieve it. Writing your mission statement is just the beginning, as a leader you must be clear about the vision that drives the mission.

Vision: What is it?

Your vision is how the completed mission looks and feels. Vision is what connects you personally to the mission and shows how you believe the world looks like a better place in the future. If your mission is a task that has been handed down to you from one of your leaders, this is a great opportunity for to personalize the mission. Here is your chance to tell the world not just what you think the basic physical substance of the result is but the aesthetic of it as well. This is where you really get to connect with your team on a human level and motivate them by harnessing the power of their imaginations about the mission.

Things to consider as you contemplate your vision:

  • What does a successful outcome look and feel like?
  • Who benefits from that success and how their lives are better for it?
  • Is it consistent with the initial problem you set out to solve?
  • Does it accomplish every part of the mission you have taken on?
  • Are there some gaps in the vision you need to fill in?

Vision is not org charts, schedules, lists and financial spreadsheets. It may be tempting to start breaking down tasks and assigning them before your vision is firmly fixed in your mind because you know they will need to be done, but it’s important to establish the vision first to frame the desired outcome for your team before they get started. Organization and tools are important and will all come later.

Creating your Vision

Putting together a vision is a little more advanced than capturing your mission statement, but definitely worth the effort. Some tips to help you put together your vision:

  • Be very clear on what the mission statement is, what you are trying to achieve and why it is important.
  • Consider carefully who benefits from completing your mission. Not just your team or your company, but what is the good that comes about in the world by successfully achieving what you set out to do.
  • Project your thoughts into the future to a time when your mission has been achieved. Engage all of your senses and see, hear, touch, smell and taste what that success looks like. If it is a product, how does the finished product look? What does it sound like? What is the texture of it? Are there smells, tastes, sounds associated with the way you view the finished product? What are the emotions the finished product is intended to evoke? If the mission isn’t going to result in a physical product, such as an event or milestone, apply the same questions to the environment and people involved instead of a physical object.
  • Translate these thoughts and feelings into words to share with your team. Be as vivid as possible in describing the various physical and emotional aspects of what the completed mission will bring forth into the world. Try to get them to picture it in their minds as completely as you were able to picture it in yours.
  • Be prepared to answer questions from your team and clarify your meaning. Even your most experienced team members might have a hard time visualizing your vision. Attempt to make it as crystal clear in their minds as it is in yours.

Your vision may be something you want to unveil to your team when you first share the mission statement with them or, if more appropriate to your situation, you may want to give them the mission first and allow them to share in creating the vision. Including ideas from your team members can result in a deeper, more thoughtful vision that will achieve the most possible good in the world as you accomplish your mission.

Share your mission and vision statements with us in the comments. If you are struggling with putting those together, please contact us and we’ll give you a hand.

Photo Credit: By Alan Light [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Jason LeDuc talks about how your vision complements your mission statement and how the two are different. He points out some examples of strong visions statements and shows you how to write your own powerful vision statement that engages the senses and evokes emotions in others.

Evoking Your Powerful Vision

You’ve seen how important it is to have a clear and concise mission statement if you expect your team to be able to achieve the goals you set out for them. Just as critical as communicating that mission is articulating your vision of how the completed mission looks and feels. Your vision is the personal connection you have to the mission and shows how you believe that you’re making the world a better place. Sharing your powerful vision goes beyond how you see the practical benefits of your work,  how you envision it with all five of your senses and just what emotions you’re trying to evoke in others to get them as excited about your mission as you are.

Evil Genius Leadership Consultants Vision:

A world where leaders base decisions on a balance of mission accomplishment, community focus and empathy and compassion for people.

Share your vision statement with us in the comments! If you have questions, feel free to contact us and we’ll help you write a powerful vision statement that will engage and captivate your team!

Key Leadership Traits: Vision

I’m often asked, what are the key traits that make a great leader? That question always brings up a lot of discussion, but I believe one of the qualities that makes a truly great leader stand out is the ability to create a vision of the future they want to achieve as well as being able to communicate that vision to their team. Leaders who can visualize and communicate a clear, specific end state can then entrust their team members to perform in their specific roles with that end state in mind. This gives the team members opportunities to take initiative without needing to ask permission on every little detail from the team leader. The alternative is that you will be spending a lot of time checking in on them about small tasks and not staying focused on how the individual pieces come together to form the whole.

Having a vision should not be confused with the mission or goals you are trying to accomplish. Your mission may not actually be an outcome you have chosen; it may be an initiative that your boss has assigned you or a project that has been requested by a customer. Whether the task is one that you have chosen or not, you’ll want to formulate a vision of what the end state looks like in your own mind before you attempt to take any action. The vision doesn’t need to be grandiose, but it should be based upon completing all of the mission requirements as well as reflecting the intangible qualities such as the work preferences or style of the users.

So you don’t feel like you’re a visionary? Fear not, vision, like many leadership qualities, can be developed and not something that lucky individuals are born with. Chances are you have developed a vision in the past and executed on it, you just didn’t think about it in those terms. Here are some questions to ask yourself next time you take on a project to help develop your vision:

  • What are the mission requirements? Is the mission a problem that needs to be solved? An improvement on something that is already pretty good but you’d like to improve it? What are the actual, factual, non-emotional requirements to meet the need?
  • Who is the mission being completed for? Is it your boss? A customer? An end user who is not your boss or customer, but is represented by them on this issue?
  • How should the end product look physically? What appealing traits would you like the end product to have? Are there feeling or emotions that you want the end product to evoke in the customer/user? If not a physical end product, what do you believe would be most satisfying to the customer or end user when the mission is completed?
  • What is the quality of work that you expect from your team on this project? Are they already capable of performing at this level? Will they need additional skills or improvement in the skills they already have? How much initiative and creativity would you like them to apply? Are they used to the degree of freedom you envision?
  • What are the time and resource constraints? Are there elements that you would really like to include in your vision, but may need to sacrifice due to these constraints?
  • How will you communicate the answers to all of these questions to your team?

Remember that vision is a very personal thing. Everyone will see the outcome a little differently in their head if given room to interpret their own vision using the same facts and parameters. Also, while your vision of a successful outcome is personal, it is important that you re able to communicate your vision to your team so that they can execute it. Great leaders are the ones who can see their own vision and get them to buy into it!

 

Discussion Question: What other key traits do you believe great leaders possess?

 

Photo Credit: “Dios”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dios.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dios.jpg

Critical Thinking

Recently I was having a discussion with a colleague on developing a way forward on a problem we were working on together. As he was outlining his proposed solution, I mentioned that I believed that we needed to engage in some critical thinking before we proposed any solutions.  My colleague took exception to my comment and was slightly offended that I would suggest he was not a critical thinker. After issuing an apology for interrupting his pitch, I explained that I was not saying that his proposal was not intelligent or well thought out, but that perhaps we should engage in some critical thinking as to if this problem was worth putting the effort in to solve. He accepted my apology and agreed with my point.

What occurred to me is that we might not all have the same view of what critical thinking is. To my colleague, he saw critical thinking as coming up with a solution to the problem at hand. I saw critical thinking as a more strategic function of applying a broader problem solving process.  After doing a little research, it turns out we were both only partially correct.  An online search led me to the Foundation for Critical Thinking. There I found several definitions of critical thinking from various authors including Michael Scriven, Richard Paul, Linda Elder and Edward Glaser. I won’t take up space repeating the definitions here, but there were several themes among all of the definitions presented that I think are worth mentioning in relation to being a successful leader. I added a few of my own thoughts below each one:

1)  An intellectually disciplined process (Scriven and Paul, 1987)

Are we applying logic and reason to the information we have available? Are our assertions supported by evidence? Can we trace our conclusions back through the process to our starting point without skipping steps or leaving out key pieces of evidence?

2)  Transcending subject matter divisions (Scriven and Paul, 1987)

I think this is especially important as the leader of a team of functional experts. Each of your team may see the problem from their own perspective, but as leaders, we need to view things across all of those functional perspectives

3)  Raising Vital Questions and Problems (Paul and Elder, 2008)

If the question or problem isn’t of vital importance, maybe our time is better served working on something that is.

4)  Gathering information not just for the sake of gathering information (Scriven and Paul, 1987) but using abstract ideas to interpret that information effectively to come to well reasoned conclusions and solutions. (Paul and Elder, 2008)

We often spend time gathering more and more information trying to understand everything about a particular topic or issue, but the information is no good to us if we don’t analyze, synthesize and apply it to solving the problem. Often leaders become paralyzed waiting for more information when properly interpreting the information at hand can lead to a valid solution.

5)  Recognizing the existence (or non-existence) of logical relationships between propositions (Glaser, 1941)

Seeing connections between things, especially when they are not obvious, can result in finding a simple and elegant solution to a problem. Also, the logic fault of assuming a connection must be present when there is no evidence for one can lead us astray.

6)  Thinking openmindedly within alternative systems of thought (Paul and Elder, 2008)

Approaching a problem from a perspective other than your own can often lead to insights into the situation that you may not have seen before.

7)  Testing ideas against relevant criteria and standards (Paul and Elder, 2008)

Does the solution or solutions match up to what we know to be true about the situation? Does it conform to the laws of physics or other criteria that may limit the effectiveness of the solution if not well understood?

8)  Communicating Effectively (Paul and Elder, 2008)

Just as important as getting to the solution is being able to convince others to understand and support the solution. Without that support you may never get your solution implemented.

So that’s just a summary of what I learned about critical thinking this week. It turns out it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was; but, when done properly, can be an even stronger skill than I imagined. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I have a good deal more research to do on this topic, but I wanted to share my initial look into it.

How do you apply critical thinking on your team?

Material sourced from www.criticalthinking.org. The original sources cited on their page are:

A statement by Michael Scriven & Richard Paul, presented at the 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987.

Richard Paul and Linda Elder, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, 2008

Edward M. Glaser, An Experiment in the Development of Critical Thinking, Teacher’s College, Columbia University, 1941

Think Strategically, Act Strategically

By User:Nina Silaeva (личная работа) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By User:Nina Silaeva (личная работа) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I was at dinner with a group of people this week and we were discussing a project that one of them was currently engaged in. It’s an extremely large effort with lots of people, several geographically distributed locations, many levels of management and some very high stakes on a successful outcome.  The discussion was centered on some creative differences that one of the geographically separated locations had with what “headquarters” wanted to see.  While differences of opinion are expected on large teams, this division had created a firestorm of emails, phone calls and meetings that were grinding progress to a halt. What was being proposed was unique and expedient, which are often good qualities, but were ultimately counter to the strategic vision of what the expected product would be. At some point an appropriate leader in the corporate chain would step in and make a decision in favor of the strategic vision; the question was, when and how high up the chain would it need to go?

This got me thinking about all the things we have to deal with every day as leaders and how we can ensure that we are being true to the organizations strategic vision. While true strategic thinking is not easy, it is often just as difficult to act strategically in support of our vision. Acting strategically means maximizing team effort on achieving our vision and minimizing effort on tasks or projects that don’t support it.  It also means that, as leaders, when we inevitably have to resolve conflict on the team, we need to do so in a way that best provides for a successful outcome of the strategic vision instead of what may be the most expedient way to end the conflict. We all make decisions every day that have an impact on achieving successful strategic outcomes; some questions we can ask ourselves to help prepare for these kinds of decisions:

  1. What are the strategic outcomes we want?
  2. How will we know if we are achieving them?
  3. Are all of our efforts directly or indirectly related to achieving the strategic outcomes?
  4. Can we stop doing the things that don’t support the strategic outcomes and refocus resources?
  5. Have the strategic outcomes been communicated to every member of the team?

I think the last question is an extremely important one. If the team understands and buys into the strategic vision, it is more likely they will adhere to it as they accomplish their tasks and provide recommendations. If they incorporate the strategy in their own problem solving, they’ll be more successful without requiring input from the leader.

The message I want to leave you with is, be true to your vision! If you believe in it, coordinate your decisions and your team’s actions to achieve it. Anything less will leave you feeling short of achieving the goal you started out with. You thought this was a great idea when you came up with it and it most likely still is. Give it the respect it deserves and make it a reality!