Chris Kolenda: What we're getting wrong about “Command and Control” and why you need it to succeed.

What we’re getting wrong about “Command and Control” and why you need it to succeed.

Have you heard leadership and management gurus rubbishing military-style command and control leadership practices?

The military has a field order paragraph called Command and Control. The gurus presume command and control means someone barking orders (command) and micromanaging compliance (control).

If you’ve ever been in a good military unit, you probably scratch your head at what they mean by the term versus what you’ve seen with your own eyes.

Only the worst leaders in the U.S. military try to lead that way.

The only ones who’ve been successful using that approach fought even bigger idiots who barked orders while no one listened to them (or, even worse, did listen to them).

When you look at what the terms actually mean, you’ll notice that command and control is precisely what good leaders have done across time and cultures. 

Command means to be clear about responsibility and accountability: the authority to make decisions, set priorities, and enforce standards, while exemplifying the behaviors expected of everyone in the organization. 

You make decisions. You have the authority to do so unilaterally, but only the most benighted and ineffective make it a habit. Sure, there are times in combat when you need to do so. As a matter of normal practice, wise commanders take the time to co-create so they gain buy-in among the ranks. Doing so creates trust. Good leaders draw from that well of trust only when absolutely necessary. 

Command creates clear accountability. You are answerable to your boss (or board), your employees, and your peers and partners for your mission and desired outcomes.

You must exemplify the values they expect of every team member. In the U.S. Civil War, for example, commanders rode on horseback so they could see and be seen. The message was simple: I’m the most vulnerable person on this team; everyone is shooting at me. If I can do my job, so can everyone else.

The highest casualty rates in the Civil War were colonels and brigadier generals. Their examples of courage inspired their unit’s performance.

The good news for business leaders: no one is shooting at you. 

Control identifies the scope of the person’s responsibility, which includes communication and cooperation. 

Effective delegation includes identifying the mission and desired outcomes along with the boundaries of your direct report’s decision-making authority. The boundaries may include territory, resources, legal and regulatory restrictions and the like. You have your direct reports let you know when they get close to the boundary to coordinate and preserve your decision-making space.  

Control delineates your expectations about cooperation between your direct reports. You cannot afford the silo-effect where people operate in fiefdoms and don’t cooperate for the common good. You know you have a silo challenge when everyone reports progress but the overall situation is going downhill. 

Creating objectives that rely on the cooperation of your direct reports yields a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts effect.

Are you ready to use command and control properly?

  1. Set clear objectives by identifying the task you want someone to do and the outcomes you want them to achieve. X so that Y is your winning formula.
  2. Use co-creation to gain buy-in for decisions and changes – it makes accountability much easier.
  3. Model the behaviors you want from your employees. You lose trust with a do as I say, not as I do approach.
  4. Set up your direct reports for success when you delegate by giving them the X so that Y, co-creating boundaries, and asking “what does ideal support from me look like?”
  5. Identify lead and supporting actors for each company objective, so your direct reports are clear on their roles and cooperation responsibilities.

Practice command and control like this, and you’ll find your company improves trust, communication, cooperation, and performance.

Are you interested in a company offsite that will make a positive impact for many years? Battlefields, historical venues, and national parks are terrific venues for adventure experiences that build trust and capacity. 

Send me an email or schedule a call to discuss if a leadership off-site like this is right for you. 

Do you have 360 awareness?

360 external awareness occurs when you know what people think and feel about you and their workplace. The key stakeholders include your bosses, peers, and the employees you lead. The latter is the trickiest, and Northwestern University football coach Pat Fitzgerald was fired for neglecting this responsibility.

I remember watching Pat Fitzgerald play football at Northwestern in the mid-1990s and cheered him on as he became the head coach who turned around a lacklustre program.

The allegations of serial hazing on the team are disheartening. The stories of cruelty and mistreatment keep materializing.

Fitzgerald should be fired as the head coach, whether he knew about the hazing and condoned it or did not know such activities were happening on his watch. 

Leaders must discover what’s happening in their organizations, particularly regarding their most vulnerable employees. 

Knowing what your bosses and peers think about you and your organization is normally straightforward. 

Figuring out what your employees think and feel about your workplace is trickier. 

A camouflage net obscures your view from above. You only see what you want to see, the bits that emerge into plain sight, and what people are willing to reveal to you. The net conceals everything else.

The best leaders develop ways to get underneath the net to see things as they are, identify problems, spot talent, and gain fresh ideas.

Here are some ways I help leaders do that.

  1. Feedback loops. Use a combination of short questionnaires, focus groups, and individual interviews to get ground truth. Identify the issues you want to address, tell your employees, follow through, and follow up.
  2. Trusted Advisers challenge your assumptions and help you see what’s hidden in plain sight. Your biases do not inhibit them, so they’ll notice and report issues and opportunities as they find them. 
  3. Off-sites get people out of their comfort zones and open minds to new ideas. These adventures increase trust, strengthen relationships, and improve communication. People report problems and offer fresh ideas when they trust the people around them. Taking people to powerful places like national parks and historic venues creates experiences that last a lifetime and pay massive dividends for your organization.

It’s too bad Pat Fitzgerald did not find ways to peer underneath the camouflage net to see things as they are. 

He’s not alone, of course. Many good people have fallen from grace because they fooled themselves into thinking they could see everything from up high.  

Would an adventure off-site improve trust in your organization? View our programs and schedule a call with Chris to see if it could be a good fit. 

Chris’ Sustainable Growth Mindset® 6.28.2021

It wasn’t the “snogging.” It was the hypocrisy. The Sun, a tabloid, plastered pictures of Britain’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, in a passionate kiss indoors with an aide [snogging is the British term for smootching]. 

Hancock had been the public face of British mandates to wear masks and practice physical distancing. He’s got plenty of company among American politicians and business leaders. Ordinary people like you and me are tired of the elite snobbery that the rules are for everyone else.

I’m preparing for my next in-person elite event at Antietam and Gettysburg, reading about another Hancock: General Winfield Scott Hancock who commanded Union Army troops during the American Civil War.

Hancock was a leader-on-horseback, meaning that he set a visible example for others to follow. Riding horseback could be considered a privilege during long marches. In battle, you became the top target.

Your visibility is a bit better from the saddle, but the main purpose of being on horseback was to be seen by your soldiers. If the most exposed person in the unit shows courage under fire, so can I. Hancock’s corps stood their ground against Pickett’s charge during the battle of Gettysburg and won the battle that led to winning the war.

Nobody is shooting at you in business. Still, your employees look to your example: how do you treat people, do your actions match your words? Do I trust you?

Winfield Scott Hancock knew the power of being on horseback in battle. In business, you don’t always have the same simplicity. You might not know if your most talented are about to break and run. Like Matt Hancock, you might see yourself in the best light possible, but your employees see shades.

Who’s helping you see how others perceive you and fix the gaps that prompt disengagement and attrition? 


BREAKTHROUGH OPPORTUNITIES

The next FOCUSED program begins the first week of August. This 8-week group program is for principled leaders who want to grow their businesses using the right focus, the right strategy, and the right team. 

Click here to see if the program is a good fit for you. Email me to apply (chris@strategicleadersacademy.com)

This program’s clarity and focus resulted in more high-payoff work that we love and less wasted time and energy. We expect 33% growth to reach $100k in monthly revenues and expand from there.
Matthew Hargrove and Barry Lingelbach, Black-Grey-Gold Consulting 

D-Day lesson: Attack with an open mind and exploit monochrome views

Seeing a situation through a single lens distorts your view and leads to bad decisions.

June 6, 2021, was the 77th anniversary of D-Day. A vital part of the Allies’ success was Operation Fortitude, which was the biggest deception operation of the war. It played on the German high command’s belief that General George S. Patton, Jr. would lead the main attack into France at Calais. 

Eisenhower wanted to blind the Germans to the real attack at Normandy, delay their reinforcements, and buy time to build up a huge allied force in France. 

The Germans saw what they expected to see — Patton’s massive army ready to pounce. Their fixation had the effect that Eisenhower wanted. They did not give up on their fear of a Patton-led attack at Calais until six weeks after the Normandy landings. By then, Patton was leading his tanks toward Paris.   

BlackBerry’s CEO Mike Lazaridis believed that keyboards were essential for hand-held devices. Despite data suggesting that touch screens were gaining popularity, Lazaridis clung stubbornly to his original design. When’s the last time you saw a BlackBerry?

Your blinders thicken when you see what you expect to see.

The single-colored lens is comforting in a world with so much noise. The problem is that you only see what you expect to see, so you are blind to information that gets filtered, and you dig in your heels when information challenges your point of view.

A trusted adviser acts as your kaleidoscope so that you can see the complexity and zero in on the most important data points. Who’s helping you see the tapestry and frame the most important scenes? 

How to lose business with Sophistry

Sophistry is a fast-track to losing business because you damage your reputation, brand, and trustworthiness.

Sophistry is the use of fallacious arguments with the intent to deceive. The word comes from the ancient Greek word sophistes, which means an expert or wise person. The Sophists were teachers and speakers whom Plato described as sham philosophers. The characterization stuck.

Today’s sophists are infomercial hustlers, charlatans, and Pyramid schemers who want you to believe something that’s not true. Use this one-size-fits-all digital marketing strategyfollow this checklist to become a creative thinkerinvest in this [silver bullet] scheme, etc.

Good people and organizations can fall into this trap, too. There’s a seductive lure to sugar-coat bad news so that you can ease the pain and anxiety of change or difficulties. It’s a short walk from good intentions toward manipulative “noble lies” and cringe-worthy sophistry. 

People see through the smokescreen right away. No one knows the people like the prince, said Machiavelli, and no one knows the prince like the people.

How do you feel when someone uses words designed to give you a false impression or manipulate your behavior? 

I’ve been a professional member of the National Speakers Association for a couple of years. I’ve gotten good value from the organization and its members, and I’ve given value in return. 

I received an email recently from them notifying me that they are “upgrading” my membership. Oh, that’s good newslet me check it out. The professional speaking business has been hit hard by the pandemic, so I was surprised that NSA would upgrade benefits. That’s pretty awesome.

It turns out that the only upgrade is in the membership dues. They are simply charging more and offering upsells. SlimyI feel like I need to shower

I’ve got no qualms whatsoever about NSA charging higher membership fees and upsells. I have huge qualms about the sophistry. I’m certainly not going to upgrade, and I might cancel altogether based on how they respond to my inquiry.

Lose trust: lose business. Build trust: build business. These are the simplest ratios you need to know, and you don’t need an MBA to understand them. 

I wonder if someone with an MBA approved that deceptive email?

Action steps:
1. Get an outside view so that you avoid drinking your own bathwater. Surround yourself with trusted people who tell you what you need to hear.

2. Speak plainly. Simplicity and clarity boost your credibility and improve the likelihood that what you say is what people hear. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.

3. Empower people to take remedial action. Ritz-Carlton is famous for giving its front-line employees the ability to fix problems and make restitution on the spot. Oftentimes, you cannot control the problems you face, but you can control how you face them.

5 leadership lessons dogs teach us

We rescued Daisy, our German Shepherd, three and a half years ago.

She found us on the internet at the same time we found her :0)

Daisy positions herself to monitor what’s most important: Nicole’s safety.

During our hikes in the woods, Daisy scans dangerous areas for signs of trouble.

When she’s on one of her five (yes, five) daily walks, Daisy inspects threats and opportunities and ignores less relevant data. Squirrels are her security kryptonite.

She applies her signature at the most important places.

When chasing her orange ball, Daisy maintains a single-minded devotion, crashing through obstacles to reach her goal. 

1. Set your priorities so that you focus time and energy on what’s most important and avoid squirrel distractions.

2. Scan your surroundings by talking with people, professional study, and reading a national and a local newspaper so that you avoid breathing your own exhaust.

3. Watch for indicators on your top three threats and opportunities so that you can manage risk and seize profitable opportunities.

4. Put your signature on decisions so that everyone knows that the most important moves have your buy-in.

5. Keep your eyes on the prize, avoid self-editing and listening to unsolicited advice, and get the support you need to succeed so that you can look back on it all and say, “I gave it my best shot.”

5 tactics to face your fears and move forward

Fight, flight, or freeze.

Those responses to fear are hardwired into your amygdala.

Freeze is the most common for leaders, and it can be a silent killer for your business.

A simple framework to understand the fear and overcome it will help you seize opportunities in the 2021-renewal while others are standing still.

You’ve seen it happen. You don’t start the business; you don’t invest in success because of past experiences or self-limiting beliefs about the future. 

Uncertainty heightens the fear of making the wrong decision. 

You cover the paralysis by delaying or asking for more information and new options. 

I’ve done it. I’ve seen it affect an American President, general officers, CEOs, and nonprofit boards and executive directors.

I learned the hard way that you have to get to the root cause of fear to address it.

Imagine a quad chart. 

On the east-west axis, you have past and future.

The north-south axis is success and failure.

1. Fear of past failure occurs when you tried something before, and it did not work out. A business initiative failed, an innovation tanked, you got fired or chewed out. “I can’t do this because I failed last time.”

2. Fear of past success happens when you succeeded at something – perhaps against the odds, and you worry that you cannot pull it off again. “There’s no way I can get those results again, and falling short will diminish me.”

3. Fear of future failure is widespread. You worry that your business or initiative will fail, and you will suffer the consequences. “I want to take this step, but what happens if it doesn’t work?

4. Fear of future success is more subtle. You believe that you will not be up to the challenge of managing growth, “I’m ok leading 10 people, but I cannot handle 50.”

5. Fear of the present uncertainty. Imagine a box in the center of the quad chart. You fear that you might make the wrong decision. “I don’t know if a recovery is coming in 2021, so I will wait and see before making a decision.”

These “freeze” responses keep you standing still. 

When you are standing still, and others are moving forward, you are losing ground.

It’s like stuffing your money into a mattress. 

You don’t lose the money, but inflation lowers its value, and you are missing opportunities for growth. 

Once you understand the nature of the fear, you can take steps to address it.

1. Fear of past failure. Identify the problems that led to the failure and put measures in place to prevent them from recurring.

2. Fear of past success. Reframe your measures of success. Focus more on developing others or creating different business lines, for instance, than meeting past targets.

3. Fear of future failure. Put together two or three viable options for reaching your goals and compare them. Create an action plan for the best option. Once you see how to achieve your goal, getting there becomes much easier!

4. Fear of future success. Determine what capacities you need to excel at the next level and develop them. Find the right support to help you succeed and avoid expensive mistakes along the way.

5. Fear of the present uncertainty. Review your options (to include doing nothing) and assess the risks and opportunities. Pick the best option and go with it. Your decision will probably work out. At worst, it is unlikely to be fatal, and you can make adjustments along the way.

What is your top takeaway from this article? Leave a comment below or email me directly: chris@strategicleadersacademy.com

P.S.  If you’d like to discuss your 2021 goals, use this link to schedule the time that works best for you.

We will discuss your goals and obstacles during the call, and then I’ll offer you two or three action steps that get you moving forward. No sales, no B.S.

Is your business or nonprofit a zombie or a volcano?

How sustainable is your Business or Nonprofit? This chart will help

How sustainable is your business or nonprofit? This chart will help

Is your business or nonprofit a zombie or a volcano?

Use this Simple Chart to find out and learn what to do about it.

Zombie or Volcano?

By the end of this article, you’ll be better positioned to answer three crucial strategic questions for your business or nonprofit:

  1. Is my organization sustainable?
  2. How can I realistically assess the situation and avoid confirmation bias?
  3. How can I frame my strategic options so that I make the best decisions?

Just about every small business owner and nonprofit leader I know is incredibly busy. You are so passionate that your work stops feeling like work and becomes a part of you. You love what you do and do what you love. But is there a downside?

As a matter of fact, there is. Leaders can get so caught up in their product, service, or cause that they become blind to the first strategic question: how sustainable is my business or nonprofit? Ignoring or avoiding this question can lead an organization to become a zombie (sleepwalking to failure) or a volcano (suffering catastrophic growth on the way to failure).

A zombie is an organization that is no longer increasing its revenue or expanding its impact. It is merely paying the bills and keeping the lights on until the money runs out. The problem, of course, is the drain of talent and resources entailed by clinging to the status quo. Zombies do not fail fast—they linger.

A volcano, on the other hand, is an organization that grows faster than it can manage. Often, leaders fail to recognize the problem until too late. They get distracted by the euphoria of success and drawn into the chaos that they fail to develop their leaders and systems to handle it. At some point, growth becomes unmanageable. A major crisis or scandal often breaks the organization.  

There are simple and common reasons for these problems.

Confirmation bias is one of them. This refers to the tendency to place excessive weight on data that conforms to our existing beliefs and to discount information that does not. Confirmation bias can help explain why nonprofits cling to causes that too few donors will support, and why businesses fixate on products and services too few customers want to buy.

It gets worse. Those with confirmation bias tend to dig-in their heels when confronted with disconfirming facts and information. Highly-selective data drives their decision-making. Like the sooth-sayers of old, people invested in the status quo may be at higher risk of searching the entrails for hidden messages that everything is fine.

The result: 50 percent of businesses are no longer around after five years and only 28 percent of nonprofits report any financial activity after ten years.

A disciplined look at the big picture may help leaders make better decisions.

This simple quad chart could be useful. The north-south axis depicts profitability: the + direction means revenues exceed expenses. The east-west axis is for impact. The + direction denotes the tangible impact on your cause or mission.  

Is Your Business or Nonprofit a Zombie or a Volcano?

Four strategic directions emerge from this quad chart. The upper right quadrant is the ☺ place. Solid revenues and clear impact give your organization a strong foundation for growth. The danger in this situation is growth beyond your ability to manage it – catastrophic growth.

To avoid that problem, you will need the right team in place and a sound strategy.

Within the upper left space is a situation in which revenues are ahead of expenses, but the actual impact of the product or service is unclear. This is a dangerous position because you may be tempted to hire more staff and commit more resources. If, after some time, you cannot clearly articulate your impact, then revenues are very likely to dwindle. This means layoffs and possible bankruptcy. One of my clients found himself in exactly this situation; saving and repositioning the business was painful but ultimately successful.

A sound strategy in this situation is to maintain your current scope and scale but fix how you measure and explain your impact of the mission or cause.

If that becomes impossible, then merge with another organization. The ideal time to do so is when you can bring substantial resources to bear. This gives you leverage and influence. Too many organizations make this decision too late and have little bargaining power.

The lower right is where many organizations turn into zombies. Your team is making an impact, you believe, but your revenues are insufficient. This may be the result of one or more problems. The way you are measuring and explaining impact, for instance, might not be convincing. Your strategy could be causing you to miss important shifts in the marketplace, or your business plan could be wasting time and resources on activities that are no longer valued.

Again, you have two options. First, try to fix what is impeding your progress. Get a comprehensive and thorough strategy review and organizational assessment to determine if the required changes are feasible. If yes, give yourself a decision-point for knowing when to move to the second strategy option: merge.

If you decide that your organization is unlikely to recover, your best option is to merge.

The lower left quadrant is the place – insufficient resources and impact. Your best option here is to harvest: shut down, learn from the experience, and begin again with something different. Failing fast successfully requires you to measure your revenues and impact from the very beginning and to set a decision-date to establish whether your business is viable.

This chart should be a part of every business or nonprofit strategy. It is a constant reminder to determine the compelling impact you are trying to make, measure it, and explain it clearly to your customers or donors. The aim is to create a virtuous cycle: compelling impact results in positive revenues and greater revenues lead to higher impact. When one or both of these elements is flatlining or declining, you need to diagnose the problem quickly and decide whether to improve your organization or close it down.

The Importance of Determination

The Importance of Determination

The Importance of Determination

PODCAST:

The Importance of Determination


Perseverance and Determination

My parents, David and Joanne, and three siblings—Dan, Laura and Mark—all taught me the importance of perseverance and determination, the will to succeed at whatever you put your mind to. We would always challenge one another to be the best that we could be.

Determination helped me endure some terrible experiences.

I learned that I needed to use them to empower me … or else be destroyed by them.

In this podcast you will discover:

1. Ways to surround yourself with the right people, so that you will be challenged to be your best;

2. Ideas on how to emerge stronger from terrible experiences, so that you can empower others;

3. How to use empathy, so that your team can learn and grow in a dynamic situation;

4. Insights on Determination, so that you have a guide for when to stick to your guns and when to make a bold change.

How Did You Start Using Your Talents?

I was a skinny and awkward kid. By the time I got to high school, I was bullied relentlessly by classmates and assaulted by two priests. West Point was a place whereI was exposed to many different opportunities. I decided I was going to do the toughest and most difficult things I could possibly do — like boxing and close quarters combat — because I was never going to go through again what I experienced in high school. And that led to Airborne School and Assault Ranger School—some of the toughest schooling and assignments that the Army had.

The Most Impactful Turning Point?

Some of the best role models and mentors I had were from the history department at West Point and were either infantry or armor officers. Because of their personal example—the way they taught and led and cared for the students in their classes—they truly inspired me to want to be like them when I became an officer in the Army. I decided that I wanted to come back to West Point and teach one day because I aspired to do the same thing for other cadets that these fine men did for me.

The Most Powerful Lesson Learned?

I learned several essential lessons from my parents and siblings: the importance of perseverance and determination along with the will to succeed at whatever you put your mind to. We would always challenge each other to be the best we could be. Another key lesson from a great teacher I had in high school was the value of honoring each person, including myself, and the vital importance of empathy.

Steps to Success from Christopher D. Kolenda, Ph.D.

  1. Use perseverance and determination, along with the will to succeed, to achieve whatever you put your mind to.
  2. Find a group of people where you can challenge each other to be the best you can be.
  3. Honor each person, including yourself.
  4. Learn to be empathetic, to see things from the eyes of others; seek to understand, first, then to be understood.

Listen to Chris’s Entire Podcast

 

Are Battlefield Lessons Useless to Business Leaders?

Are Battlefield Lessons Useless to Business and Nonprofit Leaders?

Are Battlefield Lessons Useless to Business Leaders?

Are Battlefield Lessons Useless to Business and Nonprofit Leaders?

Dear Business and Nonprofit Leaders,

Your instincts are right: many so-called battlefield lessons are useless for you and your team. Stories of hardship, heroism, and sacrifice might be inspiring, but their practical utility is often minimal. This is because those lessons haven’t been tailored to your organization’s needs.

Those of us offering insights from a military perspective must work harder to understand issues through your lens and present feasible, practical, and implementable ideas. Our failure to customize military leadership lessons to your needs has, understandably, resulted in waning enthusiasm. If the trend continues, the pendulum may complete its swing toward the view that military experience is interesting but irrelevant.

But battlefield lessons are useful to non-military contexts; the right framing just hasn’t been applied to them. Let’s take a few common examples and provide some simple ways to make them more relevant to you.

Staff Rides and Battlefield Tours.

Militaries have long used staff rides as part of leader education; I used them several times in my commands. A group of leaders or students studies a particular battle in advance and then takes a trip to the actual grounds to discuss what happened there, why it happened, and what lessons they can learn. Done correctly, staff rides can have a tremendous impact.

Battlefield tours for business leaders are less useful because they normally devolve into sightseeing. In most cases, the military tour guide explains in great detail what happened at each point in the battle and then challenges the audience to determine how to build agile leaders, good decision-makers, expert planners, and so forth. The absence of context and a clear connection to the audience’s contemporary challenges undermine the business utility of this leader development experience.

What to look for.

Find programs that focus on learning about you before offering advice. The best ones begin with an assessment that helps you and your leaders see your salient challenges and opportunities. Next, they should coordinate learning objectives and preparation work, such as readings and individual research. On the battlefield or historical site, the emphasis needs to be on linking key lessons to your business challenges.

Boot camps.

For the military, boot camps and other forms of initial entry training are essential parts of transforming civilians into soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. These intensive courses last several weeks and are often followed up by additional training before the service members arrive at their first organization. The development of military skills and values are essential for them to be able to function effectively in their first assignment. My initial training as an officer lasted nearly a year. Few businesses and nonprofits, of course, could devote even a fraction of that time for new employee education and training.

Leadership boot camps run by former service members may promise the same transformational results but in record time. Some leadership boot camps promise that a 3-day experience will result in a “quantum leap” in a leader’s performance. You know this is unlikely. Improvement is a long-term process that relies heavily on self-development: leaders sort through a wide array of concepts and ideas to determine what is most meaningful to them and then work on those attributes.

What to look for.

Assess what each workshop and boot camp is offering, and use common sense to determine its likely utility. These kinds of programs can be helpful, but anything that sounds too good to be true probably is. Workshops can play an important role in your team’s development. The best programs customize their workshops to your organization’s particular needs and objectives. Doing these as a team can have a much higher payoff than individual leader’s programs.

The boot camp analogy can be very useful in discussions about culture, too. Boot camps are part of the military’s onboarding process; how your organization onboards new employees is equally essential to sustaining your culture. Programs that help you define your culture, hire talented people who fit, onboard to set them up for success and continue their development on the job are likely to help you achieve high levels of employee engagement. [Did you know, according to Gallup, that nearly 2 of every 3 employees in America reports being unengaged at work?]

Strategic Planning.

“Plans are nothing, planning is everything” World War II Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower famously remarked. Good commanders drive their staff to identify possible contingencies, threats, and opportunities, and have branch plans or sequels to address each one of them. The planning process, in
military parlance, is never completed. Commanders often get detailed playbooks that aid decision-making for every permutation a creative staff (the strategic planners) can possibly think of in the time they are given to think. The results are often impressive.

The desire to bring the military-planning process to a business context is understandable. There’s one problem: very few businesses in the world can afford to have highly-skilled people spending all their time making detailed plans about things that will probably never happen. In fact, most businesses and nonprofits outsource their strategic planning. Here’s what you normally get: highly detailed plans that few employees have time to read. There is little to no sense of ownership. Even worse, your situation may be so dynamic that detailed plans soon become irrelevant. It is no wonder then that, according to one estimate, 90 percent of business plans are not executed. They gather dust. This might not be a big problem for the military, but it is for you.

What to look for.

Businesses and nonprofits that want to grow sustainably need both a strategy and a plan. A strategy helps you understand your situation, select a way forward to meet your goals, and manage a dynamic environment—to know when to stay on course and when to change. A plan helps you coordinate the activities of your team to implement your chosen way forward. With the right guidance, the best plans are ones written by your own team. If they have authorship over the plan, they are more likely to own and execute it.

Bottom line: the strategic plan can be counterproductive – a sort of reverse Goldilocks: not quite a strategy, not quite a plan, just plain ignored. Develop a sensible strategy and then put together an implementation plan that your team owns.

Is military experience useless for businesses and nonprofits?

Not at all. In fact, they can become an essential tool for organizations that feel stuck, want to implement change, or are trying to manage unexpected growth. Breakthrough insights, many leaders find, come from looking at your challenges from different points of view. Battlefield lessons can expand your perspective – your mental framework – and enable you to connect ideas from a different context that help your team grow sustainably.