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Putting it all in context

We’ve been working to offer concrete examples to explain why a primary management task is to impart perspective to the organization.

Last week we looked at just one way the military does that through what is sometimes known as the mission-oriented order. We saw how military commanders don’t simply give “orders” – or instructions – to subordinate units as is often assumed. Rather, they put those instructions in context with a detailed explanation of the mission those tasks are intended to help achieve – and not only that: but also provided are the commander’s intent and concept of the operation. All together, these help the unit advance the overall military goal by enabling it to adapt its assigned tasks as the always changing situation dictates, guided by a thorough and nuanced understanding of the underlying purpose for those tasks.

But, of course, there’s more: the military method of transmitting instructions is actually known as the “five paragraph order.” Only one of those (the third, “execution” paragraph) is dedicated to the instructions and, as we’ve seen, a good part of that covers the commander’s intent and concept of operations. Another one (the “mission” paragraph), preceding that, is the one that comprehensively details the mission. Those were our subjects last week.

Preceding those is today’s topic: the first paragraph, which is perhaps the most important of all, as it sets the stage for, and makes sense of, all that comes after. This is called the “situation” paragraph. When this element of the process is conducted well, the unit receiving the order can practically be seen nodding its collective head in agreement and understanding as the rest of the information, following logically from the situation statement, is laid out in turn.

Here, as you might expect, you learn about the “enemy” situation – composition, strengths/weaknesses, expected course of action, and – importantly – its most dangerous possible course of action. For our purposes, substitute your competition and the market you’re contesting along with a SWOT analysis, for example, and you’ve got the idea.

But, yet again, there’s more: Next in this paragraph is described the “friendly” situation. And that begins with another mission statement – that of the next higher unit; and this is also accompanied by that unit’s operational intent.

Following this is a description of the other units participating in the action and their locations relative to yours (this is intended to facilitate the establishment of liaison/communication with those units, an unmentioned but assumed requirement of all participating units).

Also described are any other organizations that will be specifically tasked to provide various types of support to your unit, as well as any units or individuals with special capabilities that will be directly attached to yours to help you in the forthcoming action, or any that will be detached from your unit to be sent to aid another.

Finally, a detailed analysis and description of the environment is provided for your further planning and as a rationale for what will be described in subsequent paragraphs.

So, you receive a comprehensive description of what the challenge is, how it can influence your efforts to reduce it, the overall mission of your parent unit (well before even getting to yours), who else is participating with you in the struggle, their roles and locations, those who will support you and who you will support, and a detailed description of the environment(s) in which you will be operating.

In short, a precisely crafted method for conveying vital and comprehensive perspective about what is being done so that a unit being assigned a role in doing it will be able to proceed as efficiently and effectively as possible.

And that’s before we even get to the “mission-oriented” elements of perspective that we described last week, and which themselves come before we even begin to cover what the instructions are to the unit receiving this order. (Is it possible that in your organization this last bit is the sum and total of your order-transmission system?)

In fact, after that third “execution” paragraph, at the end of which finally comes the tasks to be performed, come two more paragraphs. These are the fourth – “administration and logistics” – and the fifth – command, control, and communications. These provide additional essential information that facilitates the accomplishment of the assigned tasks. They are an important contribution to the provision of perspective as well; they don’t amplify what has already been presented in the order, but they provide the lines and means of communication that enable all the units involved in the operation to maintain overall organizational perspective as events proceed dynamically.

So: five paragraphs in the order-delivery system, and only one, the third (and only the last part of that), issues actual orders. The first two provide vital perspective necessary to understand and execute the assigned tasks – or to modify them as necessary as events unfold on the ground. The last two provide information about how to maintain the continuous updating of perspective which itself will also change as the operation commences and the facts on the ground begin to collide and transform.

Perhaps that’s not how you do it in your organization. But there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. And as we’ll see soon, there are some strikingly compelling reasons why you should.

We’ll cover that next week, before getting to the second general means managers must use to provide and maintain perspective in their organizations.

See you then!

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