We’ve covered two key elements of the 5-paragraph order used by the modern US military to not only transmit operational instructions to subordinates, but to ensure they have the perspective and context necessary to properly and intelligently carry them out. These are principally the “mission-oriented” nature of this order transmission system, and the detailed situation analysis provided – both of which precede the actual delineation of the tasks to be performed.
This system, and the decentralizing, push-authority-down approach it expresses, are key to the phenomenal performance under incredibly complex and stressful conditions that today’s military performs so magnificently. Many other modern military organizations around the world use this or a similar system.
How many civilian ones do? Does yours?
Well actually, you may object, you do something very much like this when a new project or initiative is launched. All the division chiefs are assembled and a detailed briefing – something like a business version of the 5-paragraph order – is delivered by the CEO’s staff and project planners. It is intricate, involving multiple audio/video techniques to engage the attendees across the full spectrum of learning styles, and it is very professional.
Okay, that’s great. But then what happens?
Bear in mind that in the military this system is expected to be used from top to bottom. And, in plain fact, it is used that way. If a theater commander issues a 5-paragraph order to his immediately subordinate generals, don’t think it ends there, that claims of expediency begin to creep in, causing it at some point to revert to “traditional” blunt direction issuance. Hard-won experience has taught the military that that is a prescription for – really – disaster.
You can take it to the bank: once that initial order is issued, it radiates vigorously, and irresistibly, throughout all the vast reaches of even the most uniquely complex military force structure assembled for a given theater of operations. Gaining force and momentum as it proceeds (and it does this quite rapidly and efficiently), this wave of energy-infusing communications will have blossomed in to full 5-paragraph orders issued to thousands of small 3 or 4 person teams, the teams that are in contact with the environment on which will be executed these orders.
Those orders, of course, are not mere replicas of the original. Each step of the way, they will have been tailored and interpreted according to the roles and expectations of the units to which they are given. Some are aviation, some ground; some are operational, some are support. Each order-issuing unit, in some precisely relevant way, transforms the order it was issued.
And yet, each order inherits essential instructional coding from the one on the basis of which it was written. The theater commander at the beginning and the team leaders at the sharp end have different things to talk about in their situation, mission, and other paragraphs – usually more specific and detailed the smaller the unit. But they all are recognizably the products of the initial order, and they all automatically integrate with it, and set the stage for continuing to do so even if the conditions that make sense of the original taskings begin to change.
So, this isn’t a one-time product, expected only of “leaders” at the top. It’s expected of everyone who commands a unit of any size and type. Every time.
And there’s one more thing about this order system that happens throughout the organization – but we’ll cover that next week. See you then!