Commander’s Intent and Strategy

Every Army invests enormous energy in its planing process, but there is one drawback: the plan often turns out to be useless.  Colonel Tom Kolditz, the Head of the behavioral sciences at West Pint says: “No plan survives contact with the enemy”.

In the 1980s The US Army adopted its planing process, inventing a concept called Commander’s Intent (CI).

CI is a plain talk statement that appears at the top of every order specifying:

  1. the plan’s goal and
  2. the desired end-state of an operation

The CI never specifies so much detail. “You can lose the ability to execute the original plan, but you never lose the responsibility of executing the intent” says Kolditz.

When people know the desired destination, they’re free to improvise as needed, in arriving there.

Management Approach

Southwest Airlines has a CI: “We are THE low-fair airline”. Once employees understand the fact, they can make any decision about this company.

Here is an example: “Tracy from Marketing comes into your office. She says her surveys indicate that passengers might enjoy a light starter on the Houston to Las Vegas flight. All what is currently offered is peanuts, and she thinks a nice chicken Caesar salad should we popular. What do you say?”.

“You say, Tracy, will adding that chicken Caesar salad make us THE low-fare airline from Houston to Las Vegas?. Because if it doesn’t help us become the unchallenged low-fare airline, we are not serving any chicken salad”.

Dilbert Strategy

Further reading: Chip Heath, Dan Heath. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Random House, 2007.

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