Use Commander’s Intent to Empower Your Team for Execution

By Stuart Childs

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Use Commander’s Intent to Empower Your Team for Execution

By Stuart Childs

By far, one of the most common execution challenges our clients ask for help with is, “What’s the right level of insight and direction I need to give and receive from my team?”

In other words, how can teams get the most flexibility to decide and execute quickly, while being sure they’re acting in the interest of the intended goal?

In a leadership position, you’re constantly balancing informative oversight against inefficient micromanagement. Without a clear sense of how much direction is necessary, your planning process and subsequent success of your organization can quickly come to a standstill.

If you’re stuck in the philosophical loop – What is the right level of managerial insight? How do I ensure my team is on the right track while giving them the space they need to make decisions and execute on their objectives? – try incorporating some of the key elements of this leadership principle.

Commander’s Intent for Plan Execution

When trying to find your identity as a strategic plan leader, consider the principle of Commander’s Intent.

Borrowed from the military, Commander’s Intent has been relied upon for decades as the go-to framework for military operations. The concept, however, is equally applicable in the business world.

Essentially, the methodology relies on establishing a clearly defined end-state, i.e. if everything goes perfectly, what will our world look like?

From there, teams are dispatched to set about accomplishing smaller tasks to achieve the end-state with limited direction.

The focus on the goal ensures teams have guidance in their work but autonomy to be experts in their field enough to make real-time decisions along the way.

It’s obviously something that takes time and a lot of trust-building to transform your execution culture into a strong Commander’s Intent operational model. But in the meantime, start by assessing how well you currently embody each of the 3 key elements of Commander’s Intent, then build from there.

Use “Expanded Purpose” to Paint the Whole Long-term Picture

Expanded Purpose: The broader vision of what accomplishing this objective means to the organization as a whole.

Even the military, an organization that thrives on hierarchical chain of command, understands that foot soldiers are more effective when they understand the why behind the what.

Share with your team why you’re held accountable to your metrics and milestones, and draw a direct line from daily activities to organization-wide progress.

Example: We’re asked to track our time on projects so the company can collect data about where we’re stretched thin for resources. The Expanded Purpose of time tracking is so we can hire the right people with the right skills to increase productivity.

Related article: Engage in Continuous Communication and Accomplish More of Your Plan

Use “Key Tasks” to Let Your Experts Do What They Do Best

Key Tasks: Those activities the force must perform as a whole to achieve the desired end-state.

Ah, the crux of the matter. Be wary of laundry lists of implied objectives (yes, even the military has run into this problem). To know the difference, consider this scenario:

You’re directing your team to move from Point A to Point B. In the middle lies a river. It’s not necessary to instruct the team to navigate toward the river, find a suitable beachhead, construct a bridge, and cross the river. These sub-steps are implied by the Key Task itself and competent teams don’t need the minutiae outlined on paper to be able to get to the other side.

Using the end-state (more to follow) as the North Star ensures that your team won’t get lost along the way.

When outlining your plan, use the Why/How plan-building method to check your plan for micro-measurements.

Related article: The Only Two Questions You Need to Build Your Strategic Plan

Use “End-State” to Set Expectations About Resource Expenditure

End-State: Desired future conditions of the friendly force in relationship to its desired conditions of the enemy, terrain, and civil considerations.

What’s at the heart of the outcome we’re trying to achieve? If we firmly understand the purpose and effectively execute the key tasks along the way, what will be the final net result of these efforts?

End-State is closely related to your Mission and Vision. No matter what tactics you use to reach your goal, are you fulfilling the intent of your efforts?

As mentioned, this is the guiding light for your team along the way. Done right, there can be no confusion on what the team needs to be working toward.

For example, if your End-State is to increase revenue, you may have an Expanded Purpose of increasing renewals – but if your Key Tasks end up earning your company more new deals instead, you’ve still achieved your End-State goal.

Related article: Being Able to Recite Your Mission and Vision Statements Is More Important Than You Think

Give Your Team the Knowledge and Power to Execute with Intention

I was part of building an automotive startup, and there I had a boss who firmly understood the concept of Commander’s Intent. He would say, “Look, I don’t want to solve this for you here and now, but I’m looking for this particular outcome. It’s not important to me how you get there, but this is what I’m looking for.”

The two main wins here are: 1. You as a manager ensure your focus remains at the proper level, and 2. You empower those on your team to learn and grow.

Related: Software you’ll actually love because it’s made for plan leaders like you