What is your Command Intent?

Command intent is a concept I borrowed from the United States Army.  This is an important issue in management, especially in my experience in chain drug management and corporate management.  The most difficult thing to do once you have made a decision is communicating so that all of your employees can take action in a way that accomplishes your goals.


The theory of command intent states that a manager cannot supervise what every employee is doing all day long.  The manager must find a way to ensure that the employees are working on the right tasks at the right time.  A good operations manager, therefore, has to have a plan and needs to communicate that plan effectively.  The business has no hope of achieving its goals without a clearly communicated plan of action.


This theory was developed because the military found that despite all their massive amounts of planning for a battle, the details of the battle plan never survived the first shots being fired.  If the battle plan was for your soldiers to take the farmhouse on the hill by marching across the bridge and turning right, but just prior to the battle the enemy moved all of their tanks to support the bridge, the field commanders needed to find another way to get to the farmhouse.  If they rigidly followed the plan and ran all of their infantrymen into the tanks, getting them all killed, they would have complied with the original order but not the real command intent of the operation. The idea was to take the farmhouse not march along a proscribed route.


I have worked for a few real knuckleheads over the years that never understood this concept. Plans are plans based on the best information available at the time. Real leaders understand the command intent of what they are trying to do and figure out how to get it done without getting everybody killed. General George S Patton, probably one of the best military strategists in the history of the US Army said it very clearly,  “Never tell people how to do things.  Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”


How do you manage your team?