Creating your company, or teams, strategy based on the mission and not standards or metrics is what will help your team win.
Strategy by numbers is a command and control approach to management. It focuses energy on the theory that when everyone hits their individual number, the total organization wins.
The command and control approach was pioneered by the military. However, the military has changed as the speed of warfare has changed. A US Marine explained it this way: “Years ago, the military was focused on instant, willing obedience to orders. Today we give the mission and explain why. When the troops know the mission and why it’s important, we leverage their skills and knowledge.”
Instant, willing obedience to orders is not fun. It’s slavery. It turns employees into zombies and creates disengagement between employees and the work.
Today the military enables troops to both think and do. They call it Commander’s Intent.
Commander’s Intent: A clear and concise expression of the purpose of the operation and the desired end state that supports mission command, provides focus to the staff, and helps subordinate and supporting commanders act to achieve the commander’s desired result without further order, even when the operation does not unfold as planned.
A distilled version of Commander’s Intent is simply: “In the absence of further orders, you know what to do.”
The Innovation Engineering Institute, which supports six university Innovation courses, plus executive and employee education programs, has translated Commanders Intent into a method of leading by mission called the Blue Card.
Strategy by Mission views metrics as the outcome of strategy, not the strategy itself. Strategy by Mission is set by leadership, as only leadership has the breadth of view across the overall organization. The employees can’t set the strategic direction — only leadership can. Strategy by Mission is about:
Selecting where to go
Deciding where to focus organizational resources so as to best achieve the aim of the organization
Focusing, focusing, focusing
When leadership sets a clear mission-focused strategy, the result is a force multiplier of effectiveness. Employees and leadership are aligned on what the Very Important Strategic Missions are, why they’re very important, and what the boundaries are to the scope.
Within the context of Innovation Engineering’s mission-focused strategy, the Blue Card represents these essential elements:
ONE. Name: Give this very important Blue Card a name that’s suggestive of the mission. The name gives clarity and focus.
TWO. Scope: The scope defines what the leader is looking for — new or improved offerings, or internal systems for the way work is performed. Will this be a high risk and reward pursuit or one low on risk and uncertainty? Note: both are still complex. Is this a longer-term initiative that will have many projects, or a more focused shorter-term project? Finally, define whether this involves the entire organization or specific departments.
THREE. Narrative: Tell the story in simple language of why it is very important to focus energy on this mission. Just as in the military, the leader of the project, division or company personally writes the narrative. It cannot be outsourced to others. The leader’s narrative speaks precisely to the head and the heart of employees. It ignites employees’ intrinsic motivation. The narrative should be so clear that, if employees get no further direction, they’ll be motivated to get to work and know exactly the leadership’s intent. Writing a motivating narrative is not easy. It’s hard. It’s really hard. However, it’s well worth the effort. Great Blue Cards inspire great innovations.
FOUR. Strategic Mission: The Blue Card then goes on to define the mission in a single sentence, “We need ideas for…” It’s that simple and clear. Provide direction, but not prescriptions. Missions that are vague result in wasted effort. Missions that are prescriptive waste the creative energy of employees.
FIVE. Boundaries: Finally, the Blue Card sets clear tactical and strategic boundaries for the initiative. It makes it clear what kinds of ideas the leadership is not interested in exploring. It also lets everyone know what time, staffing, regulatory, economic, and other constraints exist. Boundaries provide “rules of engagement” to employees and are both strategic and tactical. Being clear with intentions reduces waste and rework.
Blue Cards provide a method for leaders to activate their strategy for where they want to take the organization. It helps them focus the time, energy, and money of the organization — no matter how large it is — on what is Very Important.
Doug Hall is the founder of the Eureka! Ranch, Innovation Engineering Institute and Brain Brew Custom Whisk(e)y. His newest book is DRIVING EUREKA! Problem-Solving with Data Driven Methods & The Innovation Engineering System (CLICK HERE to get your copy). For a free one-hour audiobook summary, visit www.DougHall.com/vip.
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