(this was originally published on Command Your Business in 2013)
5 Things The Army Taught Me About Productivity
First off, I know what you are thinking. A government organization and productivity is a complete oxymoron, and in most situations I would probably agree with you. But in this case, I think it is true. Read these next 5 sections and you decide
- 1) Planning – Planning is something the Army excels at. They plan for just about everything. I like this definition from an Army field manual “Planning is the art and science of understanding a situation, envisioning a desired future, and laying out effective ways of bringing that future about. Army leaders plan to create a common vision among subordinate commanders, staffs, …. for the successful execution of operations.” . How does this relate to productivity? The army plans so that leaders have enough time to prepare and focus on the mission. They utilize Troop Leading Procedures or TLPs at the small unit level. “Troop leading procedures are a dynamic process used by small-unit leaders to analyze a mission, develop a plan, and prepare for an operation. TLP are used by commanders and leaders without a staff. These procedures enable leaders to maximize available planning time while developing effective plans and preparing their units for an operation.” Below are the steps and how I use them to be more productive.
- Step 1 – Receive the mission. (Figure out what I want to accomplish by when)
- Step 2 – Issue a warning order. (Let my team know about the task so they can prepare)
- Step 3 – Make a tentative plan. (self explanatory)
- Step 4 – Initiate movement. (Start taking action, begin the initial steps require to get it done)
- Step 5 – Conduct reconnaissance. (Look at what the potential road blocks could be, competitors, technology, internal road blocks)
- Step 6 – Complete the plan. (Finalize the plan)
- Step 7 – Issue the order. (Assign tasks to team)
- Step 8 – Supervise and refine the plan. (Monitor progress and make changes as necessary)
- The type of directions you give are also critical. “Effective plans and orders are simple and direct. Staffs prepare clear, concise orders that communicate an understanding of the operation through the use of doctrinally correct operational terms and symbols. Doing this minimizes chances of misunderstanding. Clarity and brevity are important. Shorter, rather than longer, plans aid in simplicity. Shorter plans are easier to disseminate, read, and remember.”
- 2) SOPs / Standard Operating Procedures – The Army has an SOP for everything. It can drive you crazy at first, but when you go into a business/organization/group with no SOPs you realize how productive they can make you. The Army standardizes how units are organized, how vehicles are maintained, how supplies are ordered. These SOPs allow even the newest private to understand what to do. If someone comes in from a different unit, they understand what should be done because it is standardized across the Army. These SOPs can be invaluable in business as well. Think about the things that must get done daily / weekly / monthly in your business. Do you have it documented? Is it always done the same way? What happens when the person responsible for the task is out on vacation or maternity leave? Having SOPs in place can prevent you from wasting tons of time and help you be more productive.
- 3) Battle Drills – According to Army FM 3-21.75 “A battle drill is a collective action, executed by a platoon or smaller element, without the deliberate decision-making process”. The army trains it’s soldiers and units to react to certain situations with out receiving orders or having to make a decision. An example is how a squad might react to an ambush. They are trained to react – return fire, seek cover and concealment, move out of the kill zone, and maneuver to destroy the enemy. This reaction is all done without deliberate decision-making, it just becomes second nature. Think about your own organization. Do you have certain unexpected situations that are likely to occur in year? Have you trained your people how to react? Ever had a server go down or lose Internet connectivity? Chances are your organization should react in a standard way. You can create a battle drill so that everyone knows what to do once it happens without being told. It can save you hours and hours in lost productivity.
- 4) Technical Competence – As a soldier, having technical competence means you are capable of effectively using your weapon, radio, vehicle, or whatever equipment is required of your role. As a Tank Platoon Leader, I had to be technically competent on how our radios worked and how to effectively use them to communicate with my commander, my platoon and adjacent units. When I first got to my unit, I did not know how to load the frequencies and communication security. I had to rely on someone else to do it for me and this took lots of time. Once I became technically competent, I could do it myself and saved myself hours over the course of a training exercise. The same thing applies to business. Think about the tools you use to do your job. Do you have look at a lot of data? Are you technically competent in Excel? Have to give presentations? Are you proficient in PowerPoint or Keynote? Gaining technical competence in the tools of your trade will allow you to be exponentially more productive.
- 5) Commander’s Intent – According to the Army Commander’s Intent“…is a succinct description of the commander’s visualization of the entire operation, a clear statement of what the commander wants to accomplish.” We a unit leader gives a mission to his soldiers, they always makes clear the Commander’s Intent. The reason the Commander’s Intent is important is that it allows soldiers to react in the absence of orders. If you lose radio contact, but you know that the Commander’s Intent is to capture hill 405, you can continue with the mission. How can a Leader’s Intent help you be more productive in you civilian career? As a leader, giving a clear intent helps your team quickly execute plan without having to stop every time they have a question and come back to you. I can tell my team, “ My intent is to have the quarterly promotion plan completed by Friday at noon. If we do nothing else this week, we must get this completed.” If I am not around, my team still knows what we must get done this week.
What do you think? Do you agree? What else would you include from your experience?