Increase effectiveness of employee decision-making using Commander’s Intent

As organizations evolve to include more autonomous employees and roles, Commander’s Intent practices are making their way into offices to adjust to this new dynamic. For the concept to work effectively, however, leaders and team members need to fully understand their roles.

A woman facing two different paths through rows of corn, as if trying to make a decision of which way to go
“decisions” by Matt Wiebe, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“Do you need to check with your supervisor before making this change?” the woman on the other end of the phone said, when I asked her to make a last-minute adjustment to a plan due to new circumstances.

“I appreciate you asking. Knowing our leaders, I’m positive they’d be ok the decision and me making it. And, I’ll accept full responsibility for authorizing the change,” I responded gently, knowing her question came from good intentions.

The conversation above demonstrates a big part of my role; I’m often in a position where I have to make decisions or take actions on behalf of the leaders of my organization. What makes me comfortable in doing so is that we have a strong culture of Commander’s Intent.

Commander’s Intent is a military concept where the leader provides the ultimate goal of the orders (intent) along with the actual orders, so if something changes during an operation the military members carrying-out the orders are still able to take action to meet the ultimate goal.  Example: “The intent is to take the beach. Here are your orders on how, but if something changes, adjust according to your training and meet your ultimate goal: take the beach.”

As organizations evolve to include more autonomous employees and roles, Commander’s Intent practices are making their way into offices to adjust to this new dynamic. For the concept to work effectively, however, leaders and team members need to fully understand their roles.

Leader roles

  • Hire autonomous-oriented team members with good judgment who are willing to learn your intentions and act on those.
  • When giving direction and communicating decisions, go beyond just giving the direction and decision, explain why that’s the right decision, what factors played into that decision, and how you made the decision.
  • Over-communicate what’s going on in the organization and why, and document the past heavily. A leader is often able to make good decisions because they have all of the information needed to make that decision. Give your team members as much information as possible so they can be an effective extension of you when making decisions.
  • Be willing to let go of control. Commander’s intent doesn’t work if you’re a micromanager because team members won’t feel they have the ability to make autonomous decisions.
  • Provide feedback gently when a team member makes a decision that you don’t agree with. The goal of this conversation is to further the employee’s learning and understanding. If it comes across as punitive and judgmental, team members will be discouraged from acting in the future.
  • Communicate what rules are “hard” rules and what rules are more flexible. Communicate instances where employees can make decisions on your behalf and when they can’t.

Team member roles

  • Ensure the leaders you work with are on-board with the Commander’s Intent philosophy.
  • Learn the leaders. How do they make decisions? Why do they make the decisions they make? What other leaders do they admire? What books, magazines, and blogs do they read? What are their key principles, no matter what the situation?
  • If the leader doesn’t give you the intent information, ask for it.
  • Recognize when you’re making a decision on behalf of a leader and make that decision based on what the leader would do, not what you would do.
  • Continually keep abreast of the organization’s goals, initiatives, rules, etc. and use these to drive your decision-making.
  • After acting on behalf of the leader, seek feedback. I format this feedback-seeking in the following way: 1) Decision I made 2) What information about the leader I used to make that decision (previous similar decisions they’ve made, information they’ve shared, etc.) 3) Ask for feedback, such as “Is that what you would have done?” and/or “What would you like me to do in the future in a similar situation?” 4) If they would have done something differently, I ask a lot of follow-up questions to learn and refine my decision-making.

With the above in place, you can foster an organizational culture where team members can effectively be an extension of their leaders, which can greatly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization overall.

 

I think your child might be President someday

My friend was distraught. A week before, her four year old daughter Jamie had  been kicked out of a very progressive school, with a reputation of excelling with difficult children, because she was refusing to follow the rules. They asked my friend to come get her child, and had her tuition check ready for her when she arrived.

I should admit now, I’m probably not the best person to comfort someone in these types situations. With that caveat, I tried to reassure and comfort my friend by saying “Angela, I know this is hard, and this will pass and may actually be a blessing. I think Jamie might be President someday.”

“What?” she said, looking confused. You see, Angela is a rules follower, and a very good one at that; she’s carved a very successful career for herself following the rules. Her daughter, however, is not this way. She questions and resists everything, which is why the school asked her to leave.

Rule-bending leaders

Over the years, I’ve been grateful to be able to spend time with some highly successful traditional and nontraditional leaders and I’ve noticed that most have one thing in common: They aren’t so keen on society’s rules.

This comes out in a variety of ways, for example, the extremely successful tech workers who regaled stories over beers of the crazy stunts they pulled on their high school and college’s computers. The hacker mind is indeed a unique one, they like to break things to see if they can make them better, which is useful in the tech field, but seen as a nuisance in a controlled system.

Or my extremely successful colleagues swapping tales of who they got in trouble for writing papers that were beyond the norm. One colleague wrote a paper for his American Government class questioning our system of government. For my non-American readers, while that’s completely permissible in the U.S. it’s not something most high school teachers would look favorably upon. I personally caught some heat for papers I wrote in junior high about the Salem Witch Trials and the atrocities of World War II. There was nothing wrong with these papers or me; in fact my intent was to highlight atrocities so we don’t repeat them, but they stood out as “not normal” because my classmates were writing papers on horses and cars.

Raise your hand if you got in trouble a lot for talking in class

“Raise your hand if you got in trouble a lot for talking in class,” asked a leader of The Chair Academy during one of our training sessions. Almost every hand went up. The Chair Academy is a leadership development program for future college and university Presidents and Chancellors, and everyone in the room was somewhere on that path. I found it fascinating, what was seen as insubordination during grade school was most likely them developing their networking skills that they use now to advance their career and the goals of the colleges and universities they work for.

I’m not saying grade school teachers aren’t right to enforce rules, their job is hard enough as it is. I’m not saying my friend was wrong to worry, most of our systems are set-up to reward those who follow rules. Finally, I’m not saying everyone who is a rules follower needs to change their ways, our society works well because we have both types of personalities working together for the greater good. And, there are some leadership roles where following the rules is a huge plus. What I am saying is, we should stop responding with “There’s something wrong with you,” as one of my friends’ moms used to tell her, and instead find a way to channel these kids to focus on their strengths.

Back to to Jamie

By the time I was done trying to explain all of this to my friend, we had arrived at Jamie’s new school and she went in to have a quick discussion with the teacher while I waited in the car. A few minutes later, the car door on my side opened and an angelic voice said, “Well hello Ms. Nicole. It’s very nice to see you. How are you today?” Four year old sweet and politically savvy beyond her years, Jamie, beamed at me. “I’m well, Jamie. How are you?” I said as she climbed in the back seat. Her mom proceeded to buckle her in and climbed in the driver’s seat.

“Yep,” I said to her mom, “President.”

Change the details or the scenario to see a problem differently

We’ve all faced tough situations where we weren’t quite sure what to do or we’re struggling to see the other side of the argument.

When this happens, one effective technique is to change the details or change the scenario to try to gain a new perspective.

We’ve all faced tough situations where we weren’t quite sure what to do or we’re struggling to see the other side of the argument.

When this happens, one effective technique is to change the details or change the scenario to try to gain a new perspective.

Change the scenario

This is changing the setting of the situation. Think of it like a play where the plot and the script are basically the same, but the setting is different.

This can be especially helpful if you are emotionally involved in the situation.

One of my favorite ways to utilize this technique is to think what the situation would look like on an elementary school playground.  This isn’t because I think two adults having conflict are childish; rather, it helps me get to the very basic issue of the problem and name it in a simple way.  For example, I might see two adults in conflict and use this technique to identify the fundamental problem. Such as “person a is bullying person b” or “person a is purposefully excluding person b.” Identifying the problem in such simple terms also usually makes the solution very clear.

Other ways to change the scenario:

  • What if we were having this conversation at the family dinner table?
  • What if this conversation were happening at another company? How would I advise them?
  • What if we were on a stage in front of others, would this conversation be ok? Or look the same?
  • What if a friend came to me with this problem?

Change the details

Another way to see a situation from a whole new light is to change the details.

In this exercise, you leave the setting and people alone, but change various details of the situation. So, the play scene is the same, the actors and actresses are the same, but something about the situation has changed.

Ways to change the details:

  • If the situation involves something you are emotionally passionate about, change it to something you aren’t emotionally passionate about. This can be especially helpful for anything political.
  • Or the opposite, if you’re not emotionally passionate about the subject, substitute in a subject you are passionate about.
  • Remove various elements of a situation and then ask how you’d solve it. For example, “If money weren’t a factor, how would I make this decision?”

 

 

 

Top 5 reasons to join Rotary

Yesterday, I had the honor of speaking to a group of college students about professional networking. As part of that presentation, I highly recommended joining Rotary or Rotaract (for students).

Here are my top five reasons to join Rotary:

  1. Increased knowledge of the community and current issues. The majority of Rotary clubs have a guest speaker each week. The topics vary widely, so you get a wide variety of information. We all have busy lives and there are topics I either don’t have the time or wouldn’t even think to research, but Rotary gives me a chance to hear from experts on those topics.
  2. Professional networking.  Rotary allows you to develop meaningful relationships will fellow community leaders. The weekly lunches give you the opportunity to really find out who your fellow Rotarians are. I once had a President I worked for who commented on the strength of my community connections and inquired how I’d gotten them.  “They are all in Rotary with me,” I responded.
  3. Make the world a better place. Whether it is holding a roadside cleanup, building a playground, or donating together to fund a much-needed well in an impoverished country, Rotary offers a structured and safe way to make a difference.  You know your money and time is going to a great cause and it’s so rewarding to see the results. I’ve worked on community service projects, interviewed students for scholarships, and reviewed and voted-on grants submissions. Each has been rewarding in its own way.
  4. International programs. There are a wide variety of opportunities to learn more about different parts of the world. You can travel and do community service work, be a host family for an exchange student, or be a short-term (usually one week) host for a young professional in the Group Study Exchange program. I’ve done the latter and it was an incredible experience. I met some amazing young professionals from Rome that I am now grateful to call my friends. And, I had the chance to visit them in Rome, Italy.
  5. Share your passions. I don’t just working in marketing, I live and breathe it. I’m also a teacher at heart, so I truly enjoy sharing my marketing knowledge with others. Rotary has given me a way to present to my fellow Rotarians in my own club and other clubs.  In 2011, I gave a presentation to my local Rotary club titled, “Effective marketing using the broken windows theory.” Approximately 70 people showed that day at lunch and a fellow Rotarian taped my presentation for me and I posted it on YouTube. From the people in the room referring me and the YouTube link, I’ve been able to give that same presentation to more Rotary clubs, at a national marketing conference, at an Air National Guard leadership conference, to many individual businesses and organizations, and to two chambers of commerce as their keynote speaker. I would have never had the opportunity to do any of those talks had it not been for Rotary.

So, now that I’ve convinced you that Rotary is definitely something you need to be a part of, research a local club and get involved! Technically, you have to be invited, but I guarantee you, if you show up, someone will step forward and “invite” you on the spot. For those of you in Rotary, what things would you add to this list? How has Rotary enriched your life and your community?

One thing missing from most crisis communications advice: Resume community relations as fast as you can

There is a lot of great crisis communications advice available, so I won’t reiterate any of that information here, but I’ve noticed that there is one thing that is relevant to a lot of industries that typically isn’t emphasized in crisis communications:

After the event, you must be visible in the community again as fast as possible

The natural instinct after a crisis is to skip the community meetings you regularly go to because, well, you are busy dealing with the aftermath of the crisis. While that is understandable, I don’t believe that is the right approach.

An Army officer uses a microphone to speak. There are Rotary banners in the background. There is a woman and a man listening to his right.
It is amazing what a difference showing up to your Rotary Club meeting after a crisis can make when minimizing a crisis situation.

Obviously, if you really are in the middle of the crisis, you can’t go. But, when the immediate threat is over, it’s important to get back to your regular community relations as fast as you can. Why do I think this is the best approach? Two reasons:

  1. You being there signals that everything is under control. After a crisis, people will be looking for you at your regular community meetings. If you aren’t there, people are going to naturally assume that you are still dealing with the crisis, which signals to them that it’s not necessarily over with.
  2. You want them to come to you to answer their questions. Following classic cognitive dissonance theory, people will seek to understand the crisis situation. Where there is a lack of information, they will look for the information and/or make assumptions to fill in the voids.  It is my opinion that this is how a lot of false information is started. Instead, you want to be where the community influencers are, encourage them to ask you questions, and then answer them as honestly and openly as you can. That should minimize any long-term pr and community relations damage, especially when it comes to false rumors.

I know dealing with a crisis is not fun, but as soon as you can, dust yourself off and get right back to your community meetings. It will do you a lot of good in the long run.

Yes, Virginia, it’s still ok to ask the question

The phrase used to be “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” Recently, however, I’ve had several people tell me that, in the age of Google, this phrase is no longer relevant, that there now IS such a thing as a stupid question. Although I understand where they are coming from, I’m going to have to argue the opposite in my usual old school/contemporary way. So here are four reasons that I think there is still no such thing as a stupid question:

Let me Google that for you homepage screen shot

The phrase used to be “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” Recently, however, I’ve had several people tell me that, in the age of Google, this phrase is no longer relevant, that there now IS such a thing as a stupid question. Although I understand where they are coming from, I’m going to have to argue the opposite in my usual old school/contemporary way. So here are four reasons that I think there is still no such thing as a stupid question:

  1. The complete phrase is “There is no such thing as a stupid question, there are, however, lazy questions.”  This phrase I agree with and fully believe in, especially in the age of Google. If you need the formula for percentage change, it’s a simple Google search away.  So is the date that the movie Back to the Future traveled into the future and who holds the World Record for the longest fingernails. These are factually based answers that are just a click away. So, yes, if you ask one of these while having access to the internet, it’s a lazy question.
  2. There is a lot of incorrect information out there (and it gets repeated). The Internet provides the fuel for old wives tales and rumors to spread like wildfire.  There are some ways to tell the crap from the good stuff, but they are no foolproof, and if it’s a topic that you are not at least somewhat knowledgeable about, it’s going to be hard to decipher the good information from the bad information. If you already know an expert, it’s much more reliable to ask them. At the very least, they can point you down the right path.
  3. Sending “Let me Google that for you” links is rude.  I don’t care how you try to rationalize it, sending one of these links as an answer to someone’s question communicates that you think they are stupid or lazy. Clearly, this is not the best way to build a relationship with someone.
  4. Asking questions is one of the most fundamental ways of having a conversation with someone.  If a person is asking you a question that isn’t covered under #1 or #2 on this list, then they are probably more curious about your slant/opinion/view of something or they are just plain interested in you. They are not looking for the standard information they are going to find online. They are trying to form a relationship.  If you are on the opposite side of this equation, and you are nervous that you might get a “look it up” type of answer, consider rephrasing the question to say something like “I’m curious your personal thoughts on,” or “What does x mean to you?” This takes a lot of practice and self-discipline not to just think “I’ll Google that later,” but it’s much better for your relationships.

Got it? Or do I need to Google it for you?  Smiley Face

Creating incentives that are mutually beneficial

If you are like the majority of marketers, your first thought is some sort of financial compensation such as money or a gift card. Although this is a good incentive and will usually do the trick, the example above reminds us all that, if we think creatively, we can find an incentive that is mutually beneficial to both us and our customers.

Keys to developing a mutually beneficial

On Sunday I drove up to Grand Rapids to slide down the giant waterslide created by Rob Bliss.  Along with a sunburn (whoops!), I came home with a renewed appreciation for the power of creativity that goes into creating incentives that are mutually beneficial to clients and an organization.

I arrived on Grand Rapids Community College’s campus to find a very long line to go down the 500 foot long waterslide.  I eagerly jumped into the snaking line that surrounded the slide, but not really realizing the impact that the line would have on the wait time.  After 1 ½ hours of waiting in line, I hadn’t moved nearly as far as I thought I would and it finally dawned on me that the line was probably about 4 hours long. Not too long after that realization struck me, a volunteer on the other side of the barrier was going up and down the line talking with people. He came near me and I leaned in to listen.

According to the volunteer, the original plan was for people to go down the waterslide just laying flat on their back, but they quickly realized that, in order for the slide to work, everyone had to go down it on inner tubes. That presented a problem because they then had to devise a way to get the tubes back up the hill.  Their solution was to go up and down the line and ask for volunteers to create a human chain and throw the tubes back up the hill.  The payment for one hour of volunteering to do this was you got to move to the front of the line.

I may not be the best at math, but it didn’t take me long to realize that this was a good deal and meant  waiting in line a grand total of 2 hours vs. 4 hours. Besides, I hate sitting still watching other people work, so I volunteered.  The work was easy, fun, and the hour flew by. Before I knew it, I was at the front of the line and had a fun ride down the slide.

People throwing water tubes up the hill next to the slide
The throwing of the tubes

The experience made me think about how we typically go about incentivizing our customers. If you are like the majority of marketers, your first thought is some sort of financial compensation such as money or a gift card.  Although this is a good incentive and will usually do the trick, the example above reminds us all that, if we think creatively, we can find an incentive that is mutually beneficial to both us and our customers.   

Keys to developing a mutually beneficial incentive

The first key to developing a mutually beneficial incentive is to truly understand what will motivate your target audience.  In the example above, my key motivation was to spend less time waiting in line. For a volunteer for a political campaign, maybe the person would care more about a photo op with an important political figure than a gift card.

The second key is to think creatively about what would most benefit your organization.  In the majority of cases, it’s probably not going to involve giving away money.  For example, if a college has a student that is motivated to publicly speak, this could be a huge mutual benefit. By having the student go out and speak for the college, the college gains positive publicity and the student gets to do what he  or she loves.  It’s a win-win!

So what will motivate your customers and how can you utilize that to create mutually beneficial incentives?