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Managing and leading in the midst of uncertainty

Good planning balances speed and completeness. Ideally, it articulates the overall strategic intent to ensure all staff can make informed judgments when needed.

It should anticipate contingences; there should be multiple ways of achieving the intent. And ideally, team members will have simulated the actions beforehand.

The creation of a timely, comprehensive, and structured plans is the hallmark of military operations. Thoughtful planning is just as important to a successful organisations. Strategic planners, like military planners, must provide enough information, analysis and detail for a plan to be successful, but not so much that the strategic window passes. Several key aspects of military planning may be instructive to non-military planners:

It is important to define the mission.

Military planning begins with the Mission Statement that describes the who, what, when, where, and why (the five W’s) of how a mission will be executed. A mission statement ensures everyone in the organization knows what they will do, when and how it fits into the larger picture.

Use Commander’s Intent to guide performance during uncertainty.

Commander’s Intent describes how the Commander envisions the battlefield at the conclusion of the mission. Military planners use Commander’s Intent to maintain relevance and applicability in chaotic, dynamic, and resource-constrained environments.

Apollo Mission Control Simulation © Camron Flanders – CC

Plan for contingencies.

The US Army Special Forces use a planning process called P-A-C-E (Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency) to ensure critical activities, such as the evacuation of wounded personnel, can be accomplished. P-A-C-E is used to create a series of effective fallback options, so all essential mission functions can be accomplished. Most organisations have a complex data backup and recovery process that employs P-A-C-E principles. The use of P-A-C-E ensures an organization looks at multiple ways to accomplish mission-critical tasks.

War game against the enemy.

War gaming is a process where a plan is “played” against an enemy force and then adapted so it can be successful. War gaming reveals critical holes and opportunities in a draft plan so the final plan can have the best chance of success. War gaming is especially useful in competitive situations, but can also be used in any situation where there is a complex field of stakeholders. How are those affected likely to respond and in what manner? Good planning is quick and complete; it incorporates a war game process to ensure it can succeed, employs a Commander’s Intent so people know what success looks like, and anticipates contingencies.


In the military, pre-mission inspection checks, standard procedures, and rehearsals serve as the foundation for the preparation for any mission. Standard processes and checks are vital because they ensure smooth, rapid, and effective execution even when the plan or conditions change.

When properly applied in a corporate culture, these military management techniques can build initiative, creativity, teamwork and leadership.

Military history provides a great example of the vital importance of standard operating procedures (SOPs). In a ferocious tank battle during Gulf War I in 1991, a U.S. mechanised company team (tanks and infantry fighting vehicles operating together) surprised anIraqi Republican guard brigade during a sandstorm and, in a matter of minutes, completely reduced the effectiveness of the Iraqi brigade through devastating integrated direct firepower and close coordination of air and artillery supporting fires. Granted, the technology of U.S. weapons, night vision, and laser sights had a great deal to do with the victory, as did the element of surprise. However, the role of SOPs was an even greater element in the success of this engagement. The U.S. military unit had drilled for months together to perfect the common procedures…

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Managing and leading in the midst of uncertainty

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