Master and Commander



A common frustration among small business owners is the lack of execution or implementation of their stated goals and objectives. In fact, they may have clearly articulated their vision for their business – their BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal – as James Collins and Jerry Porras put it in their 1994 book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. But too often they feel stifled when it comes to seeing this thing come to pass.

And they’re not the only ones who feel that way; their employees do, too.

Commander’s Intent

“Make it so.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Commander, USS Enterprise-D

There is a planning concept used in the military commonly referred to as “Commander’s Intent”, or CSI (or CI.) It is the idea that the commander, be it a General, Admiral, or even a lower echelon officer in charge of a particular operation, will articulate a high-level summation of the intended operation. In a business context it is the equivalent of the owner’s vision statement or strategic business statement.

Wikipedia has an entry with this explanation:

”Commander’s intent (CSI) plays a central role in military decision making and planning. CSI acts as a basis for staffs and subordinates to develop their own plans and orders to transform thought into action, while maintaining the overall intention of their commander. The commander’s intent links the mission and concept of operations. It describes the end state and key tasks that, along with the mission, are the basis for subordinates’ initiative. Commanders may also use the commander’s intent to explain a broader purpose beyond that of the mission statement.”

So far, so good.

The commander, (i.e. business owner) writes out a statement and imparts this vision to his leadership team, his management team, and his staff. Everyone is inspired, excited, motivated and ready for something cool to happen.

Time goes on.

A few initiatives are launched. Some processes are developed. Maybe a few new hires or capital expenditures are made. A little traction, a little activity, and then Life gets in the way. Customers need stuff. Things happen.

And time goes on…

Strategy vs. Planning

The commander’s intent was based on good intentions, but something was missing between developing a strategy for business growth and the actual tools, resources and processes for making the intent a reality.

There was no plan.

The strategy was there. The vision was clear. The troops were on board. But no “battle plan” was written down and no tasks were delegated and scheduled. So nothing much got done. And then the troops became demoralized and disenchanted. The management got frustrated.

And the Commander is not happy.

Plan Your Work. Write It Down. Work Your Plan.

A strategy is not a plan. A plan is tangible. You can see it, touch it, read it, and pass it around. It takes your vision, your strategic intent, and makes it into a “project” and then breaks that project down into tasks. Big tasks, small tasks. And even the task of managing and overseeing the tasks.

And, while a plan must be written down, it must remain dynamic, not static. Just because you have a great battle plan doesn’t mean anyone told the enemy.

And just because you have a superb strategic action plan for your business doesn’t mean anyone told your competitors. Or your customers. Or vendors, or suppliers, or the weather, the economy, and so on.

You must be agile and flexible while retaining your “Commander’s Intent”. Even your strategy may need to evolve over time, but without a plan to guide you and your staff along the way, nothing will really happen.

So, what’s your plan?