Monday, June 18, 2012

Clarity of Purpose (Pt 2): objective statement

Writing an objective statement, no matter the scale or context, is not easy because once it is written and promulgated it sets in motion a series of decisions, some irreversible, that will begin to use up two of your most valuable commodities; time and money.

In a previous blog we talked about Commander's Intent.  It is from the Commander's Intent that we make sure that our objective is strategically aligned and also understand what resources we can expect/need in support of the task.

It has been our experience that the best way to approach writing clear, concise and strategic objective statements is to think of it as a sentence: "I am going to do X in order to achieve Y." The key part of the sentence is the link in order to as this is vital to ensuring that you can connect your actions (X) with the Commander's Intent (Y).

Years ago when I was on exercise as a young infantry officer I was told by my commander to 'deny the enemy the bridge'.  So off I went and did an analysis of the task and wrote my objective statement as 'secure the bridge'.  I then decided that the best way to secure the bridge was to blow it up.

Task completed I head back to report to my commander.  The conversation went something like this:

Him (looking somewhat surprised): "What are you doing here so soon.  I thought I told you to take care of the bridge?"
Me (looking pretty pleased with myself): "I have denied the enemy the bridge. Nothing will cross it" 
Him (beginning to look a little worried): "What do you mean nothing will cross it?"
Me (now beginning to feel worried): Well, I did my analysis and decided that the best way to achieve my objective was to blow it up."
Him (now looking very worried): "You blew it up! I didn't want you to blow it up; I just wanted you to secure it."
Me: (nasty feeling in pit of stomach sensing where this was about to go): "Your orders to me were to deny the bridge, and blowing it up does that".
Him (alarm written all over his face):  "But how are our tanks going to cross in the morning?"

My task, and approach to it, would have been very different if a) I had been given context for the task (Commander's Intent) and b) my objective statement had been written within that context (i.e. "secure the bridge (X) in order to allow the tanks to cross in the morning (Y)."

Since that day I have used this objective statement construct with everything from getting clarity from a CEO around a strategic business issue to working with smaller teams on a very tactical task.  If your objective statement does not ladder up then there is a good chance you are not aligned with the bigger picture.

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