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Mission management is superior to command structure

Last week I described how command structure doesn’t work very well, and that it arises in a culture that demands obedience and blind execution of given orders.

This is the way that demagogues, in countries, companies or other organisations, need to ensure that they themselves are in control. Because what if someone were to think for themselves. It could end at any moment and control is lost.

What is certain is that command structure does not lead to long-term and sustainable success. If you want to seek success instead, then you should embrace the concept of mission management. In the Armed Forces, they talk about mission tactics, which is the same thing.

I am starting from the military here because I am also an officer in the Armed Forces. As well as the fact that things are now being played out before our eyes with the war in Ukraine.

What is mission management?

This means that the person in charge focuses on the whole and, depending on the situation, gives different tasks to different parts of the business to achieve certain goals.

Militarily, to fall back now to the war in Ukraine, the order may be “hold Kiev”. Then the commander on the spot gets to solve the task as he sees fit, and in turn gives down missions to different parts of the defence of the city. There, solving the task in turn takes place according to one’s own mind.

In a command structure, it is the top management, perhaps sometimes just one person – the dictator – who thinks and decides, and then gives orders. In mission management, everyone in the organisation thinks about how to solve the task. It’s just that you think on different levels and with different focus, but still in sync.

For mission management to succeed, you need a culture that makes it possible. The culture must be non-dictatorial, inviting the opinions, critical thoughts, suggestions and discussions of others.

Culture must be open to different points of view and also forgiving in nature. You have to encourage initiative, even if it turns out to be wrong sometimes.

For mistakes, it’s something you can learn from and then ensure you don’t do them again. You are not punished but expected to learn and do better. This is a very heavy part of LEAN and is the reason for its success.

Are mistakes allowed in your organisation, and do you learn from these mistakes?

So how does mission management work?

Firstly, as a leader, it means being clear about WHY we are doing something and then giving clear GOALS for WHAT to achieve.

This WHY and detailed GOALS on WHAT are not those that the “great leader” has decided, but even this has been developed by a wise leader through commitment from the organisation.

Then, the mission is given to the group. So the group has a common understanding of WHY and they have got WHAT to achieve, but not HOW. You’ll have to work that out for yourself. To support the joint creation of HOW for a variety of WHATs, in addition to the culture mentioned, a good and relevant competence is needed.

This is where it is so important that we have a good drive in business development. Only a business that is constantly improving will ensure that it is constantly getting better. This is necessary in order to constantly respond to the changes taking place in the world around us.

This means that we have a structure for measuring and following up, and constantly working to do things better tomorrow than we do today.

What we do know is that things are always happening and the world is constantly changing. We have to adapt all the time. In the military context, it is said that no plane survives first contact with the enemy. This means that each entity must be able to adapt itself based on the overall WHY and WHAT.

In the Armed Forces we talk about the fact that the group must always be able to solve the task itself, regardless of the situation, according to the given Decision In Large (BIS).

Continuous improvement processes

Back to civilian life. To give us a structure, we design processes over how we create value in our business. As I have written before, our processes are a living material. To link to the continuous improvement work above, it is our processes that we are constantly improving.

The second is that we design our processes together. It is not the “great leader” who has designed our way of working and then demands obedience in its implementation. Because then we are back to the command structure.

No, we know WHAT we want to achieve and then design our processes to meet that need. Then we work to the processes we’ve designed, making continuous improvements to ensure we achieve our goals.

Process Manager

Each process is managed by the process manager. He or she is responsible for ensuring that, with the help of the process team, the process is constantly developed to make it even better.

For this to succeed, you need to set targets for the process and then measure them continuously. You need to follow up and make improvements. Here we return to making mistakes. Because if we make a change that doesn’t turn out to be an improvement, we correct it again and make it better.

We are constantly learning, which is what we call a learning organisation.

To compare again between mission command and command structure, the above is not done well enough in the command structure. Because no one dares to say that there is anything wrong.

And if it is clearly wrong, then we must find the cause of the error, which is always an individual who has to take the blame for what has happened. Because there can never be a fault in the system, because that would indirectly criticize the “great leader”.

Examples of this can be seen in the Chernobyl accident, where it was found out who was at fault, but not that there was anything wrong with the Soviet system, the nuclear programme or the culture.

Do the job when the job needs to be done

Now it may seem that mission management means that we should always be discussing and debating things. It’s not like that at all.

In a war situation, it is important to solve the task there and then. It is not possible to stop during combat and have a democratic discussion about who should do what and how we should fire back at the enemy. Then it wants to solve the task.

It is important that the process, or as it is also called SOP (Standard Operating Procedures), has been practiced and is in the backbone. The time for discussion is not when the gun goes off, but before. Then together we have developed the ways we will fight. Then we fight, and evaluate afterwards to learn. Then it’s open for discussion again.

The same is true in civilian life and in your processes. You have workshops where you design the processes and create the conditions. Then, when it “pops”, you work according to the processes, and then, maybe at the end of the week, you follow up and learn. All to then correct and do better next week or the week after.

That is;

  • Planning, building and discussing have their time.
  • Implementation takes time
  • Then evaluation and correction have their time.

Here we have the classic PDCA wheel; Plan-Do-Check-Act, which is the mother of all processes.

Next steps

In fact, there is something that works even better than traditional mission management. It’s the next version, let’s call it Mission Management 2.0. In addition to a learning organisation, it includes fully autonomous teams.

I return to the Armed Forces, where they have had a concept called NBF. It stands for Networked Defence and I was going to tell you more about it in next week’s newsletter. This is where we get into how we in the civilian world can learn from these ideas, and where we actually have every opportunity in the world to be way ahead of the military.

Finally, what rating would you give your organization in terms of being a command structure versus living by mission management. Give yourself a grade where 1 is all command structure and 10 is all mission management. Please send back with a short explanation. Looking forward to your contact as usual.

Until then, have a nice week.