Commander’s Intent: How to grow in the face of disruption

Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

No matter what business you are in, your plan will never go 100% according to plan. While you can’t control external forces, you can help increase the odds you achieve your goals. Here’s how. 

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Listen to the Commander’s Intent Podcast:

Commander’s Intent: The simple template

The military has a term called “Commander’s Intent.” It’s a simple concept that uses this template:

“If we do nothing else in the next XX days/weeks/months, we must _________.”

It clearly states what the desired outcome state and date is, acknowledging that the plans will change when you encounter the enemy. While it’s a military term, no sales strategy stays perfectly intact when you are face-to-face with a customer. No performance review goes exactly as planned. The list of disruptions goes on and on. 

How to use Commander’s Intent to help your team get and stay focused

As you can imagine, every step in the military is painstakingly planned. But the President’s orders, as Commander In Chief, are relatively straightforward. The President’s orders get passed down until it reaches the commanding officer. The commanding officer of a smaller unit still uses a commander’s intent to simplify the mission. It’s not about “dumbing down” the concept, it’s about focusing on the outcomes and helping guide the decisions made to get to the outcomes. 

Commander’s Intent empowers team members to still achieve the outcomes without needing to be micromanaged. HBR said, “Commander’s Intent is vital in chaotic, demanding, and dynamic environments.” Does that sound anything like 2020?

Create Your Commander’s Intent Now

I’d challenge you to put 30 mins on your calendar in the next week and dedicate yourself to finishing your commander’s intent:

If we do nothing else in the next 3 months, we must ____________.

I’ve seen the “we must…” range from “Increase sales predictability by 30%” to “Raise a Series B” to “Find the right People (HR) leader” to “Retain 100% of our customers.”

You tend to attract what you focus on. Think about something in your life, a relationship, a career move, a car you really wanted, etc. You probably achieved your goal or you realized in the pursuit of that goal that it was the wrong thing and reshaped your goal. Commander’s intent taps into the same part of the brain and achievement. 

You’ve created your Commander’s Intent, now what?

I’d encourage you to share it with your team. Have them poke holes in it. But use it as a chance to start the conversation. The first temptation is to make the Commander’s Intent more than 1 thing, but try and make it as simple as possible. 

It’s what helps drives clarity. It’s your number 1 job as a CEO. When you provide Clarity AND something like a Commander’s Intent, it helps drive informed decisions. 

Commander's Intent: Part of the Velocity Vector
Commander’s Intent is part of how you can make informed decisions.

I strongly encourage you to make it something simple and something measurable. EVERYONE in your organization should know what it is, why it matters, and how they impact it. 

Remember, you are either providing clarity or propagating confusion.

I am not talking about being able to simply recite it like a parrot. If everyone cannot answer what it is, why it matters and how they impact it, there is more confusion in the system than is necessary.

Think about an orchestra. If they do not know what song to play, they do not know why they are in third chair vs. first chair and how they contribute: the chances of actually making beautiful music is highly unlikely. 

The same is true in your business.

Commander’s Intent In Action – What does it really look like

I had one CEO that was setting up his company for a future fundraising round. The most important thing for that year was to get to $500m in revenue. The commander’s intent was pretty simple, “If we do nothing else this year, we must get to $500m in revenue.” They went on to further define the commander’s intent quarterly to drive even greater clarity and certainty.

If we do nothing else this year, we must get to $500m in revenue.

He, of course, followed up the intent with some of the particulars around it. However, he acknowledged that the business was going to have to sub-optimize in some areas to reach this goal. But every executive team meeting was focused on progress to reach the goal. Every all-hands talked about that goal. And you know what happened? They reached it.

While the goal won’t be reached 100% of the time, it will drastically increase your odds. 

Was this framework helpful? If so, make sure to get all of my Velocity Vector Resources here. I’ll even send you a copy of the Velocity Vector eBook when it’s completed if you sign up now.


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