Kinetic Capability

What can we learn from the military approach to managing a crisis?

The military has honed 5 key crisis-management principles that are highly relevant to our clients:

1Mission Command:Based on hard experience that “planning is good and plans are useless”, the military obsesses on ensuring that each individual is crystal clear on the objective, why it is important and their role in realising it. This is because the assumption is that the changing situation will make the plan irrelevant whilst the simple mission statement provides a consistent “North Star”. 

The key lesson for many businesses is to avoid the temptation to be over-detailed in giving directions that are likely outdated before they are even shared: a worst case example is seeing a simple 1-page strategy cascaded into more than 30,000 actions by the time it got to the shop floor. 
2Clear the net:The net, in this context, is the communication network.
The military understands that in the highest level of crisis, any communication that is not extremely concise and value added is distracting, dangerous and confusing to the frontline. Unfortunately, the temptation for all of us in panic is to dive in, offer our opinion and share “helpful information”.

Think of all the noise that we see in the news and social media right now, think of how much we might be sharing and then ask yourself how much of that is cutting through the crisis instead of fuelling it.
3Economy of effort:When a soldier goes on operations, they could be required to operate for 6 or even 12 months at the highest level of preparedness, 24/7. This awareness creates a different level of meaning for the cliché that we are “in a marathon not a sprint”.

It is why the most successful leaders in crisis conserve their energy and resource for when it is really needed and have the ability to turn it on immediately; and off again as soon as it is no longer required.

Conversely, at the moment, a lot of energy is being wasted in knee-jerk reactions and ultimately useless imitation of other’s actions: think of toilet roll purchasing.

The reality is that Coronavirus is not an incident to manage, it is a longer-term change of context: a context that demands endurance, positive spirit and a precise understanding of when and how to act decisively. With that marathon mindset, any faster resolution than we currently expect will be an unexpected relief for all of us.
4Decide 40/70:In preparing for situations where bad choices can immediately cost lives, military leaders are taught that making a decision with less than 40% of the data is an unethical gamble. Equally, though, they also know that waiting for more than 70% of the data also constitutes unacceptable risk against a fast-moving enemy.

This thinking is not yet present in many businesses. They can start with acceptance that data-driven certainty is increasingly rare in a permanently changed and volatile world.
5Lead with (tough) love:A decorated veteran once wrote that “Sound leadership, like true love to which I suspect it is closely related, is all powerful. It can overcome the seemingly impossible and its effect on both leader and led is profound and lasting”. Simply, no-one will willingly take potentially dangerous orders from a leader that they do not absolutely trust and respect.

Those same words are too often given lip-service in the corporate world: “Trust & respect” are still too often operating principles on the wall but not in action.

This gets exposed instantly in crisis: leaders need to have an honest self-assessment of themselves and their teams in order to literally earn the right to lead tomorrow.