While on holiday I was reading a book called “Gone for Soldiers by Jeff Shaara and was immediately struck by the simplicity of how a battle strategy was communicated. The book is set 13 years before the US Civil War, with America fighting Mexico over land. The commanding general was Major General Winfield Scott who as you can imagine, had to communicate very clearly to other generals and officers what was required to meet their objective as they fought their way to Mexico City.
Now I am not criticising Mr Sahaara writing but when you compare the several pages of well written paragraphs describing what their strategy is going to be and then you see it on one page as a picture, it all becomes so much clearer and easier to understand. Not being a military person myself, when there is a flanking move within the strategy, a “strategy map” which shows exactly what is needed to be completed, by whom and where helps to communicate it in such a simple way.
Creating the Strategy
Another aspect that was very interesting was the co creation of the strategy. Meeting together in Winfields tent (a bit like a workshop) to brain storm and share ideas is something that not all people in business do. Amazingly officers would turn up prepared with detailed information based on research (reconnaissance) so that informed decisions could be made. When a decision could not be made army “engineers” were sent out to research and report back so a decision could be made. By simply drawing the strategic battle plan out in the sand and finally onto a piece of paper meant that everyone had an input into the strategy and could understand how the strategy was going to be executed. The visual representation of the strategy was very helpful for some of the soldiers, who may not have been able to read as well as their officers had it been just written down.
Communicating Your Strategy using Strategy Maps
Now if a military commander with very limited communication technology (dispatch rider and paper), working in very harsh conditions, thousands of miles away from home, dealing with all of the people issues both military as well as political, including the responsibility of thousands of men lives and winning the campaign, meant that the strategy had to be communicated simply if it was to be executed correctly.
I can remember as a newly promoted Operations Director having to create my business unit strategy. I did it by myself, wrote pages of content, did not get up to date and current information (not enough time as I was doing it by myself) and as a consequence felt unsure about my strategy. This was confirmed to me when I had a pre meeting with my Managing Director and was asked to present my strategy in 10 minutes. I failed dismally! That is when I learnt about strategy maps. Being able to visually represent your strategy on one page of paper is a challenge but it does enable you to communicate it in 10 minutes or less.
That was a great (albeit slightly painful) lesson for me but I soon learnt that being able to communicate your strategy simply is not easy to do when it is reams of pages. However, following the process as used by Major General Winfield Scott means you can develop a strategy that has been jointly created and more importantly you can communicate your strategy to your “army” in a simple and visual way.