There is a mnemonic I learned in the military that helped me to remember the five different paragraphs of an operations order, the basis for how the military plans and operates. The mnemonic is “Sergeant Major Eats Sugar Cookies,” which stands for Situation, Mission, Execution, Service Support, and Command and Signal. For a lot of former military professionals, this is something very familiar to anyone who has spent more than a few years in an operational environment and they carry it over into their lives outside of the military community.
Each paragraph covers important details about the plan and expectations for those individuals to whom it is addressed. So, let’s break them down and how having someone with this knowledge can benefit your company.
The situation paragraph covers both enemy and friendly forces, which in the business world represent your company’s competition and your company, respectively. In the enemy category, what is known of their capabilities is discussed, such as what their situation is regarding things like their morale, supply chain, products available, and their placement in the marketplace. It also covers their most and least likely courses of action. The friendly portion talks about your capabilities and the mission(s) of the next higher organization (if applicable), the mission of any adjacent organizations, and what the capabilities are of any supporting elements, such as suppliers, satellite offices, etc.
The mission paragraph is your who, what, when, where, and why of what you are going to be doing. You are laying out to your employees who is going to be responsible for what aspects of the task or “mission.” What they are expected to accomplish and when it needs to be done by. It can also cover where you are focusing your efforts and the reasoning behind this.
The execution paragraph is where you are laying out your intent. The military calls this the commander’s intent. Unlike the mission paragraph, this is a very focused piece pertaining to a specific part of the organization, such as sales, human resources, or recruiting. What part does this specific area of the company need to do to meet the overall mission of the company and what does senior leadership expect of them? You are giving them the concept of the operation, but leaving how they accomplish the task(s) up to the people who will be making things happen.
Service support details any administrative issues the team carrying out the mission may encounter, any things they may need to accomplish the mission, and who is going to be taking care of these requests. It is also an area to lay out what to do if things go sideways, and how that will be handled.
Lastly, the communication paragraph talks about just that, communication. What are the lines of communication to the company leadership, to team leadership, and any relevant stakeholders?
More than likely, all of these paragraphs sound very similar to anyone involved in project management. This is why I talk about former military professionals knowing how to do project management, but maybe not knowing exactly what it looks like in the corporate environment. Whether they realize it or not, they have had to become familiar with operations orders during their time in the military and how they are expected to accomplish tasks or missions. Even if they may not have written an operations order, they have had to work with all of the different paragraphs in some manner because they had a mission their higher headquarters wanted them to do which utilized all five of these paragraphs.
If you noticed, in the execution paragraph, I mentioned that this is where the commander’s intent was given. This is an opportunity for company leadership to simply provide their end state goal to their former military personnel employees and step back to allow them the chance to accomplish the task without micromanagement or a lot of oversight. This can be difficult for leaders and managers who are used to being there for every step of the way, but service members are resourceful, inventive, and not afraid to think outside of the box for ways to get the mission done. I realize this may be contrary to popular perception of how the military operates, but it really is not an organization where there is constant direction from leadership telling people what, when, and how to do something. Quite often we are given the commander’s intent and told to “make it happen.”
When you are developing your military hiring initiatives for your company, it is important that your hiring managers and recruiters consider this when talking to prospective employees from the military community. Asking how a candidate would accomplish a task given just the “commander’s intent” may lead to a whole series of questions that will allow your recruiters and hiring managers to better understand the thought process these individuals bring to the company and how they can be an asset beyond just being a checkmark indicating they were a former military professional. It is a solid step forward in the direction of truly making your company military ready.
If you’d like to see how this could be applied at your company, let’s talk. And in case you’re wondering, chocolate chip cookies are never a bad thing to bring to the Sergeant Major.