In this series, we’re exploring how the five areas of the United States Army’s “operations order” can be applied to a civilian organizational context to care for and develop the people involved, while also ensuring maximum effectiveness. You can read the introduction and reflections on situationmissionexecution, and logistics.

Perhaps it is fitting that the final paragraph of the classic five-paragraph military Operations Order is Command and Signal (before Safety was added as a sixth), referring to the communications used among various forces, defining the people involved and any hierarchy, schedules for contact, call signs, radio frequencies, and methods of collecting and disseminating information. A small company and a large army are not so different from a family; communications are perhaps the most critical—and sometimes difficult—piece of making any group of people or mission work. Thorough and regular communications are necessary not only for organizational effectiveness but also to keep leaders connected with their people at all levels, permitting rapid response to changing conditions (the flexibility discussed under the earlier column on Commander’s Intent).  It also allows a leader to fulfill her most important mission: care of her people.

The root of the word communication is “mun,” related to munificent, community, and meaning. This etymology serves as a reminder that any communication begins with the command climate. From that environment, establishing communications protocols within civilian organizations is far reaching and challenging. It might include editorial schedules for newsletters and calendars, standards for ensuring brand consistency (font, emblem, and email signatures used in office communications), protocols for conferences and meetings, and clear delineation of responsibility and reporting.

Communications must consider the full breadth of internal and external constituents of an organization, too: buzzers for parents of nursery aged children, a phone tree with instructions for emergencies, and plans to set up and manage IT infrastructure with considerations of software requirements. Some of this will not feel very sexy, or even important. But protocols allow people to develop expectations and to feel comfortable within an organization as both sender and receiver of communications, and from that place of comfort, to develop in relationship.

The formal procedures and technologies put in place are only part of the equation. The informal networks and communications are arguably even more powerful.

When I took my first flight platoon as a new lieutenant, my first crisis of leadership connected to my failure in communications. I’d assumed the role full of ideas but in my enthusiasm hadn’t listened to the people who already knew how things worked. I didn’t listen to who they were, or what they needed to do their jobs and feel validated. This is a different kind of communications than an operations order details, but it might be the most important.

And as in any relationship, communication must go in both (or all) directions. 85 Broads, a global women’s business network, was founded with the understanding that learning does not always happen top down—that there is as much for experienced managers to learn from hearing stories and information from junior employees as there might be with senior employees sharing experience with those newer to an organization.

As a commander, I held regular pulse meetings with different groups within my company, and later in the corporate world I did the same. The most important praise I ever received was a hand-written note from my commander about work I’d done, and a personal pat on the back after a successful operation; I tried to remember this when I was in charge. It was in the act of noticing, of paying attention and taking time to be present, that I began to know the people working for me and what it was they needed.

This knowledge optimizes operations as well as flexibility with the omnipresent reminder, “mission first, people always.” With communications as the concluding paragraph of the military operations order, leaders take note that all good work comes from a communion of people working together as one body.


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