Remember these four rules for success – Coordinate, Anticipate, Verify, and Follow-Up. I was introduced to this mental checklist as a young Platoon Leader. My Commander at the time emphasized that if I followed these four rules I could accomplish nearly any task with the least amount of friction. He told me that whenever he looked back on any particular mission failure he could point to how one of these rules had been abandoned or forgotten. Over time, I have found the same to be true.
These rules are not meant to replace troop leading procedures, but they may be a handy checklist for you as you plan. Here you will find some recommended ways to put these rules into practice.
- Consider who the stakeholders are for your task. Who must be notified? What approvals might be required and who grants them? Who may be affected by your team’s actions? More often than not it is better to inform too many than too few. Reach out to your teammates early and often. Also remember to develop a communications plan that outlines how you will share information and updates throughout the mission.
- Understand the sequence of events that must occur for you to carry out your mission. If you do not fully understand what needs to happen first then you will likely spin your wheels and waste a lot of time and energy. Ask your teammates for advice and lean on the experience of your senior NCOs to help you understand what needs to happen when. By doing this you will be able to better visualize a solution.
- Remember coordination takes time. Building consensus and buy-in may require deliberate planning efforts. Those that do not agree may need to be convinced. If you are working in a bureaucracy – remember they do their thing. Build in space to collaborate, resubmit, and follow-up.
- Visualize all the “what if” scenarios. Once you have determined the sequence of events for your particular task you can then analyze how a hiccup during any particular phase may impede your overall success.
- Again leverage your teammate’s expertise to help you anticipate potential problems. If you find the right subject matter experts as you coordinate they can help you determine what risks have the highest likelihood of happening as well as those risks with the greatest impact.
- Develop a detailed branch plan for those risks most likely to occur. Most planners spend too much time worrying about the risks with the highest impact versus the most likely risks with lower impacts.[i] They plan irrationally. In so doing, they do not develop adequate measures to overcome simple challenges. Provide some insurance in the right spots and you can buy down the risks with the highest likelihood of impacting your mission.
- Begin the verification process by making sure you completely understand what needs to be accomplished. If you walk away from a tasking and do not fully comprehend the “what” in the mission statement do not be afraid to ask for clarification.
- Verify that you understand your teammate’s messages and confirm they understand you. It is the responsibility of the transmitter to make sure that his or her message was received.[ii] However, it is worth the time and effort to verify that everyone is on the same sheet of music. Do not just ask for a back-brief – offer your own reinterpretation to your counterparts so they can verify you fully understood key details they wished to convey.
- It is always worth the time and energy to double-check your work. Mistakes will be made. Inspecting key details can save a lot of wasted time, energy, and resources.
- Follow-up but do not micromanage. As much as we would like to believe that those people upon whom we rely for support will not forget our request sometimes it is best to check-in with them. Everyone gets busy. Showing that you care enough to confirm how things are progressing allows you to maintain situational awareness. Situational awareness allows you the breathing space to adjust your plan if necessary.
In order to accomplish tasks involving others you will be rewarded by remembering to Coordinate, Anticipate, Verify, and Follow-Up. Each rule by itself sounds simple, but in practice often requires some deliberate thought and effort. I have found that when I remembered these rules I often had an easier time accomplishing my mission. If you have found the same, or have other recommendations for this forum – please share your thoughts.
Questions for Readers
1) What checklists do you have for mission success?
2) What advise would you offer to young leaders looking to become better coordinators?
3) What hard lessons have you learned from a mission failure?
As always – the views in this piece are mine alone and do not represent the U.S. government, Department of Defense, United States Army, or any other organization with which I have had any association.