Small Wars Journal

Time is Everything

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 1:38pm

Time is Everything

George Fust

Leaders and subordinates alike are often told that mission accomplishment is paramount. Work hard. Do your best. Win. These overused and under explained clichés leave the recipient with greater doubt and less understanding than before he was given “guidance.” While a long laundry list of techniques is helpful and can frame expectations, they too are limited and generally only apply at that moment for that duty position. More seasoned leaders have adopted the philosophy approach. They give subordinates a simplified list of words or phrases they can use to tackle problem sets or friction points within the organization. If done correctly, there is great merit in this approach. If done with less thoroughness (as is often the case) the result is the same as saying “achieve excellence in all things.” Again, vague and ambiguous. The future leaders of our organization deserve more perspicuity from their mentors. The argument I propose has been tested over the last several years in various environments with a diverse selection of subordinates. While I cannot speak to its application at a level higher than the Company grade, there is the potential for success. The approach is straightforward: a single word (which exemplifies the philosophy) with three subcategories to guide the user. The guiding principle that can best reform or take an organization to the next level is efficiency. The subcategories include organization, attention to detail, and situational awareness. This simple approach helps shape a person’s character and work ethic over the long term, it can be applied to any organization, and it allows maximum flexibility of action.

How does one become more efficient? The quickest method is to get organized. The concept is embedded within our institution in both the written form (doctrine) and in a less official capacity (unit standing operating procedures). The definition of organization I am referring to is synonymous with systematize. It is the idea that all things can be arranged for quick access and in a logical order. Database management, Standing operating procedure binders, administrative files, labelling, index tabs, file folders, and the like all contribute to essential organization. Becoming organized is not only necessary, it is essential. In today’s high paced and constantly evolving world an institution that is not organized will fail. High personnel turnover and the potential for relocation only add more credence to implement a logical system of reference. A properly organized unit (at any level) will have the ability to quickly prioritize tasks, resource them, and adequately address the balancing act of competing demands. If the concept of time is understood to be of limited availability and the only resource we cannot regenerate, then saving an extra two minutes looking for a particular file becomes a critical value added. Efficiency gained through organization cannot be understated and should be the first step any leader takes upon assuming control.

Organization, while important, is only one part of maximizing a unit’s efficiency. Accuracy gained through attention to detail is equally important and the two steps build on each other. Merely having a system is not enough. If the data input is incorrect, then the output will be equally wrong. An organization that strives to place attention on accuracy at all levels will not only build its reputation but over time will increase its proficiency. A misplaced comma or additional space before a period appear as absolute minutia of mistakes but when overlooked in a published product, they can distract the audience and reduce understanding. Again, efficiency is the end state. A product that is free of mistakes both in content and grammar is more quickly digested. Leaders must reinforce the notion of attention to detail constantly. In time this basic principle will become a part of the organization and the benefits cannot be overstated. Accuracy through attention is a central tenet of basic warfighting skills such as weapons handling, indirect fire missions, and all other lethal actions. Why not incorporate this concept across the spectrum of operations? A file system free of misspelled names does not have the same consequence as an overlooked sector sketch but it does contribute to a climate of efficiency and confidence. Professionals understand that no detail is too small and when accuracy is applied in all things the resulting time gained can be applied towards higher priority objectives.

The ability to accurately prioritize specified and implied tasks is determined by the third and final step towards maximizing the efficiency of a unit, situational awareness. This final philosophy transcends administrative functions and can apply to both personal and professional environments. By knowing one’s surroundings and understanding subtle changes in the Commander’s intent, one can better forecast the needs of the organization. This skill can minimize the time spent conducting synchronization meetings and building conditions check products. Situational awareness helps identify the customer’s needs at a faster rate than normal allowing maximum time to be spent answering those needs. The further ability to understand the boundaries of a command climate will reduce friction caused by misunderstanding. By instilling the value of knowing an environment to subordinates, a leader can reduce his burden of over engagement which enhances disciplined initiative and allows additional time to focus on leading. Situational awareness at all levels maintains a common operating picture which is critical to managing time and improving efficiency.

The notion of efficiency is applied by any successful athlete with time determining success or failure. The principle is sound and the philosophy can (and should be) applied beyond the track to any organization that wants to maximize output while allowing for room to surge if necessary. Efficiency achieved through organization, attention to detail, and situational awareness allows the same functions to occur at a faster rate. This increases available time. Time is the one commodity that we can never get back. How it is utilized will determine the future. Maximizing its use through efficiency establishes systems that build on each and continually refines a unit which will allow it to perform at that next level. By offering subordinates a clear plan of action and methods to achieve it, a leader eliminates ambiguity. Mutual understanding of a desired goal allows for the completion of that goal. In any organization where mission accomplishment is paramount, it helps to have a method to understand the mission, capture the small details, and the ability to prioritize. Efficiency allows for all three.



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Thu, 02/20/2014 - 6:32pm

How would you, George, stop the inefficiencies of your XO’s absence in the CP and his gross misuse of Class V? Would it be with better attention to detail or more organization? What if his folders are all tabbed already? What if his situational awareness to the commander’s subtle changes in intent, alternately stated as being a sycophant, is so finely tuned the commander is blind to that inefficiency?