Agility in the face of unexpected adversity has helped make the UK Royal Marines one of the world’s most successful fighting forces—and it’s a skill that business leaders would do well to emulate. Recent events, ranging from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to volcanic eruptions in Iceland to the global banking crisis, underline how vulnerable companies are to unexpected shocks. Yet for all that volatility, many corporations treat the world as a predictable place and view strategic decision making as the domain of a privileged few at the top.
For the Royal Marines, planning a mission is about more than just proposing a sequence of actions and allocating resources. It is also about shaping strategic thinking, developing a shared understanding of the necessary outcomes for success, and figuring out how to transform the current state into the desired state while allowing for improvisation on the ground. The act of planning matters more than the plan itself.
To accomplish all that, the Royal Marines use a relatively simple, widely applied military planning technique called the Seven Questions. All Marines—from the generals leading thousands of troops to the corporals leading sections of eight to 10 men—are trained in it and employ it, which means they all approach and analyze their missions in the same way. They develop a working understanding of the situation and their mission by answering the first three of the seven questions, and then they draw up a plan by answering the remaining four. Planners revisit the questions as events unfold, to see if they need to change or even abort the mission. Here’s more about the Seven Questions from the Harvard Business Review.