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As a business owner with many things on my plate each day, I often feel overwhelmed and unsure of the best use of my time each day. I find myself asking, “Am I working on the right things?”

For inspiration and ideas on how to approach my planning for 2013, I recently picked up the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. This is one of those books I keep handy because I refer to it again and again. This time I struck absolute gold.

In Made to Stick, the central theme is simplicity finding the core of your message, your plans and your life. The Heath brothers found this powerful insight in the US Army. They noted that in the Army, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Well, in business, no plan survives contact with a business owner’s busy schedule.

You and I spend countless hours planning our work, only to have these plans rendered useless by situations and circumstances that arise each day.

The book describes how the Army adapted its planning process, introducing a concept called Commander’s Intent (CI):

“CI is a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired end-state of an operation.”

“The CI never specifies so much detail that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events. You can lose the ability to execute the original plan, but you never lose the responsibility of executing the intent.”

“Officers arrive at the CI by asking themselves two questions: If we do nothing else during tomorrow’s mission, we must___________________. The single, most important thing that we must do tomorrow is _____________________.”

Just like in the Army, planning is important for business owners, and I teach my clients a project-based approach to meet their goals. It would serve us all well, however, to strip our plan down to its core and develop a “Commander’s Intent” for every initiative we undertake.

This approach makes the objective so clear and focused that you always know what to do, even when your entire day falls apart because your kid is sick or you’re overwhelmed by all the work that could (and needs to) be done.

With CI, there’s no need to provide play-by-play instructions for yourself or your team. Everyone’s behavior will be aligned to the simple, core “Commander’s Intent.”

For my 2013 plan, my revenue strategy is tied to doing a certain number of public speaking events. So I asked myself the two questions from the CI planning process:

If I do nothing else tomorrow, I must___________________.

The single, most important thing that we must do tomorrow is _____________________.

My answer to both questions is the same:


And that, folks, is my “Commander’s Intent.” The simple core of my 2013 plan.

What’s your “Commander’s Intent” for 2013? If you need help finding it, I can help! Contact me today to schedule a 30-minute call. By the end of our time, you’ll have your CI. Are you in?

Jeff Harmon

Jeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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