Our agility as an organization is being tested these days like never before, at every phase of the economic cycle – on the way into a recession, as we find bottom during a recession, on the way out of a recession and in the next phase of growth . Our emergence from recession, no matter how gradually and progressively it happens, will test our agility once again, at least if we want to exploit the opportunity to ratchet our business to the next level at the expense of our competitors. Are you ready, willing and able?
Fighter pilots implicitly understand this, as they are trained on something called the OODA Loop:
The Fighter Pilot’s OODA Loop
- Observe: Observing what’s going on around us, using all the senses, to be sustain our situational awareness.
- Orient: Interpreting what we are observing – what just happened, what’s happening now and, most importantly, what’s likely to happen next.
- Decide: in that context, deciding what we our options are and what we are going to do.
- Act: acting on those decisions.
And so on, around and around – in rapidly changing circumstances the OODA Loop persists endlessly. We invest so heavily in the experiential training of our fighter pilots, so that they can progressively shrink their OODA Loop to operate inside their adversary’s OODA Loop. When heading into a dogfight, which might last as little as 40 seconds, the pilot with the smaller OODA Loop can go around theirs faster and, as a result, is more likely to get on the other pilot’s tail first. This theory and model was developed by John R. Boyd, as reported in the May 31st 2002 Fast Company article entitled, "The Strategy of the Fighter Pilot" and see video in the "Materials" section below.
In his article, "The Strategy of the Fighter Pilot" (Fast Company Magazine, may 31st 2002) Keith Hammonds goes on to say, "Business is a dogfight. Your job as a leader: outmaneuver the competition, respond decisively to fast changing conditions , and defeat your rivals. Agility is the essence of strategy in war and in business. Connect vibrant OODA loops that are operating concurrently at several levels. Workers close to the action stick to tactical loops, and their supervisors travel in operational loops, while leaders navigate much broader strategic and political loops. The loops inform each other. If everything is clicking, feedback from the tactical loops will guide decisions at higher loops and vice versa”.
Our organizational OODA Loop is made up of component OODA Loops, each of which is informing the other and each of which is a constant process of feed-forward and feed-back.
So, what have you done lately to massively shrink your organizational OODA Loop, to be operating inside your adversary’s OODA loop? That's the question I love to challenge managers, executives and CEOs with. Normally, in response, I get blank stares!
Amongst many other things, the number one the number one proven technique I recommend: Hold a Morning Meeting (or Daily Huddle at some other time of day if that works better):
- This is a daily, rapid-fire, communication, collaboration and coordination meeting of your top team, for up to 30 minutes maximum, triaging what’s-hot and what’s-not and closing the loop on open-items from prior days. Given the speed of business, the pace of change and the uncertainty, turbulence and volatility of things these days, managing our attention span has become much more like an ongoing, dynamic process of triage (triage: the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors; the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care. Source: Wikipedia)
- Fighter pilots pre-brief and de-brief every mission. A morning meeting is your opportunity to debrief yesterday’s mission and pre-brief today’s mission, for winning the daily dogfight.
- In his book, Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni recommends a daily check-in. He breaks the myth of “too many meetings”, asserting that good meetings are not time-consumers but are time-savers.
- A recent business-week article reported that Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford, holds daily meetings of his global team. "When Mulally first instituted the weekly Business Plan Review system, it was viewed not only as a pain in the neck but also like playing poker with all you cards showing. In November  Mulally decided that the dire business conditions, and Ford’s new ability to react to rapidly changing circumstances, warranted daily meetings with the global team. Insiders say these led Ford to strike a new deal with the union or retiree health care before GM and Chrysler, and helped it price discounts and boost market share four months in a row". BusinessWeek Magazine (Ford’s Savior, March 16th, 2009). That’s the CEO of a $100+Bn corporation, holding a daily meeting of his global team, which has helped Ford weather the storm better than GM and Chrysler.
- In his book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Verne Harnish recommends that every employee be in some kind of daily huddle. He goes further and asserts that there should be a cascade of daily huddles, from senior management to frontline or vice versa. That’s about having vibrant OODA loops at every level, with each informing the other.