Applying M.B.A Management Styles to Company Command
Part 1: Planning, Time Management, and Task Delegation
How to best manage your time as a Commander and empower others
Captain Dan Wagner is an Armor officer currently completing his Masters in Business Administration (M.B.A.) at the University of Colorado Boulder and is specializing in Supply Chain and Operations Management. His previous assignments include Commander “Attack” Troop, 6–1 Cavalry, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) Fort Bliss, Texas. Assistant Operations officer for 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, 1 SBCT Fort Bliss, Texas as well as Assistant Operations Officer, HHC XO, Tank Company XO, and Tank Platoon Leader for 3rd Battalion 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. His military education includes Officer Basic Course, Maneuver Captain’s Career Course (MCCC), and Airborne school. He is a 2007 graduate of the United States Military Academy and majored in Chinese. He is also the author of the blog “MBA Knowledge-Military Process”. He will be attending Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth this July. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Army.
Special credit is due to MAJ(P) Bryan Frizzelle and CPT Brett Hanger for their editorial assistance and ideas on this article.
I took command of Attack Troop, 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment in Fort Bliss, Texas in April 2014. I served as their commander for 16 months until I left for graduate school at the University of Colorado in Boulder as part of the Army’s GRADSO program. For the past two years, I worked on my MBA focusing on Supply Chain and Operations Management. While some might think that the business world and the military are completely different, we actually face many of the same problems. We are both given challenging missions, whether they be training for offensive operations or returning value to stakeholders, and we must motivate and lead employees to achieve these missions. While I studied new topics, I also spent time reflecting on my past service. There are so many moments that I think back and say “If only I knew then what I know now.” In particular, I’d like to discuss the following topics and break them up into two parts:
· Part 1
o Time Management and Task Delegation
· Part 2
o Communicating with your leadership
o Empowering Others
o Communicating with Subordinates
o The Cost of Quality
My goal in this article is to share with you the hard lessons I have learned and the insight I have gained while studying for my MBA, so that those reading this may face less challenges and achieve greater success for their units
In order to lend context to my decisions, one should understand the particular challenges and opportunities I faced as a Commander.
· Six months prior, our Brigade redeployed from Afghanistan and was now focusing on Decisive Operations. Everyone except the most Senior NCOs in the Troop were solely familiar with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the framework that they applied to every training scenario.
· We had an intensive train up cycle from Sep 2014 to Dec 2014 and then again Jan 2015 to NTC in June 2015. While systems in the field improved, systems in garrison began to fail unless we applied a lot of leader attention to them.
· I am a perfectionist to a fault. I have the propensity to over focus, over plan, and overthink. As a Commander, I wanted to focus on everything but tried my best to selectively focus those underneath me.
Despite these challenges there were some unique opportunities for me to practice my leadership and set things in motion the way I wanted them to be
· Within four months of taking command I gained two new Platoon Leaders, a new Executive Officer, and a new First Sergeant.
· We were at Fort Knox for the Summer of 2014 supporting Cadet Summer Training and had a lot of time outside of training cadets to focus on our own basic skills. Because we were away from home station, I could focus more time towards training. When we returned to Fort Bliss I had to more carefully manage training to protect the work-family balance.
There are a few things I am proud of as a Commander that contributed to the success of our unit:
· We created a great leadership team between the XO, 1SG, and Commander. One of us could step away and the organization kept running.
· We had great relationships between the top three and the Platoon Leaders and Platoon Sergeants. Issues, problems, and concerns could be freely discussed out in the open.
· We accomplished a great amount of training and built up a proficiency in Reconnaissance tasks that we had not exercised in several years. From focusing on the basics while spending the summer at Fort Knox to conducting Troop Reconnaissance operations at NTC, our team continually got better.
That being said, there were a few areas that I failed in as a commander
· I did not leverage my position as Commander to have enough dialogues with my bosses.
· I did not enable feedback enough below the platoon leadership level to improve the things that were wrong in my unit from the bottom up.
· Even when delegating and assigning responsibility for projects and tasks, I still wound up with way too much back on my desk that prevented me from spending time observing training.
· I created systems to solve problems instead of improving systems that would outlast my time in Command.
The first thing I can recommend to new Commanders is to develop a “campaign plan.” You know you will be in command for anywhere between 12 to 18 months so why not set in motion what you want to accomplish? Plans rarely remain unchanged, but if you put items on a calendar at least you will accomplish some of them, versus none of them. This long-term plan will allow you to get ahead of events and help you influence things to your advantage. Before starting this, you are going to need to gather up some resources:
· Unit Training Plan (UTP) 2 Levels up (both annual and quarterly)
· DA PAM 350–38 (STRAC)
· AR 350–1 and your post 350–1
· Previous METL Assessment
· Current Platoon Collective Task Assessment
· METL Crosswalk from Company Mission Essential Tasks down to Individual tasks
· Previous Company Mandatory Training Records
Read over all of these documents and become familiar with what they are requiring you to do
Next make a plan to have lunch with all of the Soldiers in your organization. You can generally do this with five or so at a time and knock this out over the course of a month. Though you may be tempted to do this as you are coming into command, as a welcome break away from property inventories, I would advise against this as the questions you ask may inadvertently make Soldiers feel like you are pitting them against their current leadership. Wait to do this till after you have taken command so that the problems you are asking them to help solve are yours, not someone else’s. At these lunches, ask for feedback: what is going well in the organization and what isn’t? This is great to do at the start to get a pulse on the organization and discover what your subordinates want. All too often we get so focused on what higher headquarters wants and needs us to do that we forget about what our Soldiers want and need to accomplish the mission. Create a list of your key takeaways from this to help drive your campaign plan
Once you’ve gathered these resources, grab a sheet of paper and create 12 blocks for next year.
Begin filling out the sheet by putting all the “knowns” in first. These will be things that come from higher UTPs or even your current 8-week Training Plan.
Next, add in Collective Task focused quarters/weeks. Create a Training Event at the end of the Month/Quarter that ties to a Squad or Platoon Level Collective Task. This will help drive Platoon training plans towards these events. Platoon Leadership should be justifying at Training Meetings how their training plans tie into future Squad/ Platoon Training Events.
Next, add in your housekeeping events. These are things that don’t have to do with training but you know you are going to have to budget time for them (i.e. cyclic inventories, FRG meetings, Quarterly counseling, etc.). These activities don’t attract the same leader focus as training events do, so we sometimes tend to plan these at the last minute. Because we don’t hold the same rigor to blocking of time and prioritizing these events as we do to training events, this group of activities tends to get rushed and poorly resourced. Maximize their effectiveness by acknowledging they should be on your calendar ahead of time.
Run down the list of mandatory 350–1 tasks and spread them out on the sheet. Where you can, combine your organization’s mandatory training requirements with higher mandatory training events (i.e. SHARP, EO, etc.). Space these tasks out equally, as doing a block of 350–1 tasks can be mind numbing and ineffective.
Lastly, I would set goals to review the processes in your company. The better your processes are working, the less fires you will have to worry about putting out. Your Division should have inspection check sheets or can point you in the direction of additional installation resources that will help your unit prepare for inspections.
By no means is this map complete, as you can go putting a lot more on here, but this gives you a good start for a solid campaign plan for your time in command. You can then begin placing these into your calendar, assigning responsibilities, and influencing events to ensure you can do the events you want to. You may not be able to get to all these, or make them work to fit into the calendar, but it does give you something to work towards
TIME MANAGEMENT AND TASK DELEGATIONS
In 1999, William Oncken and Donald Wass wrote an article in Harvard Business Review titled “Who’s got the Monkey”. This is a great article about time management and delegation. As a Commander, you are responsible for everything your unit does or fails to do. Though you may delegate tasks to subordinates, problems tend to work their way back to you. I can’t tell you how many times I would assign tasks, and then questions would come back to me. Because I might already have some pet projects going on, and would want to put honest thought into the question my Lieutenants presented, I would tell the person I would get back to them. All too often, these questions piled up in my to do lists. Subordinates might not engage me about the decision again unless it was critical. There they sat dying at my desk. This is an example of what Oncken and Wass called a monkey. Subordinates make their Leaders work for them, by giving monkeys that were assigned to them back to their boss. When a leader has several subordinates he often winds up with more monkeys then he can handle while the monkey’s appropriate caretaker waits for action by the boss.
Oncken and Wass offered the following insight into how to lay out ground rules with subordinates regarding these problems (which I plan to work into every one of my initial counseling statements in the future):
· “At no time while I am helping you with this or any other problem will your problem become my problem. The instant your problem becomes mine, you no longer have a problem. I cannot help a person who hasn’t got a problem”
· “When this meeting is over, the problem will leave this office exactly the way it came — on your back. You may ask my help at any appointed time, and we will make a joint determination of what the next move will be and which of us will make it.”
· “In those rare instances where the next move turns out to be mine, you and I will determine it together. I will not make any move alone.”
Oncken and Wass gave advice on managing Monkeys to make sure they stay off your back. They said they must be fed or shot. If you don’t plan on checking up on these projects every so often, then get rid of them. Otherwise they will just sit idly on someone else’s desk and they really aren’t a concern for you. For every project, plan to deal with them by appointment only. At the company level this might sound somewhat like the actions of a prima donna, but reserving time for a problem allows you to fully focus your attention and also prepare for the discussion. Wass and Oncken recommend that you only plan for 5–15 minutes to “feed” this monkey so that the conversation revolves only on problems that are needed for you to solve. These problems can be addressed in person or by telephone, but should never be addressed over email. Talking over email slows down the dialogue, and doesn’t allow for a proper and timely discussion. Finally, every monkey should have an assigned next feeding time and, “degree of initiative…[else] the monkey will either starve to death or wind up on the manager’s back.” Adding a date for a next meeting or milestone checkup ensures this task continues progressing towards completion.
In the military, leaders often take too much onto their own plate simply because they have not established proper protocol for how the unit as a whole addresses problems and issues. This then results in a troop (conveniently named) of monkeys on the Commander’s desk while the unit’s very talented collection of monkey handlers wait for the Commander to handle their monkeys.
 Oncken, William Jr. and Donald Wass. “Who’s Got the Monkey.” Harvard business Review OnPoint 3928. November-December 1999. Page 4.
 Oncken, William Jr. and Donald Wass. “Who’s Got the Monkey.” Harvard business Review OnPoint 3928. November-December 1999.
Oncken, William Jr. and Donald Wass. “Who’s Got the Monkey.” Harvard business Review OnPoint 3928. November-December 1999.