Having no fear for the outcome of 1000 battles

“Know thy Enemy, and know thy self, and you need not fear the outcome of 1000 battles.” Sun Tzu places a high value on this knowledge. Today I want to focus on the ‘know thyself’ bit. For those unfamiliar with The Art of War, you can find an approachable summary here. Additionally there is a free audio book here. The General corresponds to the CEO or the director of a department. And it is from these men/women that a company’s vision is derived. The trouble is the army does not know itself. The modern soldier corresponds to the employee. If you ask an employee what they do to contribute to the corporate goal, and often they cannot answer. The vision is not well translated to the soldiers.

The ideal situation allows the employee to dictate the connection of their action to the goal of the company. I have found at least one such example in an interview with a SpaceX employee, found here.

“The mission of SpaceX is to colonize Mars. In order to colonize Mars, we need to build reusable rockets because it will otherwise be unaffordable for humans to travel to Mars and back. My job is to help design the steering system that enables our rockets to land back on earth. You’ll know if I’ve succeeded if our rockets land on our platform in the Atlantic after launch.”

This statement is a Mission-To-Metrics statement. And you can clearly see that the interviewed employee understand how their actions fit into the larger puzzle. Yet these powerful statements are often missing.

Even in an article on the ‘Curse of Smart People’, the effects of a missing Mission-To-Metric statements appear. The author shows that very clever tend to rationalize the changes in priorities to the ‘capriciousness’ of management. This demoralizing fog can permeate an organization, robbing it of its initiative and its productivity.

This problem boils down to a communication break between the General, and the soldier. Thankfully there is a layer between them perfectly placed to help end the break. The commander of manager stands in the gap between the soldier and the general. In this position, the manager is aware of the priorities of the General. They can also see the potential actions and outcomes of the soldiers. With this knowledge, the Manager can translation of a Mission into actual Metrics.

But this process can not be one-sided. Indeed, the Employee should work with their manager to develop this statement. By collaboration the statement is both meaningful and aligned with the companies goals. Further, should an employee notice the ‘demoralizing fog’, they ought take the initiative. The work on a Mission-To-Metrics statement does not need to start with the manager.

So no matter what your level is, you can do something to contribute to the solution. To dispel the ‘demoralizing fog’, you need a clear statement. The statement needs to be approachable by the soldier, connecting actions to the goal. And with this statement in hand the army can know itself. With that knowledge, and a galvanized sense of purpose, you need not fear the outcome of 1000 battles.


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