) -- Trying to develop strategy in public is a recipe for failure.
In the military we employ what is called "open planning," which stands in sharp contrast to the way most businesses plan.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of Central Command, needed a plan. Unfortunately, the existing database of battle plans did not include one that involved removing an invading force from another country. This was a unique and new challenge.
He turned to Col. John A. Warden, a decorated Vietnam fighter pilot, to produce a plan in 48 hours. Good luck.
Warden took over a large room in the basement of the Pentagon and formed a planning team called "Checkmate." The team consisted of experts from each element that would be required to execute the mission successfully.
Experts from intelligence to infrastructure were teamed with the war fighters. Starting with the future picture, removing Iraqi forces from Kuwait, Warden and his team mapped out the battle space as a system and developed a plan to target Iraqi "centers of gravity," or those areas that were critical in holding Iraq together.
For example, the plan called for knocking out the electrical grid to diminish the fighting ability of the Iraqi combatants by making it difficult for them to see. Instead of employing a large number of aircraft going after multiple targets as we had done in previous wars, the plan called for using a couple of stealth aircraft with smart bombs to pinpoint critical electrical components.
In my experience, many businesses conduct their strategy sessions behind closed doors. Strategy development is usually open to an elite few, executives or partners who then cast it down from on high for all to execute. And it often fails.
Open planning produces better results because it calls for people with experience executing on the front lines. It also fosters buy-in: Instead of employees shaking their heads and saying, "I have no idea why we're doing this," open planning creates agents who can provide clarity and pull others along. With open planning you'll have employees who can say, "I was involved in the planning and here's why we're doing this and how."
A good rule of thumb is to have "three leadership levels deep" in the open-planning session. It makes no sense to have the guy running the mailroom involved in the development of corporate strategy, although in many companies, he might be the smartest guy.
Why do I bring up this topic today? The very public discussion over the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is turning into a clown car. In May, President Obama ordered the "no band change of command" of Gen. David McKiernan, replacing him with Special Forces Gen. Stanley McCrystal. The president wanted a change in strategy and McCrystal's experience fit the bill. The new commander developed a plan to employ more special forces and surgical strikes to avoid collateral damage and Afghani civilian deaths. Three months later it appears the president is abandoning this strategy, in a very public way.
Gen. McCrystal's secret request for more troops was leaked to the media, for obvious reasons. The military was told three months ago to execute a strategy, and now the commander in chief is softening his support, also for obvious reasons. The military doesn't want to be blamed for a failure in Afghanistan when they're saying they can win, if they get the resources they need. But the president is using up valuable political capital with the anti-war left on his health care plan.
Congress is entering the debate, calling for McCrystal to testify about his request, just as Gen. Petraeus did with his request for a surge in Iraq. The military has been hearing for years from some that Afghanistan was the "right war" while Iraq was not. Now the military is hearing, in a public way, that this is changing.
Firing line: The president could use an open-planning session with the people that are actually executing the mission, instead of listening to a select few insiders with sociology degrees, or battling his hand-picked general in the media. A very public debate over strategy will result in a flawed plan, an especially bad outcome when lives are at risk.
-- Written by Buckley in Chicago
Matthew "Whiz" Buckley is the Managing Partner of
, a business-consulting firm specializing in leadership development, risk management, and strategic planning for Fortune 500 companies and related organizations. Whiz flew the F-18 Hornet for the U.S. Navy. He's a graduate of TOPGUN, has close to 400 carrier landings, and flew 44 combat sorties over Iraq. He transitioned to the business world after he was scheduled to fly his first flight as an airline pilot on 9/11. Instead, he ended up flying combat air patrol over the U.S. He rose rapidly though corporate America, starting as Managing Director of Strategy at a Wall Street firm, to CEO of a financial media company. He is an internationally recognized speaker and combined his unprecedented experiences in the military and corporate America in the writing of From Sea Level to C Level.