Commander's Intent

Crisis Management (Contingency Planning)
Knowledge Center


Michael Norris
Director, United States

Commander's Intent

My son started a new position this week. The first thing covered in orientation by the management team were the Mission, Vision, and Values (MVV) of the organization. One might think that this is a fairly normal routine in an orientation, however because it is an orientation in a public safety organization, a briefing on the MVV carries a much more serious tone. An in-depth understanding of the MVV supports mission accomplishment in times of crisis.

Times of Crisis

COVID-19 with its seemingly long chain of mutating strains, the war in Ukraine, gas and oil prices, social unrest, political turmoil, and a dozen other issues are affecting militaries, public safety agencies, and businesses on a global basis and perhaps more so than ever because of international connectivity where information and finances are almost immediately affected on a worldwide basis.

The Role of Planning

All organizations spend weeks and months planning but wise managers understand that "No plan survives the first contact with the enemy" (attributed to Helmuth von Moltke, 19th century). Therefore, some important questions are:
• How does your team respond to changes in plans?
• Does everyone know what to do in a crisis, or is there confusion, directionless activity, or a lack of moving in any direction?
• Will key people act without be told what to do next?
• Will there be a power struggle when communications with the C-Suite is poor or nonexistent?

The Role of After Action Reviews

Public safety agencies have learned and continue to learn how to answer these questions and overcome these operational hurdles through after action reviews from catastrophe's and disasters like 9/11, Madrid & London bombings, Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Sumatra–Andaman earthquake, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, and a host of others.

Commander's Intent

Companies would also be wise to consider a concept that public safety borrows from the military which is used to operating in the fog of war. This concept, Commander's Intent (CI) allows for organizations to carry out their mission by defining what the successful mission looks like in adverse circumstances especially in chaos, a lack of actionable intelligence, a scarcity of resources, and a now (then) outdated action plan. CI empowers initiative, improvisation, and adaptation by the provision of guiding principles and a painting a picture of what success looks like prior to chaotic, demanding, and dynamic environments.
This "pre-painting" of success consists of teaching key employees to thoroughly understand:
• The organization's mission and their part in it. They will also know their boss' and subordinate's jobs as well.
• Understand the company's vision thoroughly guiding how the mission objectives will be executed and the character of the actions to be taken in carrying out the mission.
• The amount of operational risk that the leader's will tolerate and that the organization can support. This provides knowledge of the degree of latitude people can have in carrying out the mission.

Thereby, in extreme conditions your employees will:
• Know their jobs better
• Do their jobs better
• Work better with each other
• Accomplish the mission safer, more efficiently, and more effectively.

The key component of a successful CI is a trained, confident, and engaged staff that has been provided the leader's intent (his/her philosophy) in writing containing the details of his/her expectations and overall goals and objectives. In this document, the leader provides the foundation on which to build (or update) emergent plans, gather proper resources, and to base all actions, unleashing them to accomplish the organizational goals in the midst of turmoil. The training should consist of several projects, after action reviews of previous incidents, and simulation training of potential situations that will force staff into adapting their activities to meet the overall mission in adverse situations.


Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Commander's Intent

Interesting… I did some research on this concept coming from military environments. Commander's Int... Sign up

Michael Norris
Director, United States

Further Rationale for Commander's Intent

Thanks Jaap for your addition. I thought this would be a valuable crisis management philosophy sinc... Sign up

Management Consultant, United States

Commander's Intent for Delegation

In all my management positions through the years, I have used the Commander's Intent as part of an a... Sign up

Hugh T Broomall
Management Consultant, United States

Commander Defines End State

The Commander defines the end state, you rely on your trained and professionals to identify the mean... Sign up

Peter A.M. Broosus
Management Consultant, Germany

Commander's Intent Submarine Example

I recommend checking this video on YouTube based on David Marquet's talk on Greatness based on his b... Sign up

Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

Intent as Foundation

As described in the opening posting Commander's/Leader's Intention seems to be related primarily to ... Sign up

Michael Norris
Director, United States

USS Santa Fe

@Peter A.M. Broosus: That video is excellent. It is a quick review of Captain Marquet's book "Turn t... Sign up


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Michael Norris

Crisis Management (Contingency Planning)
Knowledge Center

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