[September 20, 2017] Back in my early unmarried days, I had the opportunity to take a graduate-level course in Organizational Theory and Practice. I sat in on one of the most intellectually useful academic courses of a lifetime because of the “professor” (a retired U.S. Marine and now a manufacturing CEO) taught us about useful leadership tools. One such item in the leader toolbox was the organizational stand-down.
Our first thought at the time of the topic introduction was “what the heck do we need this for” and yet we were all surprised at the professor’s arguments. In the early 1960s during the early days of the Vietnam War, he was an early advocate of a concept called the “operational pause.” It was a temporary cessation of an identifiable activity to reset a flawed mission set.
His idea was to have a brief stop to how combat missions were being conducted so newer, better tactics could be introduced quickly and uniformly across the battlefield before the enemy could react. It worked for the Marines and the concept was later adopted by all U.S. military services.
Stand-downs, today, are used infrequently but deliberately to reorient teams, small groups, and large organizations to stop, reassess, refocus, and implement new and better ways of effective mission execution. For example, the U.S. Navy recently conducted a 24-hour operational stand-down to review why so many of their ships were involved in accidents at sea.
Reassess is the cornerstone of any stand-down and at the core of identifying problems and solutions. If senior leaders are unable to correctly identify why their organization is not successful then future failures will reoccur. To reassess properly involves a relook at:
- Facts and assumptions
- Mission guidance
- Current resources and evolving leadership tools
- Old and new intelligence (on the enemy or competitor)
- “Training” of new methods, tactics, or processes
The stand-down is a proven tool in the leadership toolbox, used infrequently but necessarily to restore effectiveness in any organization. All leaders at all levels should be familiar with its particulars and be ready to use it.
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