When Former U.S. Secretary of State and retired four-star General Colin Powell died on October 18, multiple obituaries and retrospectives of his storied career reminded us all of his contributions to decision-making about the use of military force. The Powell Doctrine (a name devised by the U.S. news media) provides eight questions that must be answered in the affirmative as prerequisites for deploying military forces.
The Powell Doctrine is certainly a useful guide but it is not one that many people will ever need. Still, I looked into it and found that it was based, in part, on another work known as Weinberger's Six Tests (also known as the Weinberger Doctrine). [Weinberger 1984] This framework is due to former U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who devised it while he was secretary. Gen. Powell was, at the time, Weinberger's senior military advisor. Weinberger's Six Tests address aspects of the same question addressed by the Powell Doctrine: Under what conditions should the United States commit military forces?
One One of the more difficult decisions
organizations must make is
how to answer the question,
"Should we do this?"of the more difficult decisions organizations must make is how to answer the question, "Should we do this?" That is a decision about whether and when to undertake a costly new initiative. Examining both the Powell Doctrine and Weinberger's Six Tests, I found that only minor adjustments were needed to make them applicable to important organizational decisions. I've made those adjustments to Weinberger's Six Tests, and the result is below.
Before you read them, select a project or organizational initiative that you know well. As you read each test, ask the question, "Would that project or initiative have passed this test?"
- 1. The initiative is vital to our interests or the interests of our strategic partners
- The organization should not commit resources to any initiative unless it is deemed vital to organizational interests or to the interests of our strategic partners. That emphatically does not mean that we should declare beforehand that a particular market is outside our strategic perimeter.
- 2. Our commitment of resources is wholehearted, with a clear intention to succeed
- Second, if we decide it's necessary to commit resources to a given initiative, we should do so wholeheartedly, and with the clear intention of succeeding. If we are unwilling to commit the resources necessary to achieve our objectives, we should not commit them at all. Of course if the particular situation requires only limited resources to achieve our objectives, then we should not hesitate to commit resources scaled accordingly.
- 3. Clear definition of market and capability objectives
- Third, if we do decide to commit resources to an initiative, we should have clearly defined market and capability objectives. And we should know precisely how our resources can accomplish those clearly defined objectives. And we should make available the resources needed to do just that. As Clausewitz wrote, "no one starts a war or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war, and how he intends to conduct it." [Howard 1984]
- Business may be different today than business or war were in Clausewitz's time, but the need for well-defined objectives and a consistent strategy is still essential. If we determine that a initiative has become necessary for our vital organizational interests, then we must commit resources capable to do the job and not assign a mission to a team or organization that is configured only for lesser missions.
- 4. Continual reassessment of adequacy and suitability of committed resources
- The relationship between our objectives and the resources we have committed according to their size, composition and disposition must be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary. Conditions and objectives invariably change during the course of an engagement. When they do change, then so must our requirements. We must continuously keep as a beacon light before us the basic questions: "Is this initiative in our organizational interest?" "Does our organizational interest require us to carry out this task in this way?" If the answers are "yes," then we must continue to strive for success. If the answers are "no," then we should terminate the effort and re-allocate the resources to a more appropriate effort.
- 5. Reasonable assurance of stakeholder support
- Before the organization commits resources to any initiative, there must be some reasonable assurance we will have the support of our stakeholders, including our customers, our employees, our suppliers, and our investors. This support cannot be achieved unless we are candid in making clear the opportunities and threats we face; the support cannot be sustained without continuing and close consultation. We cannot contend with our customers, suppliers, and investors while asking our employees to achieve a success that is out of reach.
- 6. The Last Resort test
- The commitment of our resources should be a last resort, undertaken only when other means of achieving our objectives are unavailable.
Secretary Powell added two more tests, one of which is most relevant to business decisions. I've modified it for business:
- 7. A reliable and safe exit is available
- We agree on what success looks like. We agree on what "good progress" looks like. We have a reliable means of detecting failure. We have a plan for preventing entanglement in the just-a-bit-more syndrome.
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Obstacles to Compromise
- Compromise is the art of devising an approach acceptable to all parties. A talent for compromise is
rare. What makes finding compromises so difficult?
- Organizational Loss: Searching Behavior
- When organizations suffer painful losses, their responses can sometimes be destructive, further harming
the organization and its people. Here are some typical patterns of destructive responses to organizational
- Coping and Hard Lessons
- Ever have the feeling of "Uh-oh, I've made this mistake before"? Some of these oft-repeated
mistakes happen not because of obstinacy, or stupidity, or foolishness, but because the learning required
to avoid them is just plain difficult. Here are some examples of hard lessons.
- Self-Serving Bias in Organizations
- We all want to believe that we can rely on the good judgment of decision makers when they make decisions
that affect organizational performance. But they're human, and they are therefore subject to a cognitive
bias known as self-serving bias. Here's a look at what can happen.
- Virtual Interviews: I
- The pandemic has made face-to-face job interviews less important. Although understanding the psychology
of virtual interviews helps both interviewers and candidates, candidates would do well to use the virtual
interview to demonstrate video presence.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info