But is updating the doctrine sufficient to answer its critics? Persistent execution challenges may go beyond what any doctrine can address. These challenges include a lack of trust and risk aversion engendered by bureaucracy, which hinder the application of mission command principles by Army leaders in garrison environments. Resolving these issues could allow the Army to make mission command something substantially valued by the force.
According to ADP 6-0, “Mission command is the Army’s approach to command and control that empowers subordinate decision making and decentralized execution appropriate to the situation.
Mission command supports the Army’s operational concept of unified land operations and its emphasis on seizing, retaining, and exploiting the initiative.” Compare this to the previous definition from the 2012 version: “Mission command is the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations.”
This new definition has removed the term “commander” from its original definition, yet the heart of mission command is still command-centric. The new definition retains the term “unified land operations,” which undermines the acceptance of mission command in a garrison environment. Too many leaders interpret mission command as principally applicable in combat, with little relevance to garrison environments.
The updated language of ADP 6-0 still focuses the construct of mission command on the commander, who exercises formal leadership over his or her organization as expressed in Army Command Policy. The commander gives guidance, orders, and directs the staff. Yet, leaders in non-command positions, such as other officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) do the same.
The Army’s leader development process for officers and NCOs prepares them to assume leadership positions in troop and staff assignments alike, including leading and directing subordinates to execute missions.
The principles of mission command from ADP 6-0 (e.g., Competence; Mutual Trust; Shared Understanding; Commander’s Intent; Mission Orders; Disciplined Initiative; and Risk Acceptance) prescribe the ways commanders can most effectively accomplish the mission at all echelons from company/battery levels, to the enterprise level. Yet, these same principles also prescribe ways leaders who are not commanders can lead effectively.
Unified Land Operations
The Army conducts prompt and sustained land combat as part of the joint force. Accordingly, the priorities of mission command are accomplishing a tactical and operational mission while deployed and preparing for missions during home station training or during maneuver Combat Training Center rotations.
Each environment is critical to developing and sharpening the application of mission command principles, yet leaders tends to ignore or not use important principles in garrison environments.
Using mission command in the operational environment rather than in garrison is not an either-or scenario; it is required in both. Embedding the principles of mission command within the garrison environment will yield dividends, as soldiers learn to expect mission command as part of the Army culture — as they operate in the tactical through strategic/enterprise levels.
So why is it so difficult for the Army to implement the principles of mission command in a garrison environment?
Lack of Trust and Risk Aversion
The Army does not fully embrace mission command in garrison (or elsewhere) because leaders are risk averse and lack trust in their subordinates, and these problems only increase in garrison environments.
A leader’s tolerance for risk decreases in a non-tactical environment. Why is this? Risk tolerance is related to control and judgement. The Army’s culture is heavily reliant on, and influenced by, control or the use of “…organizational procedures (policies and regulations) … for the common and greater good.” Typically, this interpretation of the greater good leans on the side of centralization and rigidity, and it lowers a leader’s risk.
But when ‘bad’ things happen under mission command, will we feel the need to control the outcomes better by increasing the approval level on a particular issue?”
The answer is unequivocally yes. When things go wrong, the Army’s instinct is to exert control, create a checklist, and make the entire chain of command approve similar issues. When opportunities to empower subordinates exist, leaders often prefer, or default to, retaining more control, creating systems and policies to address risk or leadership failures.
But these systems and policies often limit or impede initiative and foment risk aversion, as leaders become more concerned with the negative consequences of noncompliance. The updated ADP 6-0 addresses this issue: “Employing the mission command approach during all garrison activities and training events is essential to creating the cultural foundation for its employment in high-risk environments.”
So how are we to fix this problem?
Interpreting mission command as principally applicable in combat, with little relevance to garrison environments means perceptions about subordinates’ competence can further erode trust between leaders and subordinates.
Focus group interviews revealed a perceived lack of trust and confidence in subordinate leaders’ expertise (knowledge, skills, and abilities) for garrison (home station) operations. These leaders cited a lack of experience among midgrade officers and noncommissioned officers required for competence in home station training.
ADP 6-0 addresses the need for the commander to “continually assess the competence of their subordinates and their organizations. This assessment informs the degree of trust commanders have in their subordinates’ ability to execute mission orders in a decentralized fashion at acceptable levels of risk.
”These perceptions combined with rigid and bureaucratic policies and regulations cause many senior leaders to micromanage routine garrison tasks, as opposed to enabling disciplined initiative and empowering subordinates. The root cause may be attributed to the ever present but often unspoken risk to career.
For mission command to be successful, leaders must be comfortable letting go. In the field, this may be relatively simple, as leaders find it difficult to micromanage formations spread out across kilometers of battlespace. In garrison, however, where missions and people are more centralized, the tendency to over control is significant.
If a leader is concerned that their subordinates’ failure will reflect badly on them, they may fall prey to this pattern. Leaders must fight this urge. This “consciously abdicating the responsibility of the outcome to subordinates.”
Things will always go wrong. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” and if we are serious about implementing mission command, senior leaders must not crush subordinates when bad things happen. Of course, leaders must do the right thing, and negligence should neither be accepted nor overlooked. But the garrison environment should enable leaders at all levels to practice and encourage mission command.
The difference between the Army’s application of mission command in the field and in garrison is striking, and it is a problem. In the field, leaders are given wide latitude to make decisions, while in garrison, leaders rely on bureaucracy and managing systems. Consider the constraints on leaders to run a weapons range at home station, with the mandate that they complete a worksheet before action.
Mission command must become a 24-hour, 365-day mindset in the Army. Every leader must commit to executing mission command in the field, in training, and in garrison, and whether they are in command or not. Leaders must not “put on” mission command only when signing their weapon out of the arms room. . Using a mission command approach must be second nature.
Good leaders practice mission command daily, continuously applying its principles during everything their units do in order to maximize the repetitions essential for making the principles second nature to everyone on the team.”
While leaders apply mission command across the Army in different units and formations, the amount of control shifts, based on the level of training, experience, and competence of leaders, soldiers, and staff.
Imagine two infantry companies. Both company commanders rely on mission command, but one commander encourages autonomy among his subordinate leaders and their platoons due to their experience and competence. The second company commander maintains greater control because subordinate leaders lack experience and there are some doubts about their competence due to the complexity of the mission.
This difference is OK. It wouldn’t be mission command if every situation demanded the same judgement. Each leader, however, must communicate with their subordinates on the “why” to create shared understanding and to build trust.
In any environment, senior leaders must empower their subordinates and model the principles of mission command. They must ruthlessly eliminate over-control or micro-management from their behavior. And if centralization is required, they must explain why.
Changes to mission command will mean soldiers taking risks and taking charge on complex battlefields There’s too much top down direction, too much of a compliance climate in mission command.” Just as important as shared understanding and empowerment is trust.
Trust is the basis of all cohesion in the Army and successful mission command. “Subordinates are more willing to exercise initiative when they believe their commander trusts them. They will also be more willing to exercise initiative if they believe their commander will accept and support the outcome of their decisions.
Likewise, commanders delegate greater authority to subordinates who have demonstrated tactical and technical competency and whose judgment they trust.” If the goal is to truly to build cohesive teams through mutual trust, all leaders, not just commanders, must actively embrace using the principles of mission command.
By using the principles of mission command in the garrison environment, leaders will reinforce its use and inculcate it in all the Army does. Whatever the doctrine in field manual command and control stated in doctrine, commanders have always and will always evaluate their units and subordinates based on how much they trust them to make sound decisions through the folowing process”
The military decision-making process (MDMP) has not been updated to reflect the current operating conditions, the training and competencies of its practitioners, and the character of multi-domain operations it must now guide.
FM 6-0, Commander and Staff Organization and Operations, the proponent field manual for MDMP, has not been updated since 2014. For the most part, it remains an effective process for developing plans, courses of actions, and solutions to problems.
MDMP has not paralleled the changes to the battlefield conditions in that it will be utilized. Surely, many Soldiers have considered, “how can we make this better?” These steps are an articulation of just that: notes taken in a field notebook and questions regarding the improvement of a process which is central to organizational success.
Eventually, just as there was a decision making process before the MDMP, there will be one after. For now, at least, our current planning process must enable functionally integrated decision-making to avoid becoming obsolete in a dynamically complex world.
As with any process, there are limitations, gaps, and shortfalls. Several updates have been recommended to strengthen the logistics underpinning some of the steps.
- Change the first step of MDMP from receipt of mission to initiate planning.
In complex conditions or circumstances, units cannot afford to await orders from higher command, so field commanders and staffs should initiate MDMP whenever they believe it necessary to be successful. So MDMP should mirror the Joint Planning Process, and change the first step to initiate planning
2. Add a subtask to the first step: determine the battle rhythm. Most units apply a pre-existing battle rhythm, probably contained within an Standard Operating Procedure, and attempt to apply it to their current circumstances. Units insist on ensuring the commander’s decision-making cycle remains comfortably the same. Often, this prevents or prolongs seizing the initiative in emergent conditions Making this step explicit facilitates the functional integration of plans for an organization and enables the commander to immediately adjust his decision-making cycle to the environment. Finally, determining the battle rhythm expedites the commander’s and staff’s employment and integration of the targeting process – which is vital to success during emergent large-scale multi-domain conflict.
3. Articulate integration required of mission analysis and determine what needs to be done to manage operational risk According to FM 6-0, “Commanders – supported by their staffs – gather, analyze, and synthesize information to orient themselves on the current conditions of the operational environment.”
When, then, and how do staffs integrate the information? Even the most seasoned field grade officers fail to integrate the information gathered from mission analysis, delaying the understanding sought after by both staffs and commanders.
It’s more than the “so what and therefore” that staffs often convey to their commanders. A process that puts together information requires that the staff explain what the risk relationship is between the pertinent facts, pertinent assumptions, known constraints, limitations, and known dependencies.
4. Highlight Planning/Execution Dependencies There are facts at the time of planning that are a critical condition or precursor necessary for successful execution of succeeding successor task. There will be planning assumptions and execution dependencies: an assumption would be, “we assume fuel will be available,” while a dependency would be, “our execution will depend on fuel.” Clarifying dependencies in multi-domain operations, during which multiple organizations depend on each other for effects and support, is critically important.
5. Begin risk management after getting tasks, facts, assumptions, limitations, dependencies, and constraints Every task, whether specified, implied, or essential, exists within real circumstances characterized as either facts, assumptions, dependencies, limitations, and/or constraints. While mission analysis does not require staffs to perform its sub-steps in any designated order, there is a reason why you should start assessing risk management occurs after tasks, facts, assumptions, limitations, and constraints are gathered. The management of risk requires staffs to sum up the relationship of these factors to explain to the commander the risk associated with conducting a task, specified or otherwise.
Risk is defined differently in the process of risk management and as an element of operational art. In the context of risk management, In one definition, controls and actions are taken to eliminate a hazard or to reduce its risk. Or, Commanders accept risks to create and maintain conditions necessary to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. The willingness to incur risk is often the key to exposing enemy weaknesses that an enemy considers beyond friendly reach.
Experienced commanders balance audacity and imagination against risk and uncertainty to strike at a time, place, and manner unexpected by enemy forces. It can be a mistake to view tasks and hazards as the same, rather than to view hazards as accompanying tasks, which steers organizations to avoid risk rather than to smartly embrace it.
6. Make Staffs responsible for identifying where the commander might make decisions with risk The relationship between facts and assumptions is clear: staffs should seek to either confirm assumptions as facts, or disconfirm facts as being untrue. It then follows that the more facts and fewer assumptions a task has associated with it, the less risky the task is.
If a task has few facts, and many assumptions, while also having many limitations, dependencies, and constraints, the more risk the task represents. Integrating the information in this manner helps the commander make a risk decision, which is a commander’s determination to accept or not accept the risks associated with taking what action.
7. Delineate planning/execution types of priority intelligence requirements. According to FM 6-0, “A priority intelligence requirement is an intelligence requirement, stated as a priority for intelligence support that the commander and staff need to understand the adversary or other aspects of the operational environment.
Reconnaissance and Security Operations Manual defines a PIR as “an intelligence requirement, stated as a priority for reconnaissance and security tasks and intelligence collection that the commander needs to understand about a threat, enemy, or adversary or about the operational environment.
The MDMP requires consideration as an output of course of action approval but does not describe what these considerations entail. In the early stages of the planning process, when neither the staff nor the commander fully understand the operating environment, the PIRs should focus on gathering information to assist planners in the development of a plan.
As the mission progresses, and the planning horizon collapses, the PIRs should focus on decision-making during execution. At the battalion level, this may be tricky given the limited number and capability of organic collection assets. However, at the brigade and division level, this is more easily achieved based on the varying echelons and capabilities of information collection platforms and reach back capability. Articulating this delineation would force staffs to truly consider PIR throughout the operations process.
8. Change and reorganize the steps of course of action development. A review of subtasks Assess Relative Combat Power and Array Initial Forces illustrates that both contain the words relative and ratio so much that their definitions and outputs are nearly the same, and are often abbreviated, if not omitted. When staffs assess combat power, they are brainstorming which friendly and enemy elements of combat power to avoid and exploit. Both the sub-steps result in the comparison of forces as it relates to either’s task. Combining these subtasks will make the outputs better and encourage their utility and execution.
9. Change Assign Headquarters to Determine Task Organization and Command Support Relationships. Articulating the output of the subtask will contribute to the full and more effective completion of the task. Asking and answering how the unit will organize to accomplish assigned tasks is task organizing and determining command support relationships during this subtask will ensure this important step is not omitted. Currently, command support relationships are not mentioned in MDMP itself.
10. Change Sketch Note to Effects Note. Changing the name of this rarely utilized tool will help staffs simultaneously employ multiple defeat mechanisms to present multiple dilemmas to enemy decision-makers thus enabling the unit to impose its will, in the form of physical, temporal, and behavioral effects. The sketch note tool focuses on linking units’ actions by time, space, and purpose while the Effects Note focuses only on units’ effects on the enemy by time, space, and purpose. Finally, the use of both wargaming tools facilitates the staff’s comprehension of the plan.