Process improvement lessons from Napoleon


There's a long history of lessons from military tactics that can be applied in business.  I really like this fable of Napoleon's approach for making sure his instructions were clearly understood.  Here's an excerpt from Gordon Tara's excellent blog post:

Napoleon routinely picked the dumbest soldier in his army and appointed him lieutenant on his personal staff. Before issuing an order to his army, he would give the order to this lieutenant and then ask the lieutenant to repeat it back. If the lieutenant made a mistake, Napoleon would re-write the order until the lieutenant got it right. Napoleon's reasoning was that if the lieutenant could understand the order, then surely his generals could also understand the order.

The moral of the story is that it is not the manager's responsibility to give instructions that can be understood, but rather, the manager's responsibility is to give instructions that cannot be misunderstood."

The last paragraph struck me as absolutely what we aim to achieve for our clients - helping teams get processes right for them, every time.

I think Napoleon's understanding of human nature is bang on, and exposes why our pages of process and procedural content have been ignored for so many years. Many of the change programs I worked in were creating process guidance that 'could' be understood.  Sure it might be detailed, but it was more often than not difficult to find the information you needed. So, using this yardstick, the answer is that yes, the information was created and filed somewhere at the end of the project and could be understood. To give instructions that cannot be misunderstood however, now that's much harder.

It takes more effort to achieve clarity and simplicity for the intended audience, but this can have drastically different results on customer satisfaction rates, achievement of targets, reduction in rework, etc. etc. I think teams have been screaming out for this sort of simplicity and clarity for years, so consider some of the principles we've talked about before and make sure your processes and procedures cannot be misunderstood.

Take a look at how Promapp could help you.


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