The “Five Ws” of Mission

  • Have you ever misunderstood what your boss wanted you to do?
  • Have your staff ever carried out your directions, however the outcomes are not what you expected?
  • Have you ever wondered what your boss wanted to do or you didn’t think it made sense? (Don’t worry your staff have in the past felt that way about you too).

Hi, my name is Attila Ovari and I am guest blogging for Andrew McIntosh on his Blog Optimize Business. If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions above, don’t worry…. You’re not alone. These are common misunderstandings in any organisation. However what can we do to improving communications and in giving directions. The “5 Ws” is a simple tool that I learnt as a Trainee in the Australian Army. The “5 Ws” are Who, What, Where, When and Why……

In the Army when giving orders it is important to ensure that the directions provided are clearly communicated and fully understood. However this should be no different in any workplace, community group or team. So how do you communicate your intent and ensure that it is understood by the team?

This article will not cover all the ins and outs of communications and direction giving, however it will discuss a simple tool that you can use for giving instructions. The “Five Ws” – Who, What, When, Where and Why…..

FreshBooks Many years ago when I as a Staff Cadet in the Australian Army Reserve, we were taught about Mission Statements. The mission statement (or Mission for Short) was a sentence on what you are to achieve. This sentence, “The Mission”, was to be a clear and concise statement that articulates what the team is to achieve. It was drummed into me that each and every mission statement was to include each of the “Five Ws”.

Since that time I have found this tool very useful in many circumstances when I am clearly communicating my intent to my staff around what I require to be done. Each of the components of the “Five Ws” has been very important to ensure clear communication.

  • Who: Though this may seem obvious, the who is often a point of confusion. How many times have you left a meeting assuming that some action items are being done by someone else and they thought you were actioning these same items?
  • What: This is what you want to achieve. This component is the part that is most commonly communicated as part of a direction. The What combined with the other four Ws will ensure clearer communication.
  • When: How many times have you been tasked with something and assumed it was not due for a while? Then all of the sudden you are asked to deliver the outcomes and it is not ready. How many times have your direct reports not been sure of their deadlines and been caught off guard? So ensure that when giving directions you include when it needs to be conducted or when the work is due.
  • Where: Again the where is something that is often overlooked, as we assume it is implied in our directions. The where is about the environment or where the work is required to be delivered. This may be a physical location, a presentation or a virtual location (i.e. email).
  • Why: Often when people give directions, we fail to also give the reason why. In my opinion this is one of the most important parts of a mission or when giving directions. The Why relates to the purpose of the task and the mission. This is the intent of the task and should align with your bosses what part of their mission or task.

When drafting the Why, where possible ensure that it is in accordance with the intent of your boss and your bosses boss. The reason why it is important to look at the boss’ intent is to ensure that your direct reports have a clear understanding of the organisation’s required outcomes. With the understanding of the organisation’s required outcomes it opens the door for staff to seize opportunities in these directions.

Here is a simple Example of the “Five Ws” in practice:

My monthly Report is due to my Manager via email by the 2nd Friday each month in order to allow time for my manager to submit the monthly report to the board in time for the board meeting.

So here is the breakdown:

  • Who – Me
  • What – Monthly Report
  • When – by 2nd Friday each month
  • Where – email to my Manager
  • Why – ensure my Manager has time to submit Report to Board

In this example it is clear what I have to do in the broader context. I also know that my report is important for the information that goes to the board and hence I need to consider what the important items to report for that audience are.

In concluding I hope this simple tool, the “Five Ws”, is helpful in providing clear communication to your staff, so they have a clear understanding of what is required to be achieve and the require outcomes.

Blogged by: Attila Ovari

©Attila &Kim Ovari 2012. The content of this Article may be reproduced with permission of the author. Last update 09 Sep 12. More information about the author can be found at www.attilaovari.com.

London Olympic security failure… a lesson for small and medium business

This week’s contractual failure of the London Olympic security provider G4S provides some beautiful examples of business failure, crisis management and the value of having a “Plan B” in your back pocket. While the inability of G4S to deliver the security services under it’s £250m contract represent a business failure of ‘Olympic’ proportions, the lessons for small and medium businesses (SMBs) are stark.

Planning for success by planning for failure (Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Planning: G4S planners over-estimated their ability to deliver Olympic security personnel and had no workable plan to recover.

Variance from business plans is always expected (and should be planned for) and establishing realist business plans are critical to ensure operational success.

More advanced business plans can factor in probabilities of certain risks, failures or success occurring, but most SMBs should plan a realistic/expected outcome and supplement this with possible best case and worst case scenario plans.

A plan (for a project, business, campaign or event) should focus mainly on expected outcome and SMBs should spend some time documenting their approach to a possible best case / worst case scenario model.  This is part of basic contingency planning.  It is often overlooked and rarely done well outside of the IT space, however it is critical to ensure business has the resources, systems and processes in place to execute its mission.

Risk Management:  The quarter of a billion pound London Olympic security debacle clearly demonstrates the impact of operational and reputational risk.  Monitor the G4S stock value to assess the impact of this PR and operational disaster. Often businesses mainly consider risk in terms of information systems, privacy and legal compliance, but as G4S lawyers and insurance managers reach for their insurance policy and re-read the fine print, it’s a great example of operational risk materialising….. and then impacting reputation and ultimately eroding enterprise value.

No matter the size of a business or project, good insurance advice and coverage is basic element of good governance, as well as ensuring risk management extends to delivery of core business and contractual objectives… such as providing trained security personnel for major events.

Crisis Management: As private enterprise fails themselves and their client, the importance of a workable “Plan B” is clearly shown by how the UK Government responded to the crisis.  London Olympic and Government officials will be scolded for failing to manage the risks associated with the security contract, but they should be commended for the swift and effective solution to the crisis.

Thousands of military personnel were rapidly deployed to fill the security void.  G4S clearly did not have a workable “Plan B”, but the Government did.  This should be expected given the massive resources of State but still provides a graphic demonstration of a successful resolution to the corporate failure.

How the PR disaster is managed maybe a different story, but the Government is off to a reasonable start with its practical response and the swift bringing to account of the G4S executives in a televised public inquiry.

Leadership: The Independent yesterday reported Army chiefs have been dispatched to the headquarters of G4S to take a more active role in controlling security for the London Olympics…”  In coming blogs we will look at lessons for SMB from leadership structures in emergency services and the military.  These structures and management systems are built to manage in times of crisis, high stress and literal life and death situations – so important leadership and execution are critical to ensure success.

© Andrew McIntosh CPA: OptimizeBusiness.org@gmail.com