🔤 Decentralized command
|Mike Dariano||Nov 21, 2019|
The gist to this kind of decision-making structure within an organization is that the person closest to the decision should make the decision. So rather than following the advice of the HIPPO (Highest Paid Person's opinion), it's the person with the most information, affect, and immediacy.
A decentralized command structure exists - and succeeds in the right culture - for one simple reason: no one can do everything awesome always.
An annual appearance of a DC is during the Atlantic hurricane season. The media covers governors making pronouncements and locals looking foolish but at some point, the media also drops in on Waffle House headquarters.
Nationally there are more than two-thousand Waffle House restaurants, mostly in the Southeast. Rumor is that the yellow signs attract truckers, college students, and hurricanes.
Waffle House gets the attention because they have a visible decentralized command. Headquarters tracks the storms but leaves it up to the individual stores to determine when to close and open. Vice President Pat Warner explained:
"When it comes to making the final decision, we let our operations team on the ground, like individual restaurant managers, make the final decision based on local conditions. But our job as corporate officials is to give them all the support they need to stay open."
That's the essence of success for DC. The top of an organization doesn't send edicts, it offers information. The top doesn't tell, it trusts. The top's best value is in its position and evaluating the landscape. Military men like Jocko Willink and James Mattis instill aggressiveness in their comrades but not to the point of foolishness.
In his 2019 book, Mattis wrote that he likes to "delegate tasks to the lowest possible level." This requires communication up and down the chain of command.
During one invasion, Mattis told his subordinate commanders not to worry about communicating back to him. Instead, he installed ‘Juliets' (the phonetical letter ‘J' wasn't assigned to anyone else) in each unit to communicate with him. With the right culture and reduced career risk, the commanders trusted Mattis.
And Mattis had to trust his commanders. Good communication is key and Mattis used the expression "In order to" to emphasize the intent. 'Attack the west side in order to secure the bridge'. Planning is helpful but not predictive and a decentralized command allows leaders to share intent but troops to make the choices.