Strategic planning: Not a fairy tale

  • Published
  • By Col. Chris Crawford
  • 21st Space Wing commander
As children, we all looked forward to visits from the Tooth Fairy. In contrast, as grown-up Airmen, we all fear visits from the Good Idea Fairy. We all know who I'm talking about - the magical nymph that dispenses shiny objects, spontaneously directing new ideas and changes that inevitably distract us from our Real Job. The 21 Space Wing Strategic Plan is not another such "Good Idea." It is a living document that gives shape and direction to the priorities of our wing. It provides a path for the wing to work towards our goals and a means to determine which tasks are really important for our Real Job. It is the "Off" of our grown-up world: Good Idea Fairy repellent.

The strategic plan, or "Strat Plan" as our wing staff has taken to calling it, specifies high level group and wing level tasks that must be accomplished. It describes how these major tasks will be tracked by wing and group leadership, while noting that tasks falling below the group level are left for each individual group to assign and track. The Strat Plan is written at a high level in order to provide the groups, squadrons, flights and Airmen maximum flexibility in the execution of the plan. To paraphrase Gen. George S. Patton, we aren't telling our Airmen what to do; we are telling our Airmen what needs to be done so that they, in each of their areas of expertise, can surprise us with their ingenuity.

The Strat Plan is designed to be easy to understand as well as flexible. We ruthlessly cut unnecessary verbiage. It is a living document, wherein tasks may be crossed-off when completed and new tasks added as our people innovate and generate good ideas. Tasks that become irrelevant or prove ineffective will be removed or revamped. The goal of the Strat Plan is to provide "thrust vectoring" for our Airmen and our wing, not to diminish that thrust.

A key element to the Strat plan's flexibility is the "commander's intent," or CI, which is actually an Army approach. They discovered, through countless battles, that no plan is perfect. All plans, no matter how meticulously constructed, will evolve or undergo change. The CI ensures that the commander's overall goal, the core concept of wing operations, is easily understood by all troops and commanders. Our CI for the Strat Plan is simple: Lead our mission areas, units, and shops such that we are always supporting one of the four 21 SW priorities. Bottom line: if what we're doing does not mesh with the CI, chances are good the Good Idea Fairy made a visit to our base. We can use the CI to re-direct and get back to our Real Job, executing the wing's priorities.

Our staff remembers the four wing priorities by shortening them to "Think-Future-Today-People." For clarity, though, we will go ahead and list them here:

Priority 1: Support the Current Fight
Priority 2: Lead into the Future Fight
Priority 3: Lead and Take care of People
Priority 4: Innovation and Discipline

The Strat Plan breaks each of these wing priorities down into desired end states and objectives. The end states act as a miniature CI: They state what we wish to accomplish over time for that particular priority. The objectives for each priority, in turn, break out the highest level goals which must be accomplished in order to make that end state a reality. The objectives are further broken out into the strategic tasks that are each headed-up by one or more of the wing's six group commanders.

Beyond the lay-out and break-down of strategic tasks, the Strat Plan also issues the "commander's challenge." This section details what each Airman should strive to do in order to aid the execution of the strategic plan. Within that section, we focus on several basic themes. Each of these themes (leadership, innovation and discipline) relates directly to our vision statement and leadership's goals for the wing.

Discipline is the foundational theme because it ensures critical tasks are executed precisely and reliably. In the plan, we stress that discipline is not blind compliance, or merely doing what one is told. Instead, it is a mental state that relies upon a sense of duty, critical thinking and expertise. Leaders are challenged to instill this discipline because critical thinking and precise execution at all levels will both keep the Good Idea Fairy at bay and ensure valuable change occurs quickly.

Instilling the discipline described at all levels requires leadership - and not just from the command staff, squadron commanders, or even just the officers. As we told our December Airman Leadership School graduates, we are ALL leaders today. We must accept the challenge, take responsibility for our high ground and lead the charge to both execute assigned tasks and find innovative ways to do the job smarter.

Because nothing within our high ground remains static, the plan highlights that we must adapt. We must find the means to extract every ounce of capability from our weapon systems and resources. This challenge ties directly back into our wing's predominant theme: innovation. We must challenge ourselves to embrace innovation. The prescient words of Winston Churchill come to mind as we execute the 2012 Strat Plan: "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."

The Wing Strategic Plan is not a dead document. It is not a "Good Idea" gone awry. It is a living plan to focus all our wing's elements in one direction without curtailing our creativity. We should all read the document, look at the tasks, and ask what we can do to lead our Airmen, through our own piece of the high ground, to accomplish the goals therein.

The wing strategic plan is posted online and readily accessible via the Peterson web page, Sharepoint and Facebook.