Sergeant Major eats Sugary Cookies

What?

Ah.  Well.  About that title…

Back when I was a student – the first time around – I subscribed to Time magazine.  Wonderful little news magazine; I had visions of becoming a world leader, or at least someone who knew who Michael Dukakis was (well, someone has to) – instead I blog rather a bit.

I found Time magazine interesting, and engaging, and important.  Nevertheless, once I left university and could afford to buy my own beer, it became time to choose between, well, Time and time (OK, and beer).  And I let my subscription lapse.

Last week at the good old school dropoff, a fellow parent in drop-off purgatory said to me, “I know you’re a reader, you’re doing your phd so you must be.  I subscribe to Time magazine – would you like a copy?”.  Well, it was a bit hard to refuse as she had this enormous pink bag chock-full of magazines – including Marie Claire’s for my wife (I’m afraid I won’t even read Marie Claire for the articles, but L loves them). 

So going through Time magazine, two thoughts occurred to me: 

(1) It was a lot thinner and flimsier than I remembered;

(2) it was still just as engaging as ever it was.

And I soon found myself reading an article all about Sergeant Major Eats Sugar Cookies.  What’s that about?  Well, the story was about returned US veterans contributing to their communities, and one of the veterans mentioned this whole Sergeant Majors with a sweet tooth approach to planning.  Apparently it’s called an “operations order”, and it’s how the US marines plan an operation:

  • Situation:    What is the problem?
  • Mission:  What is the principal task at hand and purpose behind it?
  • Execution:  What strategy are we going to use to accomplish the task?
  • Service and Support:  What are the logistics?  How many people and resources will we need?
  • Command and Control:  What other groups (e.g. committees etc) should be involved and how will they communicate?

The Marines like to keep this all on a single page – dot points are your friend here.

Now, obviously this is designed for the army.  And I couldn’t be less an AJ if I tried – I could only run out of sight in a week if I fiddled with the calendar.  Nonetheless, I thought this was very relevant to anyone needing to communicate with a client, or write an internal memo – since many of the things we write for clients are about building new tihngs for clients and/or doing new things in our business, this is quite relevant.  You might for instance write an executive summary using this format, or indeed try to keep everything you do to this approach.  You wouldn’t need to keep these labels, and in fact you might want to just use it as a structure for emails that you send out to people.  But I think that as a way of keeping you focussed on the task at hand, and make sure everyone is singing from the same songsheet, this is an excellent tool.

I am adapting what I currently do for clients in terms of proposals (a “nice one-pager” is something just about everyone wants in business) and this structure could at least be the starting point to provide an overview.  Sure, you can have that 30-page project proposal in your back pocket – but the reality is most people don’t read the full thing, if ever.  Keep the 30-pager to support the one-page executive summary following the “Sergeant Major Eats Sugar Cookies” approach, and I think you’ll find your clients, your partners, and your subordinates thank you.  Just because we have word processors and computers that allow us to punch out multiple-page documents before breakfast doesn’t meant that we need to consider that a challenge to write more.

Anyway, if you like it I have created a template on my blog for anyone that wishes to have a template document (it’s plain-format, no logos or anything) – so you can download it directly if you wish.  Or not, it’s up to you.

And thanks Andrea, for reminding me that Time magazine is a wonderful subscription to have…

3 thoughts on “Sergeant Major eats Sugary Cookies

  1. andrea caposecco Reply

    As “provider” of the Time issue which heralded this great insight I thought I should comment. I like the application of an idea from one sphere into a very different sphere and I totally agree that simplicity is ‘key’, particularly in the busines world. This brings to mind a proverb from the play Hamlet by Shakespeare “Intellligent speech and writing should aim at using few words” But this is easier said then done – I love this quote:
    “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter” Marcus T Cicero

    …More Time magazines on the way.

    And so ends my very first comment on this blog.

  2. micheal Post authorReply

    Heh heh – thanks Andrea… to write a lot is easy, to write a little, now that’s hard…

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