At an event with Corporate Battlefields recently, Sir Mungo Melvin gave a speech in which he talked about clarity and ensuring that there is a clear purpose and everyone knows that purpose – not necessarily the minutiae that goes behind it, but everyone needs to know what the goal is so that they can work towards it.

So, if a junior officer is left without a commander and needs to make a decision, s/he knows what the goal is and he can use that in order to make an informed choice about what to do next.

Von Zeeten, the Prussian officer came over the hill at the Battle of Waterloo – they were late but they had orders to take their forces to attend to Napoleon’s baggage, which was to their left. However, Wellington’s liaison officer came upon them and insisted that they come and join Wellington to bolster his forces in a battle which was on a knife edge.

Should the Prussian follow orders or go with Wellington’s man and provide much needed reinforcements? Wellington said that it was Blucher or Night which would save them. It was a decisive point which could have gone horribly wrong. But the right choice was made based on the ultimate goal and the on the spot knowledge available.

Clients need to have sufficient information to know what the goal is and then they need to be shown the best strategy to get there. If they have these pieces of information then, when left on their own to handle social media, they can think on their feet and hopefully make the right choices.

Having said that, there is no knowing whether you have been given all the pieces of the puzzle by that same client. I was reading about the First World War and the events of the latter half of 1917 leading up to the Third Battle of Arras, otherwise known as Passchendaele and the subsequent attack on German forces at Cambrai.

The politicians back home, Lloyd George, did not like General Haig, who was running the battle and they deliberately kept him short of reinforcements in order to try to make him do what they wanted, which was wait for the Americans – they were still in the process of recruiting and training sufficient forces to take across the Atlantic. Haig knew that the War could be lost if he stopped fighting because the Germans would turn their attentions to the French, who were not reliable partners in the affair due to the machinations of their own politicians.

My understanding is that, had Haig sat back and waited for the Americans as his superiors wanted, the War could have gone very differently. He knew the goal and he knew his own men. But he also had first hand experience of both his partners and his opponent and he used that information to plan assaults that would improve the British position with a view to achieving the goal in the future, despite the restraints of those higher up the chain of command.

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