The Memo: How the Classified Military Document that Helped the U.S. Win World War II Can Teach You How to Succeed in Business
Did a memo help the U.S. win World War II?
We were losing. By 1941, Germany had conquered significant parts of the Soviet Union. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Italy assaulted Greece.
The Axis Powers were thought to be unstoppable. Great Britain was about to be invaded. Moscow was about to be overrun. China was disintegrating.
But over the next four years, the Axis Powers were crushed and surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.
How did the Free World reverse its losses and go on to win?
Peter Drucker once said that WWII was determined, not by superior arms as we often imagine, but by getting things done. “The Allies won,” said Drucker, “their victory achieved by management.”
The covert doctrine that led to our victory was outlined in a rather mundane sounding memorandum titled: Completed Staff Work.
This message was so vital to the war effort that the USA’s leadership was concerned about its falling into enemy hands. During WWII, the military restricted its distribution because it was concerned with security. However, the closely-held secret was not only about troop movements, armament capabilities or the atom bomb. The Allied generals wanted to ensure that the enemy would not know that the Free World knew how to execute. The Allies had refined the practice of management and wartime discipline.
Today, on the business battlefield, clichés abound: Do the work. Plan your work and work your plan. But the reality is that organizations still struggle to get projects completed on time and within budget. Everyone from newly hired employees up to the CEO is still searching for the “secret sauce.” What is the magic formula that will help employees get work done on time and help people be more effective managers?
In fact, the secret ingredient is spelled out in this military memo and remarkably, The Doctrine of Completed Staff Work has withstood testing–literally–under fire. The Memo is based on original research. The doctrine was published in the 24 January 1942 edition of the Army Navy Journal and probably classified later.
This book uncovers the origins, history and application of decision-making and execution using vignettes from armed conflicts. The lessons are also recounted in case studies of (somewhat) less violent business situations. The management practice of getting work done through the thinking support of others will be revealed in an entertaining and enlightening style.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of books on leadership development are available. However, there are far fewer tomes about how to be a good subordinate. In addition, there is virtually no literature on that magical intersection of leader and follower. This book provides a fresh examination of the relationship between the manager and staff.
Leadership and management books often focus on the self, the person of the Great Man—but organizations actually succeed through the motivation of others. Look at most job descriptions in every industry and you’ll see something along the lines of “Able to work independently and as part of a team.” Particularly with today’s virtual and remote work patterns, understanding how to get work done in a visible enough way to earn a promotion is a priority for many employees.
This book will serve as a reference guide for both leaders, and those who report to them. I will examine the disparate duties of the manager and his direct reports, situated within the environment around them – and offer strategies that will help the team, and its manager as coach, get work done.
The Memo sits at the juncture of Leadership and Followership.
Leadership and Management and Organizational Behavior courses are common offerings in higher education and most are, well, academic (and I’ve taught more than my share).
The literature is thin, however, on Followership perhaps because hierarchy is not popular. But this book will show that subordinates on the organizational chart can be leaders in their positions, and in “managing the manager.” This is the most logical path to recognition, independence and promotion.
In order to accomplish organizational goals, real leaders teach their teams to both lead and to follow. This book may well be the first to combine the actual practice of how:
1) Managers lead their teams, and
2) Teams can manage their managers
This real-world guide teaches the manager how to make decisions that get the most from his direct reports and his support system. This is — The Practice of Leadership.
This book also explains how team members can make recommendations to work most effectively with their managers and other parts of the organization. This is — The Practice of Followership.
The Memo recognizes that the work of the manager is to make decisions. And the research, options and recommendations are best done by the manager’s team. The team recommends and then the boss decides.
The one word that describes this Completed Staff Work is “anticipation.”
The Memo will teach the manager and his team how to get it.
From the back cover:
Much is known about how the Atom bomb helped the United States achieve the final victory in World War II.
However, little is known about a weapon perhaps even more powerful: a Memo. Classified “Restricted” by the U.S. War Department, the Memo contained a management doctrine under the subject of “Completed Staff Work.”
This memo turned military command structure on its head and re-focused on the power of staff instead of their commanders.
Simply put, instead of relying on Generals and senior leaders to think up solutions and then order Staff Officers to implement, Staff Officers would be charged with presenting fully developed solutions on which command could sign-off.
Now unclassified, this Memo holds valuable lessons that will help any employee advance in his or her career. Unlike books on leadership, The Memo emphasizes followership and shows aspiring employees how to advance by employing the power of teamwork to make their leaders successful.
Publication: 15 May 2017, Post Hill Press, distributed by Simon and Schuster,
Clinical Assistant Professor of Management,
The Busch School of Business and Economics
The Catholic University of America