Special Operations Goal Setting. Spec Ops Post #8

Organization goals

If you are searching for your organization’s primary goal, here is a way to figure it out:  Why was this organization founded?  What was the original goal?  I think the primary goal is almost always the original goal unless something drastic has happened, in which case, even if it has the same name, it is no longer the same organization, and somewhere along the way it was ‘re-founded’.

For organizations ask the following questions:

  • Your organization was founded for?
  • The most important division of your company is?
  • Your primary product is?
  • Your brand is?
  • How do you know when your goal has been accomplished?

Just as in writing a novel the most important person to consider is the reader, for an organization, the most important person to consider is the consumer.

Hierarchy of goals

Here is a hierarchy of goals:

  • Organizational Goal
  • Subordinate Unit Goal
  • Mission Goal
  • Individual Goal
  • For Organization (job)
  • For Mission (task)

Here is an example of a weak organizational goal:

“Everyone will now be mobilized and all boys old enough to carry a spear will be sent to Addis Abada.  Married men will take their wives to carry food and cook.  Those without wives will take any woman without a husband.  Women with small babies need not go.  The blind, those who cannot carry a spear are exempted.  Anyone found at home after receipt of this order will be hanged.”

Haille Selassie in 1939

Here is a Special Forces organizational goal:

Special Forces will be prepared to conduct the six SOF missions of Unconventional Warfare, Direct Action, Special Reconnaissance, Foreign Internal Defense, Counter-terrorism, and Coalition Warfare/Support.

Here is an A-Team’s subordinate unit goal:

ODA 055 will be prepared to conduct all SOF missions with an emphasis on Strategic Reconnaissance with maritime operations capability.

Here is a mission goal:

ODA 055 will infiltrate Operational Area Claw to conduct Strategic Reconnaissance along the designated sector of rail line for fourteen days reporting movement of battalion level and higher units.

Note as we get down to tactical goals, a time factor comes into play.

Here are the two types of individual goals:

Senior Communications Sergeant will maintain a secure link with higher headquarters. (organization/job)

Senior Communications Sergeant will report all designated traffic battalion level or higher along rail line to higher headquarters four times daily. (mission/task)

Note that all these goals are in alignment.  Conflict occurs when goals do not align.

Align The Hierarchy Of Goals In The Same Direction

In an organization, a leader’s responsibility is to make your people realize the unit’s goal is in line with their goal.  That a convergence of the two will benefit all.  It is more important for the leaders to realize this than the followers.

In your life, make sure that your goals align or else much energy will be wasted in the conflict inherent in failing to do so.  If your goal is to lose weight, then your eating habits and your physical activities both have to support that goal.  This sounds very simple and basic but you would be amazed at how often people defeat themselves and keep themselves from achieving their goals.  While we prefer to rail against the world and ‘them’, the enemy is most often ourselves.

Your primary goal, based on your ‘one thing’ cannot change.  Because everything in your life is built on it.  However, I have found in the process of creating, that the original vision tends to get lost to a certain extent.  It is the same when writing a novel.  I am a big believer in writing down your goals and posting them where you can see them every day, so that you do not forget and you stay on the same path every day.

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Another example of a lack of goal setting:  When I was a team leader, the battalion operations officer called me in to his office.  He told me he wanted my team to set up a combination land navigation course/ rifle range.  He said the commander wanted the men to go through a strenuous overland movement and finish at the rifle range where they would qualify on their weapons.

I asked the operations officer what the primary objective of the exercise was.  Was it to qualify on weapons?  Or to practice land navigation?  You can only have one primary goal.  His response was that the battalion commander, our boss, wanted the men to go through a ‘gut check’.   Which was neither of the above.

Problem number one:  I was told to do three things.  While all could be part of one exercise, what I really needed to know, and what I hadn’t been told, was the primary objective of the training I was to plan.  While this might not seem an issue initially—after all it appears all I had to do was set up a land navigation course ending at a rifle range where the men shot, as you will soon see it is a major problem.

At the same time I was in the operations officer’s office, my team sergeant was sitting with the operations sergeant major getting the same—but slightly different—instructions.  Which was problem number two.

I went back to my team room and did a rather strange thing.  I pulled out the army field manual for conducting training, blew the dust off of it, and read the chapters on how to plan training.  I made some notes, went back to the battalion operations officer, and told him according to the field manual, the primary objective of training needed to be specified before planning could proceed.

Was I greeted with open arms and enthusiasm and a hearty slap on the back for following approved Army procedure?

As you can guess, of course not.  After some choice words ending with “You’re just a captain and you do what the battalion commander wants!” I was tossed out of the office.

Some of my questions were:

  • Was the land navigation important?  Or was the goal of the land navigation simply to make the men cover a certain amount of distance before arriving at the firing range, so that they would fire under simulated combat conditions?  If so, then I could accomplish the same thing in a much more straight-forward manner by simply having the men do a forced march to the rifle range and save time and effort all around.
  • Was this to be our required annual qualification?  If so, then the firing was pre-eminent as this was something each soldier had to pass.  If so, then a forced march would be detrimental, but a relatively easy land navigation course would not be a problem.
  • Was the cross-country movement to be done tactically?  Would the men carry full rucksacks?
  • What exactly was meant by ‘gut check?’
  • Do you see the number of questions that evolve when the primary objective isn’t made clear to those tasked with carrying out the mission?

Eventually word of this got to the Commander.  He stopped by my team room and asked me what the problem was.  I explained that I could easily plan and conduct this training, but it would be helpful if I knew what his primary goal was.  He explained that his goal was:  “I want the men pushed to their limits within the designated time period, both mentally and physically, to test team cohesion.”

To me this guidance was very different from running a land navigation course and a rifle range.  What we ended up with was an exercise that we called the Gut Check.  We started with a no-notice alert bringing the team in; having them pack up and load out to the airfield; rig for jumping; board an aircraft and conduct a parachute infiltration; they were met on the drop zone by an ‘agent’ who gave them coordinates for their next point.  If they made the next point in time they found food and directions; if they didn’t make it in time they found just the directions to the next point.  And so on until the team covered an extensive amount of ground in a specified time period.  Few teams made it through the gut check successfully and we also found it tested team cohesion quite well as the Battalion Commander had desired.

The rifle range portion was dropped for logistics reasons.  It was something the operations officer had tagged on as something he thought would be a nice addition, but in reality would have forced the planning to go in entirely another direction.  I was able to give the commander exactly what he wanted with just one sentence of instructions detailing his intent—something we will discuss in the next chapter.

As you can see from this one example all the elements of the elite were involved:  leadership, communication, training, goal-setting and character.

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  1. It is striking to see that even in the Army some of these communication issues still crop up. Unfortunately, they were also present in the Navy.

  2. Hey, Bob,
    Thanks for this. Read it on the plane on the way to a board meeting, and used it at the meeting. I’m sure I’ll use it in my writing as well, but for now, thanks for making me look smart.

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