6 simple questions firefighting chiefs ask—and you should, too

As leaders, we have grand plans: those that will help our organizations, our customers and dare we admit it—our own careers. Unfortunately, we don’t have much time to translate strategy into practical projects for our operational managers to implement.

So, we end up with statements like:

Here’s what we need to do by X date, and here’s how we know we are successful.

There must be a better way…

Psychologist Karl Wieck shared the process followed by the fire crew chief in the U.S. Forest Service when handing off to the incoming chief during a fire. The goal of these statements is to maximize information transfer with minimal distraction during stressful times:

  • Here’s what I think we face. (context)
  • Here’s what I think we should do. (guidelines)
  • Here’s why. (intent)
  • Here’s what I think we should keep an eye on. (guardrails)
  • Now talk to me (i.e., tell me if you don’t understand, can’t do it, or see something that I do not). (clarifying questions).

As you can see, successful leaders do things differently. Instead of a vague statement that pontificates but does not specify, they break down their goal into a cause-and-effect dialogue that offers guidance:

  1. Context: We will do X because…
  2. Intent: Here’s what we hope to achieve by focusing on X …
  3. Guidelines: Here’s how I see us getting X done…
  4. Guardrails: Here are some common traps you should watch out for …
  5. Metrics: In other words, how do we know when we have succeeded? If the answer isn’t a simple “done” or “not done”—like many complex issues—check out an innovative technique we use.
  6. Clarifying questions: Do you understand the ask and the broad guidelines on how to achieve it? Anything I missed? Anything we can do better? Any obstacles we need to remove?

This framework—intent, context, guidelines, guardrails, and clarifying questions—is embedded into both our Klever Insight software as well as our services work. And we have found it to be very powerful in getting a lot handed off, in a very short period. Try it and let me know what you think…

Further reading:

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