Topic: Staff Duties
Characteristics of a Good Combat Order
Duty, Honor, Company; West Point Fundamentals for Business Success, Gil Dorland and John Dorland, 1992
To minimize the potential for confusion or misinterpretation of orders, the military has formulated specific guidelines for their preparation. Regardless of how they are communicated, orders should be presented as clearly as possible so that everyone within the organization, from the highest to the lowest level, will readily understand what is required of them. The [US] Army's Staff Organization and Operations manual articulates many of the characteristics of a good combat order--which are the same characteristics of a sound business directive.
1. Clarity. The order must be thoroughly understandable.
2. Completeness. The order contains all the information and instructions necessary to coordinate and execute the operation. It must convey the purpose or intent of the commander so that subordinate commanders will be able to accomplish their mission without further instructions. An order also must include sufficient detail so that all subordinate commanders know what other units are doing.
3. Brevity. Unnecessary detail is avoided. However, clarity and completeness are not sacrificed in the interest of brevity.
4. Recognition of subordinate commander's prerogatives. The order should not infringe on the initiative of subordinate commanders by prescribing details of execution. Only under unusual circumstances, such as an operation requiring extremely close cooperation and timing, should a subordinate commander be told precisely how to perform an assigned task.
5. Use of the affirmative form. In the interest of simplicity and clarity, the affirmative form of expression is used throughout all combat orders. Sentences using the word not should be avoided.
6. Avoidance of qualified directives. Such expressions as "attack vigorously" weaken the force of subsequent directives in which a qualifying adverb does not appear. Such expressions as "try to hold" and "as far as possible" lessen responsibility.
7. Authoritative expression. The order reflects the commander's intention and will. Indecisive, vague, and ambiguous language indicates indecision and leads to uncertainty and lack of confidence by subordinates. The commander tells his subordinates in direct and unmistakable terms exactly what he wants to do.
8. Timeliness. Timely distribution of orders allows subordinate commanders sufficient time for planning and preparation. Concurrent planning saves time.