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Critiques inspired by the Marine Corps

While listening to the Jocko podcast I was introduced to MCDP 1-3, "Tactics". A publication from the U.S. Marine Corps about winning in combat. It's a philosophical publication that presents a way to think about the art and science of using tactics to achieve victory. Tactics include "achieving a decision", "gaining advantage", "being faster" and "adapting".

The publication is filled with blunt yet profound insight that can be applied beyond the battlefield. For example:

Consequences of a tactical engagement should lead to achieving operational and strategic goals.

If you're going to invest time to engage in a project, an activity, or a meeting among colleagues, don't do it just to do it. Have your goals top-of-mind. Why are you pursuing the activity? Without a clear objective the consequences may be lost time, or a frustrated colleague wondering why the meeting was scheduled. Yet it if the objective is clear, the consequences may be mitigated.

In the final chapter "Making It Happen", there is a discussion on how to deliver a "critique" after a training exercise:

The standard approach for conducting critiques should promote initiative. Since every tactical situation is unique and since no training situation can encompass more than a small fraction of the peculiarities of a real tactical situation, there can be no ideal or school solution. Critiques should focus on the students' rationale for doing what they did. What factors did a student consider, or not consider, in making an estimate of the situation? Were the decisions the student made consistent with this estimate? Were the actions ordered tactically sound? Did they have a reasonable chance of achieving success? How well were the orders communicated to subordinates? These questions should form the basis for critiques. The purpose is to broaden a leader's analytical powers, experience level, and base of knowledge, thereby increasing the student's creative ability to devise sound, innovative solutions to difficult problems.

Critiques should be open-minded and understanding, rather than rigid and harsh. Mistakes are essential to the learning process and should always be cast in a positive light. The focus should not be on whether a leader did well or poorly, but rather on the progress achieved in overall development. We must aim to provide the best climate to grow leaders. Damaging a leader's self-esteem, especially in public, therefore should be strictly avoided. A leader's self-confidence is the wellspring from which flows the willingness to assume responsibility and exercise initiative.

This "standard approach" is straightforward, yet practical and nuanced in it's objective of promoting initiative and helping the leader grow. The objective is to focus on a leader's "progress achieved in overall development".

Each company that I've worked for required companywide "employee reviews". I would fill out templates about what I worked on, and rate myself on a subjective scale. My managers and colleagues would do the same. The process was time-consuming and I rarely learned how to get better.

The critique approach presented in MCDP 1-3 isn't a step-by-step guide to delivering a critique. It's a mindset. It presents an objective, a way to think about achieving that objective, and some tactical questions for getting there. It's up to the company to take this approach and adapt it to their situation and needs.

I believe many organizations could benefit by reassessing their approach for conducting critiques, because the "standard approach for conducting critiques" is not so standard outside the US Marine Corps.