The “Five Ws” of Mission

In the Army when giving orders it is important to ensure that the directions provided are clearly communicated and fully understood. However this should be no different in any workplace, community group or team. So how do you communicate your intent and ensure that it is understood by the team?

Have you ever misunderstood what your boss wanted you to do?
Have your staff ever carried out your directions, however the outcomes and not what you expected?
Have you ever wondered what your boss wanted you to do or you didn’t think it made sense? (Don’t worry your staff have in the past felt that way about you too).

This article will not cover all the ins and outs of communications and direction giving, however it will discuss a simple tool that you can use for giving instructions. The “Five Ws”. The “Five Ws” are Who, What, When, Where and Why…..

Many years ago when I as a Staff Cadet in the Australian Army Reserve, we were taught about Mission Statements. The mission statement (or Mission for Short) was a sentence on what you are to achieve. This sentence, “The Mission”, was to be a clear and concise statement that articulates what the team is to achieve. It was drummed into me that each and every mission statement was to include each of the “Five Ws”.

Since that time I have found this tool very useful in many circumstances when I am clearly communicating my intent to my staff around what I require to be done. Each of the components of the “Five Ws” has been very important to ensure clear communication.

Who:
Though this may seem obvious, the who is often a point of confusion. How many times have you left a meeting assuming that some action items are being done by someone else and they thought you were actioning these same items?

What:
This is what you want to achieve. This component is the part that is most commonly communicated as part of a direction. The What combined with the other four Ws will ensure clearer communication.

When:
How many times have you been tasked with something and assumed it was not due for a while? Then all of the sudden you are asked to deliver the outcomes and it is not ready. How many times have your direct reports not been sure of their deadlines and been caught off guard by a deadline? So ensure that when giving directions you include when it needs to be conducted or when the work is due.

Where:
Again the where is something that is often overlooked, as we assume it is implied in our directions. The where is about the environment or where the work is required to be delivered. This may be a physical location, a presentation or a virtual location (i.e. email).

Why:
Often when people give directions, we fail to also give the reason why. In my opinion this is one of the most important parts of a mission or when giving directions. The Why relates to the purpose of the task and the mission. This is the intent of the task and should align with your bosses what part of their mission or task.

When drafting the Why, where possible ensure that it is in accordance with the intent of your boss and your boss’s boss. The reason why it is important to look at the boss’ intent is to ensure that your direct reports have a clear understanding of the organisation’s required outcomes. With the understanding of the organisation’s required outcomes it opens the door for staff to seize opportunities in these directions.

Here is a simple Example of the “Five Ws” in practice:

My monthly Report is due to my Manager by email by the 2nd Friday each month in order to allow time for my manager to submit the monthly report to the board in time for the board meeting.

So here is the breakdown:
Who – Me
What – Monthly Report
When – by 2nd Tues each month
Where – email to my Manager
Why – ensure my Manager has time to submit Report to Board

In this example it is clear what I have to do in the broader context. I also know that my report is important for the information that goes to the board and hence I need to consider what the important items to report for that audience are.

In concluding I hope this simple tool, the “Five Ws”, is helpful in providing clear communication to your staff, so they have a clear understanding of what is required to be achieve and the required outcomes.

Created by Attila Ovari

©Attila &Kim Ovari 2012. The content of this Article may be reproduced with permission of the author. Created 08 November 12.

  1. Thanks Attila, it is great to see you using the application of military training and approaches to help guide people in their thinking in careers and business. Lack of overall strategy or specific direction leads to enormous waste in business, government and the NFP sectors.

    Don’t for get to add an avatar for your ‘admin’ profile, could be just your logo and maybe change the name from admin or ensure you can post comments as yourself with a personal avatar?

    But actually I’m commenting here to see if you would be interest in having this blog posted as a ‘guest blog’ on OptimizeBusiness.org? Let me know if you are interested, I was going to write a similar article but I like yours!

    Cheers, Andrew McIntosh CPA 0448516151
    Optimize Business and on Twitter @Optimize_Biz

  2. A good reminder. Although I’ve been a manager for a long time, it helps to bring things back to the basics.

  3. Hi Attila, excellent and practical information that we can start using right away, thank you!

  4. This is an excellent reminder and tool for clear communication, thank you.

  5. These are also the same for investigative research. Who did it and to whom,what did they do, why did they do it, when (time of event), where(place of event), and the additional question of how was it done.

  1. Pingback: A Simple Tool to Improve Giving Directions | Attila & Kim Ovari

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