Commander’s Intent: A Simple Tool that will Have a Big Impact on Your Restaurant [Part 1]

3/23/16 7:00 AM Richelle Starke


Do you ever have one of those mornings where you wake up and feel like you’re headed off to battle?  

Maybe there’s a challenging situation at your restaurant that you know you’ll have to face.

Maybe it’s a difficult conversation you’re dreading, a scheduling or staffing mishap you’ve got to tackle.

Or maybe it’s just the overwhelming amount of to-do's on your list that makes your feet feel heavy as you climb out of bed.

Whether you write-off mornings like this simply as “a case of the Mondays”, or you find a way to power through somehow, we’ve got a battlefield-tested tool that might come in handy for you. It’s called Commander’s Intent, and it was quite literally created for military action.

While the general principle has been around for hundreds of years, we’ve only recently started to see its value and application in the business world. And it’s especially good for leaders who want to cure micromanagement and reignite a passion in their employees.

The Only Way to Grow

Ameego’s Kris Edwards describes his experience with first learning the Commander’s Intent tool as “an epiphany".

"It is an essential tool and a skill you need to hone in order to take your restaurant business to the next level.” He speaks to another situation that might sound familiar in your restaurant. “As you grow from an army of one, you begin to hire good people. You train them well, and they become more productive, which adds more value to your clients, which leads to more revenue. It’s great in theory, but you’re used to doing everything for your business. You think your way is best. It’s very difficult not to micromanage."

Kris goes on to say, “You’re like a proud parent – your restaurant has always been your baby. But you start to tell your staff not just what to achieve but how to do it. You end up being responsible for creating the action plan for what you and everyone else does in a day. You can’t do it alone; you need to empower your team.  How? That’s where Commander’s Intent comes in.”

What is Commander’s Intent?


Simply put, Commander’s Intent is a clear description of the desired outcome of an operation.

At the end of the day, what does success look like? According to army publications, Commander’s Intent “includes the operation’s purpose, key tasks, and the conditions that define the end state.”

For business leaders, this means communicating to your team what you expect of them – what you want them to achieve – without telling them all the steps to get there.

“It’s the idea of less but better. You take out the ‘how’ and just focus on the ‘what,’” says Edwards, “You have to trust your platoon has the skill set and knowledge to get the job done.”

Similarly, business author Wally Adamchik writes, “There is a deep and universal emotion that underlies commander’s intent. Trust. When a leader tells you what he wants to accomplish and lets you go do it, he is sending a message that he trusts you to do the job.”

Focus on Results Only (Results = Vision = Intent)

The Commander’s Intent approach couldn’t be farther from that of the typical micromanager. Instead of looking over every employee’s shoulder and spelling out exactly what they should be doing, you begin to focus purely on the results.

“Having a clear focus on results is the exact same thing as Commander’s Intent,” and that, Edwards admits, can be incredibly freeing – not just for the employees but for the boss as well. “The better you get at honing this skill, the more liberating it gets. You don’t have to know exactly what each person on your team needs to do. You don’t have to do everything yourself.”

Ameego has been using this kind of results only model for close to six years now, and has found it valuable in the decision-making process as well. In fact, Edwards sought out the Commander’s Intent tool for precisely this reason.

“I felt like there weren’t enough hours in a day. It was incredibly stressful when we were facing so many options without a filter. We were paralyzed by decision-making.  Without a clear intent, every idea seems valid; it’s hard to discern which to pursue and which to abandon. You might feel like you’re making progress as a team since everyone is working hard, but in reality you’re running in different directions, not accomplishing the kind of results you want.  Once you establish and communicate your intent – that desired end state – everything gets viewed through that lens and decisions become clearer. You can quickly narrow down priorities. What you might call a vision statement is really, at its core, your restaurant’s intent.  At Ameego, that vision is to create the perfect restaurant schedule. Once we got clear on that, the speed at which we made decisions went through the roof,” Edwards notes, “You have to be able to make lots of good decisions in a short period of time. That’s how you grow.”

One blogger calls it “management by intention,” and describes it as “the ability to guide a group into committing to a shared intention — simply stated but rich with meaning — that is so clear that it focuses everyone’s actions on a common definition of success without the need for micromanagement or over-analysis.”

Order in Chaos

A military writer provides this formula for crafting your intent, and it can easily be adjusted to apply to your restaurant as well.  Simply answer the following 2 questions:


By communicating this to your team, you can help focus their efforts so that no matter what challenges they might face, no matter how far away from the plan things seem to stray, they can make good decisions and achieve the right results.

Just like troops in the field of battle, your team can’t afford to waste time running back to check with you before they act. Commander’s Intent ensures you and your team are aligned under the same objective, heading in the same direction. It provides direction when you’re not around, and empowers your team in situations where they aren’t able to ask “What should I do now?”

Whereas micromanaging stifles passion and puts a stranglehold on productivity, the flexibility of Commander’s Intent can spur your people into action. They are free to find better solutions to achieve the desired results. As one U.S. Army Major writes, “During execution, the commander’s intent spurs disciplined initiative.” And another writer puts it this way:

“It gives those in the trenches the confidence to take action when situations change, knowing they are still working toward the goal of the mission.”

In part 2 of our story [Coming to 'Unscheduled' March 29th], Kris Edwards talks about how to implement Commander's Intent into your restaurant culture with 5 simple steps.

For other tips on ways to impact your restaurant, download our ebook 'Time and Money: A Restaurant Operator's Guide to Making More of Both'.  Get your copy here:


Topics: About Ameego, Leadership