Let’s Be Frank: Schwerpunkt!

By Inspector Frank. February 27, 2020

Editor’s Note:  Writing under the pseudonym Inspector Frank, the author of this column offers a first-hand, candid view of what he has witnessed throughout his career. His purpose in sharing these experiences and opinions is to encourage readers to think deeper about what they do, why they do it, and the possible impact of their decisions.

Inspectioneering is committed to protecting the anonymity of pseudonymous authors. We do, however, hold these contributors to the same editorial standards as those writing under their own name. In this, we know the author’s identity and maintain communications regarding the author’s published works. If you have any questions, feedback, or concerns stemming from this article, please send an email to and we will forward your correspondence to the appropriate party.

If the title didn’t grab your attention then maybe I am not nearly as interesting as I would like to think I am…

If you type this German word into Google translator you will find out it translates to “main emphasis,” “hard point,” or “main focus.” A more correct translation would be the point in which the most effort is concentrated or focused.

In a nutshell, this means that you want to focus your force in the area it will be the most effective. Pretty common sense but there is a little more to it. As it applied to strategy in war, it meant that the commander’s overall strategic intent had to be known and understood by everyone. All levels know what their part in the plan is.

But for this concept to be truly effective, the junior leadership has to have the flexibility and authority to execute tactically as they see fit to meet the overall strategy. When done right, it actually allows for a lot of ability at junior levels for improvisation to happen in what can be a rapidly changing situation while still meeting the overall strategy. In effect, it allows junior leaders to refocus tactical goals if those new goals are better suited to achieving the overall strategy.

A quick example could be the strategy to take over the industrial facilities of an enemy, thereby stopping their ability to produce war material and end the war. At a sub-unit level, you obviously get more specific tactical objectives to make that strategy a reality. So, for example, the 1st Fantasian Airborne Brigade (a fictitious military force) might be tasked with seizing bridges to allow the 455th Fantasian Armoured Division to roll through and take the industrial area.

Pretty straightforward. But now add this concept of Schwerpunkt. What if the junior officers of the 455th Armoured Division en route to the bridge find they can ford the river in a shallow location, thereby bypassing the bridge and the enemy guarding it? Wouldn’t you want those leaders to take advantage of the tactical situation on the ground in order to achieve the strategy? Especially in an easier manner and at less cost. I know I would. As the general in charge, would you be willing to change your tactical plan to that of a subordinate in order to achieve the end goal? That takes some serious self-confidence and confidence in those working for you.

So why am I starting an inspection article with a military leadership conceptual tool that was first developed by the German Army in the 19th Century? Well, because the idea holds merit in industrial settings. In strategic science, the Schwerpunkt is the unmoving target of your strategy – the one thing everyone is working towards. The same principle applies in the petrochemical refining world. 

In an industrial setting, you could say this starts in the form of vision or mission statements. In reality, this is usually some lofty statement that is intended to unite everyone’s efforts towards an end goal. However, remember what I mentioned about junior leaders having the authority to be flexible within the plan if they saw a better way to meet the overall strategy? Does your company actually give operational freedom to lower-level management to execute towards that goal and to overcome obstacles and issues as they see fit? I have seen companies that foster this mentality and others where junior management personnel are scared to do anything without prior authorization.

Now you may or may not have the pull to affect corporate changes, but you can affect your immediate world. Here are some suggestions to start getting everyone pulling together and focusing their energies towards a common overall goal.

First, you need a vision or mission. If the company you work for is anything like some of the ones I have worked for, then maybe the corporate vision statement is a little too vague or generic. If that’s the case, then your department or workgroup may actually need its own vision statement. It doesn’t need to contradict anything corporate has put out, but it needs to be something your work group can understand and act on. “We make Fuel” doesn’t really help inspire your junior field inspectors.

For risk-based equipment management, the focal point is not losing containment and ensuring integrity for the lowest cost. All of the talk about process safety management principles is important, but in the end, the net function has to be directed at the goal of protecting the process. I could therefore take the “We Make Fuel” example and dress it up for the inspection department, e.g., “We keep the process safe so fuel can be made.” Obviously, I never worked as a PR guy, but you get the general idea.

Why should I waste time dreaming up statements you ask? It helps focus. If done right, it can give some more meaning to the day-to-day tasks and, if done really well, can help personnel prioritize what they are working on day-to-day.

Now think about junior leaders in your organization, would they be able to take advantage of a tactical situation in order to achieve the grand strategy? Do their supervisors trust them or, at least, act like they do? Do they feel knowledgeable and empowered? If they don’t, then why not? Better yet, how can you empower them?

I have seen multiple methods used to empower people or, in some cases, poorly attempt to empower people. But there is one that fits in really well with this concept of Schwerpunkt. The method is simply to give the employees (even junior ones) very broad boundaries and allow them to make the decisions within those lane posts. That might seem counterintuitive, normally we will try to restrict the ability of the new employee to “foul things up,” and tell them to get every decision double checked prior to execution. 

That common restriction placed on new or junior hires can be very demotivational. Why were they hired in the first place if not to shine for your organization? 

I would like everyone reading this to think of places they have worked where they felt empowered. Why was that? Have you taken any of those learnings and applied them to where you are working now? Why not? Do you feel empowered right now in your work?

Simply put, Schwerpunkt in business is equal to empowered employees having a clear idea of the overall strategic intent and being allowed to execute their portion of the work in a manner that best achieves the big strategy. 

But, just like every other wasted plan, it only works if you actually use it and act on it. 

So, what is your Schwerpunkt and is it proving effective?

P.S. I know I have oversimplified a strategic concept, and maybe blurred a line or two. I also know that anyone who has taken staff level training with pretty much any NATO allied force is going to get all fired up about this. Good. Thought plus discussion equals progress.

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Comments and Discussion

Posted by Don MacIsaac on March 30, 2020
Good article. I came into a leadership role where... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

(Inspectioneering) Posted by Inspector Frank on June 4, 2020
I like your mission statement. This is a good... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

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