This past summer I had the privilege of hearing a former Navy Seal and Seal team instructor, Andy Buchannan, speak at my company. It was a fascinating talk in which he not only described what a special group of people Navy Seals are, but he also skillfully applied the key tenets of Navy Seal Training to ways in which to improve business performance.
In his presentation Andy described the extraordinary levels of fitness, mental toughness, and teamwork required to become a Navy Seal – this is well documented (of Andy’s class of 140 entrants, only 32 made it all the way through the training), and Navy Seals are highly respected as some of the most skilled and reliable special forces in the world.
But Andy also described the approach that Navy Seal teams take to each and every one of their missions, and pointed out that companies and their teams can benefit from the same approach as well. Here are the five basic steps that he highlighted:
- Gather and analyze as much intelligence as possible – this often takes the most time for a mission but it is crucial to knowing the situation, assessing the risks, and designing a winning plan. Navy Seals spend as much time studying and analyzing information as they do anything else.
- Devise a detailed plan, and assume at least one thing will go wrong– Andy was quick to point out that things didn’t go according to plan on almost every mission, and that Seals are trained to “expect chaos.” This is why it is so important to work out back up plans for as many contingencies as possible – this applies to business project planning as well.
- Practice until it becomes a part of muscle memory – Navy Seals do countless dry runs of missions before the real thing, so that it becomes almost automatic. While it can be hard to do “dry runs” in a business situation, it does underscore the importance of having well-designed and repeatable operational processes that are consistently followed. This operational excellence then becomes the “muscle memory” of high performing organizations.
- Execute the plan - utilizing every bit of preparation, teamwork, and communication; make real-time adjustments as necessary. Here, Andy said that this is where the preparation and practice paid off. But he was quick to point out that successful missions also depended on constant communications between team members. If they weren’t communicating, they weren’t working as a team and thus endangering the mission.
- Afterwards, provide a rapid-retrospective for learning purposes – regardless of whether the mission went according to plan or not, without fail there would be a briefing amongst the team immediately after. This helped the team gain learnings that would be useful for future missions and for their practices in general. Business teams should adopt a “rapid retrospective” approach after each key event as well.