What can your business learn from the US Navy SEALS?

February 12, 2020 in Continuous Improvement, Leadership, Workforce Excellence

You aren’t rescuing hostages in a war zone (or are you?) but your business can still learn valuable lessons in Workforce Excellence from the world’s highest performing teams.

Every leader in history has faced the same challenge. From a tribal chieftain struggling to keep their people alive through the Ice Age, to a corporate CEO building a workforce of thousands, we’re all in the same game. How do we get our people working together?

At Nvolve we are experts in helping you meet the challenge of Workforce Excellence.

“In chaotic, dynamic, and rapidly changing environments, leaders at all levels must be empowered to make decisions.”

– Jocko Willink, Navy SEAL and author of Extreme Ownership

The Four Pillars of Workforce Excellence

Nvolve works with hundreds of businesses in dozens of industries. This wide ranging experience has helped us to identify four key pillars of workforce excellence:

  1. Learning management.
  2. Continuous improvement.
  3. Employee recognition.
  4. Internal communication.

Today we want to focus on the 2nd of these four foundations – Continuous Improvement – and what we can learn about it from the world’s highest performing teams.

continuous improvement banner

At Nvolve we’re constantly researching the very best thinking in business leadership. And there is no stronger or more popular leader-of-leaders at this moment than former US navy SEAL turned author and podcaster, Jocko Willink.

In his bestselling leadership manual Extreme Ownership, Willink lays out lessons learned from decades of leading and training elite special forces. Great thought leaders think alike, and Willink’s teaching mirrors Nvolve’s own experiences in Continuous Improvement.

Get it right the first time…and every time.

Special forces teams only get one opportunity to do it right. In business there are no lives at stake. But there are livelihoods, mortgages, security and profits. The truth is that any high performing business team is in the same position. We have to do it right the first time and every time.

This is as true on the shop floor as it is in agile development scrums or high value sales environments. Every innovation, every customer conversation, every sales call, only happens one time. And success every time is what makes a great business.

Improve quality, reduce hazards, remove risks.

How do we get it right every time? As Willink reminds us, the answer is constant and continuous training, practice and preparation.

We train to improve the quality of what we do, whether it’s delivering tech support to high value clients or putting together smartphones on the production line.

We practice to understand the hazards of any task and reduce them. Why did that customer service interaction become toxic? You can only get it right if you learn those lessons ahead of time.

We prepare to remove risks from each and every workplace process. The worst enemy is the unknown (our words not Jocko’s!) and that’s as true in the office, on the factory floor and in distributed teams as it is on the battlefield.

Craft a continuous feedback loop.

Military tacticians like Willink use the OODA loop:

Observe – gather as much information about the problem as you can.
Orient – understand your professional relationship to the problem.
Decide – set a course of action to deal with the problem.
Act – without hesitation and in full force…then begin the loop again.


In the workplace, as in special forces units, we implement our OODA loops across teams and throughout hierarchies. We use ongoing review and other leadership strategies to feed down expectations and goals.

It’s also essential to loop feedback from the bottom up to the top.

Recognise outstanding ideas and employees.

There’s a reason why the world’s militaries have always maintained ranks, medals and badges of honour. We can’t expect every employee to work at Continuous Improvement if we don’t recognise that improvement.

Military Medals

Over and again business success stories have been shaped by ideas that rise up from the bottom ranks. Not only do the top ranks have to listen, we have to be ready to recognise the value of bottom up communication when we see it.

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