When I launched the Coronado Brewing Company after leaving the Active Duty Navy, I thought I was clear about our mission. My view of it was that I would get the brewpub off the ground, be profitable, refine the systems, then launch a second unit,
then a third, so on and so forth then selling it and doing something else. But my partners had a different mission in mind. Their plan was to have me get the business off the ground then milk it for a better lifestyle than they currently enjoyed. Obviously we did not define our vision or mission as a team very well. As a result, we were not in alignment. We lacked front sight focus as a team. I did my part and when we hit profitability I started phase 2 of my plan. Immediately I met resistance and learned that my mission interfered with my partners plan. Several years and legal actions later I sold my interest and started over with NavySEALs.com. It was an amazing, but painful, learning experience on many levels. I needed to engage a post-event ritual that included a lot of re-framing and re-energizing toward a new challenge. Perhaps most important was that I learned how important it is to define the mission well so that all team members understand and support the mission. First we must size up the goals of our proposed mission to make sure that we are ready for the challenge.
SIZE UP YOUR GOAL
You would be stunned to know how many SEAL candidates quit our SEALFIT Kokoro Crucible. This is after they have passed the SEAL screening test, met the standards, and been blessed by a well-intentioned recruiters. The candidate comes to his first true test of his character, the 50-hour Kokoro Crucible, and fails. What is going on here? Obviously he won’t make it through BUD/s either. Why was he so deceived? Was it the system that deceived him? Were the standards too low? No, these guys deceive themselves with an unrealistic assessment of the situation. They failed to ask the right questions:
What is required to win (in this case earn the trident)?
What do I need to do to close the gap from where I am now, to what is required to win?
Can I realistically close this gap in the time frame I have set, and with the personal assets I have?
In defining your mission and establishing the goals associated with it, you must size up the situation and answer those questions honestly. About two years into my SEAL career I met SEAL Astronaut Bill Shepherd, who later commissioned the International Space Station. CAPT Shepherd inspired me to look at NASA as a path in my SEAL career (we have had another SEAL enter the program since I met Bill – Commander Chris Cassidy). I developed a strong interest in applying to the astronaut program. But I had a problem. My educational background was 180 degrees off. I would need to go back and get an undergraduate, then a graduate level science degree. After this, I would need related work experience, and combined with my SEAL background I stood as good a chance as the other thousand applicants for the 8 or so slots! After answering the three questions above I came to the conclusion that this goal was best left for my next life. I would have to be satisfied with “just” being a SEAL! Sizing up goals is crucial so you don’t chase improper goals and set yourself up for failure. Let’s look at the CARVER system exercise to help us size up our targets in life. CARVER was introduced in Unbeatable Mind Lesson 8 and is worth taking another look at in the context of maintaining front sight focus.
SEALs use a tool called “CARVER” to help identify the highest value target when defining and scoping a mission. You can think of your goals as your targets: You’ve got to decide which ones are worth going after, and of those, which should be your highest priority.
The “C” in CARVER stands for Criticality. How critical is the target to the overall achievement of your mission? You want to reserve your time, resources, and energy for the most valuable targets. Using our SEAL example, let’s say out of five possible targets, going after the radar tower will have the biggest impact on the success of the invasion force. Thus we want to rank that target highest relative to the others. This target gets 5 out of 5.
The “A” in Carver stands for Accessibility. Is the target accessible with the available resources, skills, and timeline? A radar station surrounded by a security force and anti-personnel mines might rank a 1 or even 0, while a lightly guarded station might rank a 4. The product you have the most experience with, or already have a prototype for, would get a higher ranking than a new concept. Choosing goals too far removed from our core competencies or resource availability makes for poor targets.
The “R” stands for Recognizability. When I near the target will I know it? Is my mental model clear and accurate? My goal for the NavySEALs.com / US Tactical mentor program on contract with the Navy Recruiting Command was to dramatically improve the SEAL candidate pass rate on their screening test when they got to boot camp. I hit the ball out of the park on my target, but lost the contract a year later in spite of this. Why? Because I was focusing on the wrong target. The performance in the field was easy for me. What I didn’t recognize was that Government contracting was more about what happened in the halls of the Pentagon, contracting shops and Congress than what happened in the field. I needed to master the nuanced world of government contracting to succeed long term. I ignored that part, allowing Blackwater to swoop in and knock me out of the contract the following year.
The “V” stands for Vulnerability. How easy is it to achieve mission success at each target? What’s it going to take to get to it? What weapons and resources are required? SEALs operate in small teams and, though we pack a mean punch, we’re not suitable for heavily fortified targets. If the target is highly fortified it may require a missile strike, not a SEAL action. In business it’s common to underestimate the time and resources required to launch a project. My experience has taught me to expect three times the cost, difficulty, and timeline on any new project until you master front sight focus!
The “E” stands for Effect of mission success on the enemy or competitors. In the SEAL metaphor, will a successful op lead to confusing the enemy or creating a blind spot? Is that what we’re looking to achieve? Does this outcome help get us closer to our goals? Achieving success in the field with the Navy SEAL Mentor program didn’t keep Blackwater from taking the contract out from under us. In that scenario reaching my metric target didn’t have a strong enough effect on the overall mission to keep the contract.
Finally, the “R” stands for Return on Investment. Perhaps all targets under consideration will move you closer to your objectives, but the return might be higher for one over the others. The SEAL mission has high ROI, for example, if it knocks out the radar tower permanently, allowing the execution of several high-value follow up targets. The ROI is less if we knock the radar out for a week. You’ve got the same target and risk level, but the ROI isn’t worth the investment of capital.
To practice implementing CARVER, choose three important targets (goals). Rank your goals 1-5 in each CARVER category as described previously and see which one comes out on top. You may be surprised to find that the goal you started off favoring didn’t end up with the highest rank. Depending on your mission, you may choose just one goal to pursue or you can use CARVER to help you to prioritize them in terms of resource allocation or even procedural order. Whatever the case, remember this is a tool, and the tool may lead to surprising results. Ensure those results “feel” right when you gut check them.
CLARIFYING THE MISSION
Once you’ve selected your targets and prioritized your goals, again asking the right questions will lead to more clarity. There are two key questions you need to find acceptable answers to:
What are the explicit tasks associated with this mission and how can I achieve them?
Explicit tasks are those tasks defined in the mission statement. These may be the details of what your boss asked you to do, such as “complete the budget by close of business Friday,” or they may be tasks you’ve outlined for yourself. It’s important to be clear about what you’re asked to do (or what you’re asking of yourself). So we must ask deeper questions, such as “who else is involved in getting this project done? Can I count on them to do their part? Is there some higher priority task or project that will sidetrack me?”
Asking good questions can keep us from over-committing and agreeing to missions we can’t possibly complete. In the Vietnam War, a SEAL platoon was tasked with rescuing kidnapped passengers on the heavily fortified Mayaguez. The SEAL officer asked the right questions about his explicit tasks and, determining it was a one-way trip, declined the mission. He got into big trouble until the investigation proved that the order was an illegal order. He saved the lives of his men, and probably the prisoners, by clearly defining his mission, then making a hard choice and taking powerful action—in this case, to refuse the assignment.
2. What are the implicit tasks associated with this mission and how can I achieve them?
The second question is about the unspoken but crucial aspects of the mission. Implicit tasks are those requirements of a mission that are likely assumed, but not stated explicitly. Let’s say the explicit task is to launch a new product line. That seems straightforward, but what’s implied and not stated is that we understand the market’s needs, what drives the customers’ behavior, how to develop products and launch them into the market. Further implied tasks could include anything from website development and management to Internet marketing and copywriting. Often implicit tasks can lie outside the scope of the business professional’s core skills; they’d have to completely re-educate themselves in order to accomplish the explicit task. And so the implied tasks, the unspoken elements, actually become the main thing.
ENVISIONING THE MISSION
Once the mission is solid and defined, we must now take action to win in the collective mind of the team before we set out on the adventure. This sounds cliché but is a crucial step in the success of an elite team. It is one of the primary distinctions between a group of individuals working together in harmony, and a team that dominates and wins every time. In essence, top teams perform a team pre-event ritual that includes some of the same elements as the pre-event ritual described above. Team envisioning is the most powerful of the team pre-event rituals.
In the SEALs the form this takes is two-fold. First, the mission plan (strategic plan) is developed in very graphic, visual detail. Videos, images, pictures, drawings and other visual aides are all utilized in the preparation of the briefing material. Further the team leader will describe the mission in very visual terms, ensuring that the team can see it in their mind as they follow along with the brief. Next, the team doesn’t jump up and race out to get in the helicopter right after the brief (in most cases). They will “dirt dive” the mission. The dirt dive can be as simple as mock diving the underwater route on the grinder, to building a replica of the target’s house and practicing on it until the team can run through the target in their sleep. This latter technique was used in the epic Bin Laden raid.
Individually most SEALs would also spend time alone visualizing their specific roles and critical action points of an operation in their own pre-event rituals. Thus the individuals and the team were participating in the act of seeing themselves win in their mind before the op – the first premise of Unbeatable Mind.
This technique can be very useful for any organizational team. It is not unlike a top sports team watching movies of their past top performances, thereby anchoring future performance with that imagery. When the individuals and the team are in synch with their collective vision we get a powerful effect, and it smells like victory! Then CAPT McRaven used this technique when he sought to reorganize the SEAL force with his “NSW 21” initiative before 9/11. On his own time he went around the entire Naval Special Warfare organization inviting leaders and teams to a visual brief of his concept. He got the entire community to see the vision as individuals and as a collective team of operators. To say that McRaven was a “visionary” is an understatement!
When I embarked on launching the Coronado Brewing Company I envisioned the business as a profitable and thriving venture, then I built a business plan with as much visual imagery as I could. I had an artist do a rendering of what the finished establishment would look like – replete with logo, drink coasters and 5-cent beer coupons in the business plan. Rather than go through the numbers with prospective
investors, I painted a picture in their minds of an inviting social establishment that would bring them not only enjoyment but esteem for being part of it. I briefed them in a visual and casual manner, not asking for their money, but getting them excited about what they were seeing and feeling until they asked if they could be part of it. I sold the vision to 45 investors and raised $1.5 million for the venture with this approach. The investors all earned a solid return in spite of the later partner difficulties. The vision and foundation of the business withstood the later onslaught of negativity surrounding the partnership breakdown.
PREPARING FOR RAPID CHANGE
The next step in integrating the principle of Front Sight Focus is to learn to be a changeling. Changelings are fictional beings from Star Trek who could morph them into any form that suited them. Pretty cool feature. I am suggesting that you become a changeling for your business and life. The world is in constant change, and if we stay static in mind, body and spirit, then we lose the ability to ebb and ow with this change. We become fixed as the world blazes by. When I went back to my College reunion I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of my fellow fraternity brothers had embraced this principle. These guys were very smart – top of the class guys. However, when I went back to my high school reunion in the rural upstate New York town I where I grew up I was stunned to find the opposite. Many of my high school peers had never left high school. They were stuck in a cryogenic deep freeze. Needless to say the College reunion was fun while the High School reunion was downright depressing.
How do we become a changeling? We start by habituating flexibility of thought and action. The SEALs exemplify this principle by planning and training for rapid change. They utilize a rapid planning process that expects the plan to hit a speed bump as soon as they step out of the door into the night. They build flexibility into the plan. Also they allow flexible thinking at the ground level. In other words the higher up leaders don’t try to micromanage things from the rear when the shit hits the fan. I had a classic SEAL moment when I was a watch officer for the SEAL Battle Watch back on the strand in Coronado. A call came in from Iraq that the SEAL Team Three Task Unit had gotten ambushed and a member of the team took a bullet in the head. I started to take action, ready to manage from the rear when the phone rang a second time. It was an officer I had gone through BUD/s with. The call went like this:
“Naval Special Warfare Battle Watch, this is Commander Divine speaking.” “Oh hi Cyborg, this is Chris D…hey I was the guy shot in the head.”
“Jesus – are you ok? Why are you talking to me – shouldn’t you be dead or unconscious?”
“The bullet just went around the inside of my helmet and lodged just under my scalp. I am fine – hey can you do me a favor?”
“Don’t tell my wife – I don’t want her to worry!”
Needless to say I let the whole thing drop at that moment. Seriously, there was no reason to micromanage this drill from the rear even though the official process for a wounded in action situation was clear. Chris was obviously fine and his Task Unit had it under control. Of course his wife found out.
The rapid planning process is an 80% solution, which relies on standard operating procedures to fill in the blanks. The SOP’s cover things that happen in every mission, thus they are not unique and can be trained for routinely. For instance, what happens if your communication plan breaks down should be a SOP, not a spelled out contingency plan. It happens too often to not train for it. Same thing if a leader is wounded (in the corporate world this could be realistic as well). What is the SOP for picking up the slack and continuing on with the mission if a project leader has an accident, serious illness or goes missing while travelling to Bangkok? Though this sounds like a contingency plan it could also be a SOP if your company is big enough and there is a lot of travel involved.
Creating standard operating procedures starts with analyzing the critical nodes, which are the potential failure points of your primary mission sets. Once identified, we would break down the node into the routine and non-routine tasks required to maintain that process. The routine tasks are then trained until several members of the team have a level of mastery in them, creating a redundancy in the process. The non-routine tasks are noted, and a contingency is set for when and if the failure occurs there. For instance one of the critical nodes of a direct action capture-kill mission is the house entry. How a SEAL unit enters a structure and engages with the enemy must be done the same way every time – therefore it is trained as a standard operating procedure. This is not to say that every house entry is the same, rather the routine tasks never change, such as what order the men stack on the door, who breaches the door, which way the men move in the structure and the command and control within. The nuances of a particular structure or operation that are unique require additional planning considerations. A business example would be the product launch we introduced earlier. The basics, such as project management, copywriting, creating web pages and SEM campaigns are the same every time and can be trained to be executed as standard operating procedures, but the nuances of the offer and campaign must be planned and executed as a one-off. This is why it is always easier the second and third time around assuming the organization is a learning organization and not recreating the wheel every time.
SOPs training must become a core competency. We train using the crawl – walk – run model. This means we seek accuracy in the task one time initially, followed by consistent and accurate delivery, finally the ability to execute at a high velocity with consistency. At this level we witness virtuosity in the act, an almost effortless and unconscious competence. What are your critical nodes and failure points? How can you train them into SOPs? This level of contingency planning and training is critical to executing a mission with confidence and maintaining a front sight focus in a fast changing environment when reality starts to collide with the plan.