How Banks Can Achieve Flawless Execution Like The Military


In November 2017, the US Navy positioned three of the world’s largest aircraft carriers off the coast of the Korean Peninsula. Each day, as the sun first cracked above the horizon, dozens of F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft would depart from the three carriers. With the precision of a Swiss watch, the sleek jets launched from the carrier decks at speeds nearing 200 mph. Once airborne, they formed into huge attack formations as part of the greatest show of military force in modern history.

Imagine the scene–dozens of $70 million jet fighters being fueled, loaded, taxied and launched within minutes of each other. An outside observer would probably stand slack-jawed in amazement at the fluidity – the alignment – the near perfection of the carrier launch operation.

Now consider this: Each aircraft carrier has a crew of approximately 5,000 Sailors and Marines. That’s a lot of people! The average age of this crew: 19 to 20-years old. Are you kidding me? How is it possible to create such an impeccable sense of alignment, motivation, and accountability amongst a group of 5,000 19 to 20-year olds with no prior experience?

It’s quite simple – the United States military uses a clear, scalable, repeatable process to develop and maintain this elite level of performance. A process we at Afterburner refer to as Flawless Execution.

Introducing Afterburner

To learn more about the Flawless Execution framework, we brought in Afterburner to advise us. Afterburner is a team of former fighter pilots, Navy SEALS, Army Rangers and other elite military veterans. For the last twenty-two years, they have been sharing their tools, techniques, and procedures of high-performing teams with corporate America. They have provided world-class training for over half of the Fortune 500, eighty-five of the Fortune 100 and fifteen NFL Teams.

Flawless Execution

Flawless Execution is not just a goal or a motto. It’s a methodology that was born and bred in the high stakes world of combat aviation. The model is intentionally simple and banks, as we are learning, can easily apply the concepts. Fighter pilots, we learned, like to keep things simple because, in the chaos of their supersonic world, they must be able to fall back on a simple, scalable, and proven process to win. Most importantly, this process needs to drive accountable actions from individuals, from teams, and from the organization.

Over the next several weeks, we will be writing, videoing and holding a webinar on what we are learning about the highly-effective steps of Flawless Execution. Readers are invited to come on this journey with us to learn the tools that can create an environment necessary to take your bank team to the highest level of organizational alignment and performance.

Vision Alignment – HDD

There is an ancient Japanese proverb that states “Vision without Action is Daydream…Action without Vision is Nightmare.” Are your daily actions moving the organization to the future your organization desires? Are your team members aligned towards that future state? The first step to winning is describing what victory looks like. Flawless Execution designs the future by establishing a picture of success and how it’s measured. Why are we here? Where are we going? When will we get there? How do we know if we have achieved success?

Afterburner refers to this highly-specific organizational vision of the future as the High Definition Destination (HDD). The HDD trades the ambiguity of traditional mission statements for a clear, compelling description of what the organization wants to be at a future date. Developing an HDD is an organization’s way of designing the future, an intentional means of long-range planning that serves as a guide for future actions and decision-making. Once we have established the HDD, we must communicate that destination to every member of the organization and ensure that every action – whether tactical or strategic – must align to the bigger picture goal of the team.

The HDD consists of four primary components: The Organizational Imperative (the Why), The Organizational Principles (things we will always do and things we will never do), and the Key Areas (specific intended effects and metrics that clearly define the organizational future).

So, in the case of 5,000 millennials working in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment aboard an aircraft carrier, what do you believe their common High Definition Destination might be? How do you ensure such a diverse and cross-functional team remains aligned? From catapult operators to cooks, from the ship’s Captain to nuclear engineers – what strategic vision drives their tactical actions?

Now, if you are a banker, your Organizational Imperative would look something like this – “We strive to improve the quality of life for our community and the service men and women of our vessel while operating with integrity, fairness, discipline and a highly professional attitude. Our behavior focuses on the needs of command staff to help them achieve their dreams. We look to do this by building long-term relationships while satisfying the needs of the US government and destroying the quality of life of our enemies.”

However, if you are in the US military and you are in charge of this ship, your Imperative is much simpler: Get the planes off the boat at the assigned time.

Do the actions of my team in the launch room, bridge, dining mess, reactor room, etc. help my carrier group get the planes off the boat at the assigned time? Do my tacticalactions align with this strategic goal? Without me and the actions that I’m about to take, can my organization achieve success?

You see, everyone must understand why their daily actions are so incredibly valuable, and critical, to the overall success of the organization.

The Starting Challenge

You may have done this before, but we would like to offer you a challenge – Go to the following four people and ask them where the organization is going? What does our future look like and what do we need to do to achieve it?

Teller / Universal banker / Account representative
Business development officer
EVP of _______
Board member
Without knowing anything about your specific bank, 98% of the time, you will get four DIFFERENT answers! Very few teams are truly aligned around a common goal!

Can you imagine an environment where every team member responds with the same fundamental knowledge? Can you imagine the power of having an entire organization understand where the team is going and how it will get there? It’s possible! Afterburner is an example as if you ask any team member what they do, you will get the same response: “We inspire, motivate and align individuals, teams, and organizations.”

Putting Flawless Execution Into Action

There are high performing banks in our industry that do have the whole organization focused on “Helping customers achieve financial independence” or “Turning the small business owner into big business.” More than just a simple vision statement, they have created a pattern of execution that directly carries out that mission.

Flawless Execution is series of tools, techniques, and procedures that stresses the simple, yet effective, process of high-performing, elite teams. This process has been used countless times across every branch of the military to drive aligned and accountable teams. Do you have an aligned team? Can you ask every member of your organization “Where are we going?” with the confidence that their answers will be aligned?

Look for our next segment on how banks can better develop into a high performing organization. In the meantime, start with the development of a High Definition Destination. A clear and concise bank vision should serve as the standard to which all actions are executed and decisions measured. Start with that and watch performance follow.

Post Script: About This Series
This article is the first in a blog series co-authored by Chris Nichols, CSO for CenterState Bank and David “Finch” Guenthner, Partner at Afterburner.