To the Top
To the Top
Do you go into every business interaction poised for success? You should, advises former U.S. Air Force F-15 pilot Jim Murphy, now a corporate trainer and author.
Start by aligning your team around a clear mission, he says, and build in a continuous feedback loop so that you’re always improving. Murphy is the founder and CEO of the training organization Afterburner. His team of former military professionals takes the stage during the conference General Session, Nov. 10, to demonstrate the “flawless execution” methods practiced by fighter pilots.
What is Afterburner?
At the Conference— General Session
Nov. 10, 2012; 3:45-6 p.m.
Murphy: Afterburner is a group of more than 50 former fighter pilots and Navy Seals who travel around the world working with large corporations, teaching the tools and techniques of “flawless execution.” It’s based on our commitment to zero tolerance for error in work that we learned in the military, which we apply to business to help companies accelerate team and individual performance.
You’ve been inside a lot of companies since you started Afterburner in 1996, and I’m sure you’ve seen many different ways in which companies try to execute their plans. Are there common problems among those that are failing to execute? What do you see companies or executives most often doing wrong?
Murphy: Alignment is the common problem. The folks who are responsible for executing plans are not always aligned to the leadership strategy. So there’s often a disconnect between the strategy and what’s actually happening in the business – we call that an execution gap.
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What we teach at Afterburner is a simple, continuous improvement cycle, and the first step in our model is planning. Step No. 1 in planning is developing a mission objection that’s clear, measurable, and achievable and drives action. We know that when most companies create high-level plans, they don’t get down to individual accountability. So the second step in planning is to create individual accountability for team members and a course of action, so you know who’s going to do what by when. After you develop your plan, we like to have someone else hear the plan. We call them “the red team” – these are people from the same specialty but who weren’t involved in the planning process. We ask them to tear the plan apart, and find weaknesses before we go fly the plan.
Can you briefly explain the flawless execution six-step planning process?
- The mission has been articulated.
- Everyone has been briefed on the mission.
- We went out and executed what we agreed to do in the plan.
- When the mission is over we all go into a room and debrief and look at what went right and what didn’t.
- Walk out with a lesson learned
- Put that right back into the plan again.
If we follow these six steps, we’d incrementally, as an organization, start executing a little bit better. When you do this as an organization, you stay one step ahead of the competitive rate of change in the environment every day.
How can individual real estate professionals use the flawless execution planning process?
Murphy: Real estate agents are often gunslingers, and a lot of times they show up to a sales call with an approach based on “this is how I’ve always done it and it’s worked.” You don’t have to be a team or a company to use the six steps. As an individual, you can use the six steps to put some thought into what you’re going to accomplish on that sales call. By having a plan before you get in front of your client, you can be much more effective.
What is task saturation and why is it a problem today?
Murphy: Companies are asking everyone to do more with less. Unless managers and leaders understand that when people become task saturated, which is the perception or the reality of having too much to do without enough time, tools, or resources to get the mission accomplished, errors increase and performance decreases. However, most of us have no idea when we’re dangerously task saturated. One of the issues we’re going to address in our keynote is task saturation, and we’re going to provide tools to identify and eliminate task saturation.
One of the issues you point out is that company work groups don’t take enough time for a “post mortem” or “debrief.” Why is this tripping companies up and why is debriefing important in flawless execution?
Murphy: Companies don’t make time to debrief because they don’t feel it’s important. Companies plan, they execute the plan, and when they finish, maybe they celebrate, but they just go back and plan again.
As former military personnel, we know one of the most important tools for continuous improvement is a nameless, rankless debrief. As soon as we return from a mission, we rip the rank off our shoulders and the nametag off our chest and let everyone in the room know that it doesn’t matter what your rank is in the organization, but the most important thing for the team to do is look at what we said we were going to do in the plan, as well as what actually happened in the results, and look for gaps. We ask two questions: How did the result occur? Why did the result occur? Out of the why question – we develop a lesson learned, a step-by-step address why. So if we had to go out and apply a lesson like this again, we’d apply that lesson learned.
It has to be embraced at the top. It takes a while to change a culture to where this is habitual, but eventually, especially if it’s sponsored by the leadership, pretty soon the culture starts to shift and everyone starts understanding its importance.
In addition to improving customer service as well as the company’s bottom line, what does flawless execution do for morale?
Murphy: It empowers rookies and veterans alike to be able to open up and get honest with each other for the team. People are hesitant to open up and admit any mistakes themselves. If a problem occurs, in flawless execution you’re not just asking how the problem occurred, you’re asking why. The why is where the magic is. It’s not the individual; it’s something beyond the individual. If you can figure out what that is, you can permanently fix it, and how empowering is that?
You say in your book that flawless execution isn’t about striving for perfection. Can you explain?
Murphy: Flawless execution is not about flawless outcomes, because being perfect in today’s tough economic environment is almost impossible. But don’t you want to be part of a team that’s continuously striving for that flawlessly executed outcome? Flawless execution is the process or the pursuit to perfect and it’s the process, the pursuit, and the culture to flawlessly execute as a team or organization around outcomes. I think if companies have that, then you know you’re on a winning team.
If a real estate professional walked away from your presentation with one take-away or one tip, what would you hope it to be?
Murphy: That there’s a simple process, and when applied and utilized, it will increase your level of performance. I want people to walk away and say, “This process is simple, it makes sense, and if I apply it, it will give me some ROI.”