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Former Navy SEAL Touts Preparation, Execution in Power Summit Keynote

In the closing session of the 2017 ASI Power Summit, ex-Navy SEAL Chris Gomez told a group of promo industry leaders gathered in San Diego this week how to treat their teams as if they were an elite force. And though he wasn’t advising attendees to tie up their employees and “drown-proof” them in frigid water, he explained how the rigorous training drills Navy SEALs go through can be applied to the business world.

The goal, Gomez said, is to reach flawless execution. “Is it possible to execute flawlessly in today’s world? I would say it’s not,” he said. However, he added, “When you have a team striving for flawless execution, you land on impeccability.”

Throughout the hour-long keynote address Tuesday morning, Gomez went on to detail what he called the “flawless execution cycle,” which helps organizations to plan, brief, execute, then debrief. Strategy planning needs to clear, measurable and achievable. “You have to start with the end in mind and work backward from there,” Gomez said.

During the planning stage, you should cover every possible “what if” scenario, so you’re prepared for whatever could go wrong. It also helps to have a “red team” with fresh eyes to come in and poke holes in your plans, exposing any flaws. Their insights can then be integrated into the final strategy, Gomez said. The idea is to have a reaction ready for every eventuality. “When things go wrong is not the time to brainstorm,” he added. “Preparation is the key to flexibility.”

Gomez also warned the audience to avoid the dangers of “channelized attention,” where you’re so focused on one task you ignore everything else, which can lead to fatal mistakes. He shared a story of two Navy SEALs who were so intent on a training exercise – running a 45-pound weight back and forth across the bottom of a 25-meter pool – that they ignored the signals their bodies were sending. Both suffered shallow-water blackouts and drowned. Though the corporate world rarely deals with such life-and-death scenarios, channelized attention and task saturation can still be disastrous for a leadership team.

The most important part of the flawless execution cycle, Gomez said, is what comes at the very end. Debriefing after a project to determine what worked – and what didn’t – is essential to improving future projects. He advised leaders to take a page from the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, and make debriefings nameless and rankless. “It’s not about being right, it’s about doing right,” Gomez said.

And though it’s crucial to evaluate past performance, any organization, whether it’s the Navy SEALs or a promotional products firm, needs to keep its sights set on the future. “The only easy day was yesterday,” Gomez said. “You have to focus on going forward.”​

Video: Interview with Chris Gomez