How to Create a Disciplined Organization

In today’s world, you're not too likely to encounter the word discipline often—if at all. And that's a shame, because discipline is the foundation of a successful business. 

The more disciplined your organization is, the more freedom it has. And when you have more freedom, you can win more bids, complete more jobs, and grow your business.

Why discipline matters

As a former Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink knows a thing or two about discipline, and he wholeheartedly believes in its power. Discipline is what makes a SEAL team fit for battle—and helps them make it out alive. Discipline is what enables people to meet the goals we set, like getting healthy or learning new skills.

But why is discipline so powerful for businesses

Discipline imposes order. It creates a structure within which you can carry out your business. 

Take the military, for example. That's a highly disciplined organization, and within it, SEALs have an extreme degree of discipline. That comes packaged as uniformity. 

“In a SEAL platoon, we have the same uniforms, we have the same weapons, we have the same standard operating procedures,” Jocko says. 

Why? It all works to give them more freedom to move.

“You have the freedom to quickly give me a magazine of ammunition if I need it because you’re not carrying some random weapon I’ve never even used before, with a different caliber of bullets than my weapon. So because we have that discipline, we have the freedom to maneuver more rapidly,” Jocko explains.

He emphasizes that, “Discipline equals freedom. The more discipline you have in your life, the more freedom you’ll have. This applies to you as an individual, and it applies to your company as well.”

Infuse discipline into day-to-day operations

When you instill discipline in yourself and your team, you create a business that stands apart from others. That's because your company and your employees have the freedom to move when others can't. 

For example, think about how you bid on jobs. Do you have a standardized bidding process in place? If not, then "every job you bid is a new shot in the dark,” Jocko notes. It takes a lot more time and effort to prepare each bid. The end result is, you’ll lose out on more jobs than you’ll win.

But let's say you have a standard procedure for bidding jobs, and you use it every single time. You can bid on more jobs, you can bid quicker, and you can submit more accurate bids. Those are all great ways to earn clients' respect and get more business.

The same concept applies to everything else—from onboarding all your new hires the same way to training your operators to follow the same procedures to keeping the same common tools available at all jobsites.

Your goal is to create discipline in your day-to-day operations, and look for ways to apply it across the company.

Don't go overboard

The trick is to be disciplined . . . but not too disciplined. As with anything else, it's possible to go overboard. “If you put too much structure and too much process into place, your freedom’s gone. No one can move anymore,” Jocko explains.

Think of it like a jungle gym. The reason jungle gyms are so fun is that they have so many spaces. Kids can swing, jump, slide, crawl, and climb using a few strategically placed metal bars for support. If you fill the spaces with too many bars, you'd just have a big, solid chunk of steel. That's no fun to play on.

The key to running a well-disciplined business is to have enough structure in place so you can move efficiently—but not so much structure that no one can function if a project doesn’t fit your standard operating procedures.

For example, if your bid process provides direction for every possible job you can think of, what happens when you try to bid on a job with components you didn't think of?

You need to be flexible and able to quickly adjust your well-established bid process. Otherwise, you could miss out on a lucrative opportunity just because you weren't able to move quickly enough to bid on it.


Discipline gives you the right balance of structure and freedom to carry out your business effectively and efficiently.

You can create a disciplined organization by setting standard procedures that address the day-to-day operational issues you face. Those standards will create uniformity, freeing you up to spend your energy on the unexpected and one-off issues that need your attention.

Just remember, don't take discipline so far that your company becomes rigid and your crews can't adapt in the field. It's all about striking the right balance for maximum freedom.

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