How to Create a Disciplined Organization

In today’s business world, "discipline" isn’t a word you’re likely to encounter frequently, if at all. Take a look at any business advice that’s trending online. Chances are, they’ll be filled with buzzwords like "creativity," "synergy," "core competency," and "productivity."

But in reality, discipline is the crucial foundation that underlies the successful implementation of each of these trendy buzzwords. The more disciplined your organization is, the more freedom it has. And when you run a disciplined organization, you too will experience the freedom that discipline brings.

What sets a disciplined organization apart from all the rest?

Willink is blunt when it comes to disciplined organizations. “Discipline equals freedom,” he said. “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.”

But why is discipline so powerful for businesses?

Discipline imposes order. By being disciplined, you create a uniform structure that forms the scaffolding for the way you carry out and conduct your business. “And when you have that kind of discipline inside your organization, you know what will happen?” Willink said. “You’ll end up with more freedom.”

When you instill discipline in yourself and your team, you create a business that stands apart from other businesses. Take the military, for example. When you think about the military, discipline is probably one of the first things that comes to mind. This is because the military is a disciplined organization to an extreme degree.

“In a SEAL platoon, we have the same uniforms, we have the same weapons, we have the same standard operating procedures,” Willink said. And the effect of having the same uniforms, the same weapons, the same standard operating procedures? It all works to give you 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,” Willink explained. “So because we have that discipline, we have the freedom to maneuver more rapidly.”

Of course, when it comes to running a business in the dirt world, you don’t necessarily need — or want — to maneuver quickly. But let’s say you’ve established a standard operating procedure for bidding jobs. With this process in place, you can bid on more jobs, you can bid for them more quickly, and you can submit more accurate bids.

What if you don’t have a disciplined procedure for bidding on jobs? “Without a standard process in place, every job you bid is a new shot in the dark,” Willink said. And it takes a lot more time and effort to prepare each bid. The end result is, you’ll lose out on a lot more jobs than you’ll win.

But if you’re running a disciplined organization, you’ll gain the freedom to make things happen, whether it’s through an efficient bidding process or a robust staffing procedure for manning each work site.

Can you be too disciplined?

The trick is to be disciplined — but not too disciplined. While discipline is a powerful way to run your business, you can also go overboard. “As with everything, there’s a dichotomy,” Willink points out. “If you put too much structure and too much process into place, your freedom’s gone. No one can move anymore.”

The key is to have enough structure in place to give you the freedom to move efficiently and effectively, but not so much structure that no one knows what to do if a project comes along that doesn’t fit your standard operating procedures.

For example, if you've developed a bid process that provides direction for every possible job you can think of, but doesn't leave any room for dealing with bids outside the parameters you've outlined, what happens when you're asked to bid on something with unexpected components? You face the very real risk of losing out on what could be a very profitable job. To prevent this from happening, you need to make sure the processes you implement give you the flexibility to adjust your actions and decisions whenever necessary.


When it comes to running a business, discipline means having the structure to carry out your business effectively and efficiently. You can do this by implementing standard operating procedures that address the issues that arise during your day-to-day operations.

Once these standard processes are in place, you’ll have uniformity in the way you conduct your business. This, in turn, will give you the most powerful benefit of running a disciplined organization: freedom. Just don't go so far with your approach to discipline that your organization becomes rigid and your crews can't adapt effectively in the field.