UPDATED as of 28 August 2020
The 4 Disciplines of Execution
Plans and strategies may change. Behaviours, however, not so much. At least, not as quickly. It is important to understand that good execution is not only a condition of knowledge and skill, but it is also a condition of the will.
How do you, as an organisation, move forward as a team when goals are already challenging enough on your own? The key lies in two words— first principles.
In this special interview, the 4 Disciplines of Execution co-author Sean Covey expertly delivers insights and anecdotes on:
- The 4 Disciplines in a nutshell
- How purpose and discipline affect your execution
- Sustaining your Wildly Important Goal even in the midst of chaos
- What successful organisations are doing right and what others are getting wrong
Too often history shows that a good strategy fails to deliver a productive outcome in terms of the bottomline. Strategy and execution are in a word— inseparable. They are the two sides of the same coin. In order to successfully execute on your goals, you need focus.
One thing you already know about acting on a great idea is the fact that chaos will be involved. It is very easy to lose focus when you have to wade through a quagmire of priorities and goals daily. As teams lose focus, they eventually lose power, which is why you need a game plan.
In this week's Knowledge Nuggets, let us take a look at the 4 Disciplines of Execution by authors Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling, who address the issue of what constitutes the disciplines of excellence in execution of strategy.
Insight: Organisations which can execute their goals will have a greater chance of being successful.
Data: According to research by the University of Scranton 92 percent of people that set New Year's goals never actually achieve them. ( Inc.)
What’s the step change: Focus on developing the core principles of execution and achieve your goals. Download the Knowledge Nuggets: 4 Disciplines of Execution PDF to learn more.
The greatest challenge in executing strategy is the whirlwind. The whirlwind is the chaos of day-to-day life.
Being an endless stream of day-to-day tasks and problems, the whirlwind is extremely difficult to manage, and can overwhelm you and prevent you from implementing the strategy.
In response, the authors have developed The 4 Disciplines of Execution which allow an organisation to withstand the power of the whirlwind and focus on work that really matters.
Implementing The 4 Disciplines of Execution
Discipline #1 - Focus on your WIG
The first discipline is a focus on Wildly Important Goal (WIG). It is easy to get overwhelmed in the whirlwind, where you deal with tasks and problems that spring at you from all fronts. Focusing on your WIG means narrowing your focus.
This does not mean that you should ignore the tasks necessary to maintain your operation. It means you need to focus on the key aspects of strategy.
When you choose a WIG, you should identify the most important objective that won’t be achieved unless given special attention. What is the one area where change would have the greatest impact? This means that your day-to-day tasks might not influence these goals at all.
To define your WIG you will need to consider:
- The possibilities - Where else can you improve? What are your strongest suits and where are your blind spots?
- The impact - Rank your WIG based on how it affects your organisation. Do you want to achieve a financial goal, quality goal or a strategic goal?
- The alignment - Test your ideas. How do they contribute to the overall WIG? Is it measurable? Who owns the results?
- The framing - Focus on what needs to be achieved. Frame your WIG in terms of “from x to y by when”. Have a look at where you are now, where you want to be and when you should have it done.
By focusing on your WIG, you will be able to have a single measure of success. Keep in mind that teams should work on no more than two WIGs at a time, and that your team WIGs should contribute to the overall WIG. This is the first step in your overall game-plan.
Discipline #2 - Act on the Lead Measures
When you are working on your key goals, your success will be based on two metrics. They are the Lag and Lead measures.
Lag measures: They track the success of your WIG. They are historical measures that are accepted as reflecting the current performance. They can no longer be influenced by the team.
Lead measures: They predict the success of the lag measures and can be influenced by the team. These can be small outcomes which focus the team on a weekly result (e.g. limiting out of stock items to fewer than 20% per week), or can be leveraged behaviours which track specific behaviours you want the team to perform throughout the week (e.g. one new business call a week)
A common example is weight loss. Proper diet and exercise are your lead measures. These are aspects that you can influence. Your current weight and waistline serves as your lag measures because they cannot be fully influenced unless you take the time to work on them.
This is why you should focus on the lead measure instead of on your lag measure. By keeping track of your food intake and exercising on a daily basis, you will be able to directly influence your work and push your WIG forward.
For the data to qualify as a good lead indicator, the data should be PRIM:
- Predictive - Does it affect the overall WIG? How does it inform the relevant lag?
- Repeatable - Is it a once and done deal? There is often greater value in repeating leads. Is the data worth pursuing or will it cost more to gather it?
- Influenceable - Does the team have the capability to move the measure forward?
- Measurable - Can the performance be tracked? Can you keep it in a scoreboard?
Discipline #3 - Put up a Scoreboard
People perform differently when they are keeping score. Lead and lag measures won’t really mean that much to the team unless they can see the progress in real-time.
Imagine a group of teenagers playing a pickup game of basketball. If they are just shooting hoops and not really competing against one another, you will see a certain uninterested quality to their movements.
They are neither as focused as competitive with one another. As soon as they start keeping score however, the players will usually play harder in an attempt to win.
This is because working on a goal won’t be as compelling unless you see the effects of your work. If you want your team to fully commit to a goal, it is very important that you keep score and show your team how their work affects the outcome of a project or goal.
What should the team scoreboard look like?
- It is simple - it only tracks the lag measure, two lead measures and no more
- It is personalised - the team should be closely involved in creating the scoreboard
- It is comprehensive - it contains a full explanation of the WIG and measures along with the graphs, which display both actual results and the target results
- It is clear - can you tell whether you are winning or losing at a glance of a measure?
- It is accessible - the scoreboard is positioned somewhere visible and is easy to update
Discipline #4 - Cadence of Accountability
It is important to create a rhythm through a series of team meetings so team members can focus on the WIG. These meetings set the cadence for players to hold each other accountable for the commitments required to move the WIG forward.
In these 20 minute meetings, team members discuss the WIG and one by one make no more than two commitments to progress by answering the key question:
What are the one or two most important things I can do this week that will move the WIG forward?
In the meeting, members will make the following report:
- Were they able to honour and meet last week’s commitments
- How their commitments moved the lead and lag measures
- What their commitments are for the coming week
Apart from individual reports, during this time the team should also have a look at:
- Reviewing the scoreboard
- Making new commitments for the week
- Celebrating success and recognising great performance
- Clearing the path and assisting each other
- Sharing their learnings
The key is to keep meeting each other consistently and to respect the commitments and view them as a personal responsibility. Because the team has made a commitment and they see how their work impacts the success of the WIG, they will strive harder to contribute to its execution.
To summarise, there are six steps to implement the four disciplines across an organisation.
- Choose the overall WIG
- Choose team WIGs and lead measures
- Train leaders on The 4 Disciplines of Execution
- Launch The 4 Disciplines of Execution
- Guided execution
- Quarterly meetings
Download our Knowledge Nugget on The 4 Disciplines of Execution: