Since many organizations tend to make strategic plans for the New Year, either at the end of the previous year or at the outset of a new one, it seems an ideal time to reaffirm the fact that “planning” does little good without execution. Or, as Ben Franklin put it, “Well done is better than well said!”
But people at all levels frequently struggle to stay-the-course when it comes to achieving goals, keeping resolutions, or executing strategic plans as they fall prey to “working so hard on the urgent that they forget about what’s really important.”
The Four Disciplines of Execution, an insightful book written by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling, shares a solution.
As you may know, the ‘Four Disciplines’ comprise a management system of making consistent and systematic progress on executing plans and achieving goals. An organization can have an excellent strategy but fail to execute effectively on that strategy. Almost always the reason is that everyone is BUSY, and that they experience a conflict between all of the demands to keep the business running on a day to day basis (the ‘whirlwind’) and the time required to move the organization forward to accomplish existing or new goals!
The book identifies four key elements of execution that can help any organization achieve steady progress on the strategic objectives:
The first discipline is to focus on the “wildly important” (WIG—Wildly Important Goals). It is suggested that we’re better off executing a small number of goals right instead of spreading ourselves too thin. It is also important to not only identify, but also communicate exactly what these wildly-important goals are so that everyone is working on what matters. Equally as important, each of these goals must be associated with a targeted completion date – in other words, they must be time-based.
The 2nd discipline is to set (and act upon) lead measures. While lag measures tell you whether or not you have achieved your wildly-important goals, in most cases, by the time the results are in, it’s too late to do anything about them. Lead measures are predictive; they tell you how the lag measures will move, and they are “influenceable” (you can do something about them).
For example, a person might set an important goal of losing weight. The lag measure will be to take periodic measurements of weight. But to influence the weight goal the person must act on the lead measures: exercise (calories burned) and calories consumed.
The 3rd discipline is to keep a compelling scorecard. The scoreboard shows the lead measures and lag measures defined in the first two disciplines. This scoreboard must be ‘a players’ scoreboard’ not a ‘coach’s scoreboard’. It must support, guide, and motivate the players to act effectively on the lead measures and influence the lag measures.
People play the game differently when they are keeping score, and they play differently if they are keeping the score themselves! In fact, the action of recording their own results has proved to have a strong effect on people ― fostering ownership, engagement, and a deeper appreciation of the impact of their effort.
In addition, there are four important requirements to creating an effective scorecard that will truly promote execution and engagement:
- The scorecard must be visible. If it is out of sight, on your computer or on the back of the door, it is less effective at aligning the team to focus on moving those measurements.
- It must be simple, showing only the data required to ‘play the game’ ― to let the players know how they are doing day to day.
- It must show both lead and lag measures.
- It must show “at a glance” how the team or players are doing.
The 4th discipline is to develop a “rhythm of accountability.” This is the discipline that enables you to win… without a rhythm or cadence of accountability, teams will have a much more difficult time and will tend to become less engaged. The threat, of course, is that the whirlwind of running the day-to-day business that will consume all the available time.
By setting a rhythm or cadence the authors mean an inviolable regular schedule to which everyone is committed. For example, teams should meet every week or every two weeks as opposed to “whenever something comes up.” It’s also best to schedule the meetings at the same day and time each week or every-other week. These meetings should never be canceled ― they must be viewed as important and productive, thus promoting strong feelings of belonging, commitment, productivity, and accomplishment, which are all drivers of engagement.
As noted in the book, “without accountability, the whirlwind will win!”
Like many things in life, these elements are simple but not necessarily easy… but they do enable an organization to more easily achieve important goals in the face of the whirlwind.