Tag Archives: the 4 disciplines of execution

Well Done v. Well Said

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.

Manage the “Whirlwind” with Accountability

The Key to Execution

In past posts we’ve noted that many organizations develop improvement strategies but fail to execute and sustain those strategies. While there can be a number of reasons for this, the most common is that the “whirlwind of running day-to-day business” takes over… in other words, we ignore what might be “important” at the expense of what’s “urgent.”

In order to achieve maximum results from improvement efforts, people must implement and sustain a plan. Even when people excel at identifying major opportunities for improvement, if they don’t execute, they don’t make gains. In our work with hundreds of organizations, we have observed that the most successful are outstanding at execution.

In several past posts we have referenced the 4 Disciplines of Execution, a book written by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling, as an effective guide to execution.

The disciplines, as defined by the authors, are:

  1. Identify and focus on a Wildly Important Goal (a WIG)
  2. Monitor and act on LEAD measures
  3. Keep a compelling SCOREBOARD updated by the people doing the work
  4. Develop a rhythm of ACCOUNTABILITY

While each of the ‘disciplines’ is obviously important, we have found that it’s the fourth one ― accountability ― that ultimately enables success. Without a cadence of accountability, the team will have a much more difficult time. By ‘cadence’ the authors mean an inviolable regular schedule, commitments, and expectations. The commitments can be modest, such as ‘what is the one thing I can do by next week to move forward,’ but they must be met. The threat, of course, is the whirlwind of running the day-to-day business that will consume all the available time.

If you’d like to improve your organization’s ability to hold all stakeholders accountable for implementing strategic plans, here are five key areas of focus that can help:

  • Get senior leaders to become actively involved
  • Identify clear project plans for delivering results, including measures and milestones
  • Engage team members and stakeholders
  • Set expectations and consequences — both positive and negative
  • Develop an organized structure and activity / accomplishment reporting / recognition plans – communication matters!

Outstanding at Execution!

In a previous post we noted that an organization can have an excellent strategy, but fail to execute effectively on that strategy, and went on to share some discussion on the 4 Disciplines of Execution, a book written by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling.

If you truly want to achieve maximum results from your improvement effort, it can only be done through implementing and sustaining a plan.

Even when people excel at identifying major opportunities for improvement, if they don’t execute, they don’t make gains. In our work with hundreds of organizations, we have observed that the most successful are outstanding at execution.

If you’d like to improve your organization’s ability to implement strategic plans, here are five key areas of focus that can help:

  1. Get senior leaders to become actively involved
  2. Identify clear project plans for delivering results, including measures and milestones
  3. Engage team members and stakeholders
  4. Set expectations and consequences — both positive and negative
  5. Develop an organized structure and an activity / accomplishment reporting plan – communication matters!

4DX & Engagement Part 5: Accountability

Our previous few posts have focused on “The 4 Disciplines of Execution,” a book  by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling, and how the disciplines impact achieving goals as well as employee engagement.

These previous posts have shared perspectives on disciplines one, two and three. However, the fourth discipline ― accountability ― is the discipline that enables you to win.

Without a 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 ‘cadence’ the authors mean an inviolable regular schedule, commitments, and expectations.  Teams should meet every week, and it’s best to schedule the meetings at the same day and time each and every week. These meetings should never 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.

At the end it is all about employee engagement; working on the right things in the right way and in a way that involves understanding and applying some paradoxical insights:

  • The fewer the goals, the more you get done.
  • Clarity of goals increases engagement, even when a vague goal seems safer.
  • Know your LAG measure, but find and act on LEAD measures to get the results you want.
  • People play differently when they are keeping score and they know if they are winning or losing; the commitment, consistency of focus, and the resulting sense of productivity are all key drivers of engagement.
  • Without a rhythm of accountability, the whirlwind will win.

4DX & Engagement Part 2: WIGS

Our previous post summarized “The Four Disciplines of Execution,” a book  by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling that presents four key “disciplines” for achieving strategic goals.  The disciplines enable people to look beyond the day-to-day requirements of their jobs (the “whirlwind”) to move the organization forward to accomplish something great… to improve both the work and the workplace.

Equally as important, this achievement and the related sense of accomplishment are key ingredients for engaging the workforce; and the research is clear: an organization with a highly-engaged workforce enjoys a significant competitive advantage, including:

  • 50% higher profit
  • 43% higher productivity
  • 80% less turnover
  • 7 times less likely to have a lost-time accident

In addition, and as noted in our previous post, people become increasingly engaged when their goals are clear.

Thus the importance of the first discipline, which is to identify the Wildly Important Goal (WIG). This is the thing that will make the biggest difference for the organization.

Simplicity and focus are important elements in selecting this key goal. More improvements and more goals and objectives can and will be sought, but not at the same time; and while subsequent goals can be different from the first goal, they must ensure the success of the first, most important goal.

An analogy presented is that the first WIG is like a war, and all subsequent or supporting WIG’s are battles; ultimately, winning the battles ensures winning the war.

Each WIG must also have a clear finish line or statement of success. It must be stated in this form: we will get from x to y by when.

This leads to a quick realization… once the goals are identified, then specific action steps for “getting from x to y by when” must also be identified.

Which leads us to the second “discipline,” which we’ll review in our next post.

.