The 4 Disciplines of Execution

The Four Disciplines of Execution is a phenomenal book written by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling. This system is designed to address the universal frustration of not getting results and achieving team goals. It is simple but powerful.

The authors deem the day-to-day urgency as the whirlwind. The whirlwind is working “in the business”. It is responding to all the immediate demands and requirements of the business. The problem with always being in the whirlwind is that the most important projects and proactive initiatives don’t get the focus and attention needed to put them over the finish line. These four disciplines, if practiced, create the culture and focus to accomplish “wildly important goals”, called WIGS.

Discipline 1: Put your finest effort on the one or two goals that will make all the difference This is the foundation for the other three disciplines. It follows the adage that less is more. The fact is that most organizations and individuals set too many goals. The result is that very little is ever accomplished. Discipline 1 says that you set only one, or at the most, two WIGS (wildly important goals). Select the one outcome that will make the biggest difference in the organization. There will always be more good ideas than there is capacity to execute. That is why discipline one is critical. You must clear your mental desk, and place one or two wildly important objects on that empty desk. That becomes your focus and intention. Period. This is counterintuitive, but critical to the process.

Any WIGS that organizational departments choose must contribute directly to the accomplishment of the company WIG. No departmental team will focus on more than one or two contributing WIGs. Senior leaders can veto departmental WIGs, but cannot dictate. The department must own their WIG.

All WIGs must be stated in this format; “from X to Y by when”; Here are a few examples: Customer approval score from 87% to 95% by March 1, 2019. Decrease production waste from 12 pounds per day to 10 pounds per day by October 1, 2019. You get the idea. The target outcome must be a measured, clear, easily stated target with a deadline.

Discipline 2: Act on lead measures To practice this discipline, you must understand the distinction between a lead measure and a lag measure. A “lag” measure is the result. It is what happens. It is your WIG (Wildly Important Goal). For example, if your wildly important goal is to lose 20 pounds, then your lag measure is weight loss. The lead measure for weight loss is the measurement of the actions that produce the lag results, such as number of calories consumed per day, and number of steps taken per day.

Discipline 2 teaches you that you achieve your WIG when you consistently take certain short term (daily) actions and measure those actions. I call them process goals. The WIG is a lag measure that results from taking the lead actions consistently.

A key to discipline 2 being effective is determining the most leveraged lead measures, no more than one or two. For example, your WIG may be to write three more chapters of your book by February 28, 2019. Your lag measure is number of chapters written, and your lead measure might be number of words written per day. In discipline 2, you set a daily process goal of number of words written per day, and record that daily.

Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

Now that you have identified and stated your WIG (Wildly Important Goal) and have determined the lead activities that will take you to the accomplishment of that goal, you need to create a compelling scoreboard. This scoreboard is a visible communication of whether you’re winning the game. It must be simple, visible, and display two things; the progress toward the WIG (lag measure), and the weekly activities completed (lead measures).

When people play a game, the scoreboard is what keeps them informed on the status. Are we winning, or losing? A game without a scoreboard becomes confusing and pointless. You can glance at the scoreboard and know immediately what’s happening.

Let’s describe a scoreboard using an example of a WIG to increase store sales from $ 240,000 per year to $ 340,000 per year by December 31, 2019. The lead measures chosen are the number of conversations with new target prospects per week, and the total dollars of proposals submitted per week. The scoreboard could be a visible white board with the WIG stated at the top “INCREASE SALES FROM $ 240K per year to $ 340K per year BY DECEMBER 31, 2019.” You might have a thermometer graph on the left side of the scoreboard with 340K at the top. You could also list your four sales people below the WIG, and have a place to record each week’s activity for each salesperson, such as the number of new target prospect meetings conducted each week, and total dollars of proposals sent that week. The scoreboard would be visible and updated weekly. That’s it! This system creates a game-like focus on activity.

Discipline 4: Create a Cadence of Accountability Once you have stated a Wildly Important Goal expressed as "from x to y by when", and have identified the lead measures that will take you there, and have created a scoreboard as a visible display of the WIG, your progress, and lead and lag measures, you are ready for the last discipline that keeps it going, a cadence of accountability.

The word cadence means a steady rhythm. It is expressed here as a regular conversation that occurs at the same time and day of the week, over and over. The purpose of this brief meeting is to report on the commitments that were made, review the scoreboard, discuss failures and successes, and then clear the path of hindrances and make new commitments for the week. This meeting would typically last 20 minutes or less, and serve as an encouragement, celebration of progress, and regular course correction. Again, this discipline is simple but powerful. It is the key to sustaining the effort toward attaining the goal.

Are you ready? My hope in sharing these four disciplines is that you now have a tool to empower you to achieve your greatest goals in business and life. That is my vocational calling, to help people improve their business and life and reach their potential. You have the tool. Now it’s time to take action!

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