In the past three years, I have read more than 60 business books. Ten of those books were special (i.e. new concept, new point of view of an old concept, or what I like to call a "fresh" idea) and, of those, five were "high impact" ---   including The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX), which addresses an issue with which most businesses struggle. In my November 5, 2012, blog post, entitled It's All About Execution, I discussed this problem ---   but now I can offer a solution. To save you time, I have summarized the key points. Enjoy.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals

by  Chris McChesney Sean Covey Jim Huling 

Addresses an issue with which most businesses struggle.

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What is more challenging for your company, strategy or execution? Most owners/senior executives say execution.

In your formal education (business school, etc.), how many classes did you attend where you learned about execution? Probably none. In your postgraduate training and development programs, how much of the time was devoted to execution? Most likely, the answer is very little.

According to the authors (Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling), there are three primary reasons why businesses fail to execute: the lack of clarity of the objective, commitment, and accountability.

4DX defines a significant initiative/strategy/goal as a "Wildly Important Goal" (WIG). The authors suggest leaders make a major mindset change and think of the WIG as an activity that's above and beyond their day-to-day operations, or day job, which the authors have appropriately labeled a "Whirlwind." Editorial comment: I think the fact that many people fail to recognize their Whirlwind is one of the greatest contributors to WIG failures

The authors propose spending 80 percent of your time on your Whirlwind and 20 percent on your WIG(s). Editorial comment: In my experience, 20 percent seems high for most owner-operated businesses, which are already pretty lean.

Based on the results of surveying more than 300,000 leaders and team members, the authors have identified four disciplines that exist in organizations that consistently achieve their goals and strategies:

Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important

Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures

Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

Discipline 4: Create a Cadence of Accountability

Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important

  • Most organizations have too many goals and don't complete them:
  • Number of Goals
    2 to 3
    4 to 10
    11 to 20
    Goals Achieved with Excellence
    2 to 3
    1 to 2

  • Steve Jobs' focus at Apple was legendary.
  • People who try to push too many goals at once usually wind up doing a mediocre job on all of them.
  • In selecting your WIG, ask this question: "If every other area of our operation remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact?"
    -Something so badly broken that it must be fixed,
    -Leveraging a strength, or
    -Launching a new product or service.
  • The battle (WIG) you choose must win the war.
  • All WIGs should include a specific finish line that must be reached within a certain time frame; in the early 1960s, for example, President Kennedy pronounced the intention to "Land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth before this decade is out." (Paraphrased) Editorial comment: This is easier said than done, but it will increase your chances for success.
  • As a result of Kennedy's clear proclamation, accountability in the space industry soared --- and morale and engagement went through the roof.

Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures (LM)

  • Lag measures tell you if you've achieved the WIG, while an LM tells you if you're likely to achieve the goal.
  • An LM is predictive (i.e. if you do this, then that will happen) and influenceable (i.e. you and/or the team have 80 percent control over the measure).
  • Think about the story of Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics manager, which was chronicled by author Michael Lewis as well as in the popular movie, Moneyball.
  • Does the LM start with a verb (i.e. make, raise, improve, increase, et cetera)?
  • Is it simple?
  • Review your processes to identify LM candidates (i.e. bottlenecks).
by Michael Lewis

The story of Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics manager.

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Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scorecard

  • People play differently when they're keeping score. Simply put, people tend to disengage when they don't know the score. Editorial comment: In Who Says Elephants Can't Dance, Louie Gerstner says, "People do what you inspect,not what you expect."
  • To drive execution, a player's scoreboard needs a few simple graphs, indicating: We need to get from here to there. In five seconds or less, anyone should be able to determine whether the team is winning or losing. Editorial comment: I am a huge fan of Dr. Deming, the founder of the modern-day quality movement. Unfortunately, leaders didn't hear his total message, so in the quest for total quality management, ISO, QS, and all these standards resulted in many companies creating way too many complicated charts. Keep it simple.
  • Think of a time when you were most excited and engaged in what you were doing. Now ask yourself this question: "At that time, did I feel like I was winning?"
  • Editorial comment: The leader may have other scoreboards to assist them, but often so much information overwhelms the team. I once had a client indignantly say, "I can track whatever I want!" My response was, "Absolutely. Just don't confuse your team with it."
Who Says Elephants Can't Dance
by Louie Gerstner

People do what you inspect, not what you expect.

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The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality

by W. Edwards Deming 

Discipline 4: Create a Cadence of Accountability

  • Great teams operate with a high level of accountability.
  • The authors recommend meeting at least weekly, but advise that you have a set agenda and that the meeting lasts no more than 30 minutes. Editorial comment: Later in my business life, I had an epiphany: "Why do we schedule all meetings for at least an hour?" Instead, think of 15-minute, 30-minute, or 45-minute meetings when appropriate.
  • Suggested weekly WIG meeting agenda:
    1. Account: Report on commitments.
    2. Review the scoreboard: Learn from successes and failures.
    3. Plan: Clear the path and make new commitments (one or two actions per person that will positively impact the lead measures).

The first third of the book presents the 4DX concept, while the balance of the book shares lots of specific, real, common issues related to 4DX implementation, how-to's, and helpful checklists and forms.

Although I loved the book, it was written by consultants and is more like a textbook. Go ahead and read it if you want more details and examples. Whether you choose to read it or not, I would challenge you to select a WIG in the next month and give it a shot. Let me know what happens. Good luck!

Seek. Climb. Lead.

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