The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Admittedly, I am an Amazon addict.  There are only a few days when there isn’t a little brown box containing the latest business book waiting outside my door when I come home from work.  So, keep that in mind when I tell you that The Four Disciplines of Execution may be the best business book I’ve ever read.   It outlines a simple approach that, if followed, can be used to achieve almost any goal. 

Experience tells us that most problems in execution are a centered around the same few things:

  • The goal is not clear to everyone in the organization
  • People at all levels are not committed to the goal
  • People are not held accountable for reaching the goal

However, according to the authors, the real reason that most goals don’t get achieved is that companies are so busy keeping their operations running day-to-day that people don’t have time to focus on a goal.  The urgent (day job) will win over the important (strategic change) every time.  They suggest that to achieve real and lasting change, a company must implement four disciplines (4DX) and focus 20% of people’s time towards following the 4DX process.  The other 80% of time can be spent in the day-to-day “whirlwind.”

Discipline 1 – Focus on the Wildly Important

Pick one goal that, if achieved, will make all the difference.  Wildly Important Goals (WIGs) should be structured in the form of “from x to y by when.”  Think about when Kennedy asked Congress to commit to sending a man to the moon and back by the end of the decade.  That was a pretty wildly important goal, and it focused the nation and its resources on achieving one outcome.

Discipline 2 – Act on the Lead Measures

 Most of us focus on achieving a lag measure, like for example, losing weight.  The problem is, at the end of the month when you get on that scale to measure your achievement, it is too late to do anything about it.  Instead, they suggest that you find and monitor leading measures.  What are the activities that lead to achieving the goal? In the weight loss example, the lead measures are food intake and calories expended.  Focusing on these every day will insure that you achieve the lag goal of losing weight.

Discipline 3 – Keep a Compelling Scorecard

I have always ascribed to the notion of “that which is measured improves”.  This scorecard takes this one step further.  The scorecard must be developed and tracked by the people actually doing the work.  The theory of “people play differently when they are keeping score” applies here.  You want the team to be engaged and pumped up by their progress which can happen if the score is posted visibly and updated every day. 

Discipline 4 – Create a Cadence of Accountability

This is where most goal setting activities fall down.  A team must be accountable, and hold one another accountable for achieving a goal.  This doesn’t happen unless there is a regularly scheduled check-in.  It is so easy to send an email to the team saying “we’re going to focus on sales appointments this month” and by the end of the month, people have forgotten.  The 4DX process recommends regular, at least weekly, short meetings where the sole purpose of the meeting is for each team member to say how they did last week in meeting their commitments, and what the single biggest thing they can do this week to ensure that they meet their upcoming commitments.

I heard recently that an estimated 206 million people set goals or resolutions at New Year’s and by the end of January, 50% of them have fallen off track or failed.  This is why I think the 4DX process is such an elegant, simple approach to setting a goal, figuring out how to achieve it, and then engaging the team to get it done.  If you have a wildly important goal for yourself or your organization, I highly recommend reading this book.