Chapter Eight: The Four Disciplines of Execution

I, like many of you, have just gone through my year end appraisal. It’s an interesting time, when you look over the past 12 months and review what you have achieved… Or at 4dxleast what you think you might have achieved! The distractions of work can often ironically detract from your overall impact and it’s not until you reflect that you can see where you’ve gone wrong… Even with the best intentions.

I also know this, as I have just finished The 4 Disciplines of Execution, a book designed to help you achieve your ‘wildly important goals’ and ignore the distractions of the day to day work whirlwind. It’s a fantastic book, so no wonder it was recommended to me by two people, so thanks Gemma Shallard & Sharon Quigley.

In this blog I am going to provide you with an overview of the four principles to help you on your way:

The 4 Disciplines:

  1. Focusing on the Wildly Important
  2. Acting on Lead Measures
  3. Keeping a Compelling Scoreboard
  4. Creating a Cadence of Accountability

Step One – Focus

The main principle in this section is the more you try and achieve the less you actually get done, and this is where most people fall down. Why? Because most people, who have drive, determination and ambition are trying to do more, certainly not less. In an attempt to impress and show worth to the organisation, you often focus on the ‘extra bits’ and not on the core principles of your role, however important they might seem. Remember there will always be more good ideas or extra objectives than you possibly are able to do well. So focus.

When thinking about this principle the authors ask you to focus on one or two ‘wildly important goals’ (WIGS), the things that are actually going to make a difference to your role, yourself and the organisation. If you are trying to focus on more – five, ten even twenty you are never going to give them the time and creativity needed. You’ll just get sucked up by the whirlwind of the day to day.

By giving yourself permission to only focus on two, it’s easy to see when you’re working on something strategically important rather than lower priority tasks. Having goals however is really the easy bit, it’s what you do with them that really matters…

Roll up Step Two – Measure

This was something that was highlighted in a previous book I read – Black Box Thinking, where measuring success was key, because if you don’t know where you’re at how can you improve?  The focus in this book is understanding what type of measures you should set your attention on, as there are two types; Lag and Lead.

Lag measures track what has happened, but predominately are the ones which get the most time spent on them; profit, loss, revenue, customer satisfaction and so on…  These are all important measures but not when driving performance as the consequences have already happened. So there is nothing preemptive you can do about it.  What you really should be thinking about is Lead measures. They’re the game changer. Lead measures track the things your team / you must do in order to achieve your goals. Good lead measures have two sides to them, they are predictive and can be influenced. Even when you think about lead measures, think about what ones make the most difference. For example, is it number of meetings the sales rep attends, or performance in those meetings? I’d take performance in those meetings every time, but this is rarely tracked because its harder. So beware, good lead measures are normally harder to get, but then isn’t everything that’s worthwhile?

Step Three – What’s the score?

People play differently when they keep score, why? Because when individuals are emotionally engaged they perform at higher levels. They want to know whether they are winning or losing, so performance can be adjusted accordingly. The secret to measuring performance however is to keep it simple… Focus on what the main measurable things are and focus on that; anything else is just noise and distracts from the task at hand.  You or your team need to be able to understand in seconds if you are winning or losing, a great scoreboard should consist of a few graphs which essentially says ‘here I am’ and ‘here is where I need to be’.

Step Four – Accountability

Organisations continue to struggle day in and day out with the problem of accountability, and this is where execution really happens. Because without accountability you’re going nowhere fast. As it says in the book, the first three disciplines set up the game, but until you’ve accountability no one is in the game.

The suggestion in the book is simple and evidenced as effective, that the cadence of accountability is a rhythm of regular and frequent meetings of that team, which focuses on the goals (WIGS) and holds each other accountable.  These meetings need to happen at least weekly and last no longer than 20 – 30 minutes. In that time team members must articulate:

  • Last week’s commitments
  • Review the scoreboard
  • Make commitments for the upcoming week

Now if you are an individual contributor and not a manager, I think you could also do this with yourself, by allocating 15 minutes each week to review the above, perhaps even work with a colleague for that extra accountability if you need it.

Now over the last 918 words I have whizzed through the high level principles of the four disciplines, but I can assure you the book goes into much more detail which really helps bring them alive. I think if I were you reading this, I might be thinking, ‘what’s new, I already know this,’ ‘nothing ground breaking here.’ But here’s the thing, if it’s so obvious why is it very rarely done well?

It’s because we get sucked into the whirlwind and suddenly cannot see the wood for the trees. The tips in this book really help and I really urge you to read it.

You can get your copy of the book here – The 4 Disciplines of Execution

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