The 4 Disciplines of Execution

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I recently purchased a copy of The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling, which The Wall Street Journal has rated as #1 Business Bestseller. In it the authors teach how to get things done. The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) is a simple, repeatable and proven formula for executing on your most important strategic priorities in the midst of the whirlwind of daily to do activities.

4DX is not a theory. It is the proven set of principles that have been tested and refined by hundreds of organizations and thousands of teams over many years. When a company or an individual adheres to these disciplines, they achieve superb results – regardless of the goals. It represents a new way of thinking and working that is essential to thriving in today’s competitive climate.

There are two principal things a leader can influence when it comes to producing results: your strategy (or plan) and your ability to execute that strategy. Most organizations and persons focus on developing a good strategy but fail in executing that strategy. The chief culprit is getting caught up in the whirlwind of daily activities, those things that are urgent, while postponing working on what is important.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution aren’t designed for managing your whirlwind. The 4 Disciplines are rules for executing your most critical strategy in the midst of your whirlwind. The following is a quick overview of the 4 Disciplines:

Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important

Start by selecting one or two of the extremely important goals instead of trying to significantly improve everything all at once. This is a challenge for me as I normally try to tick off as many things as possible, attempting many goals. This discipline challenges me to prioritize goals and focus on the one that will give the greatest impact. This discipline stresses the Pareto Principle which states that 20% of your effort delivers 80% of your results.

Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures

Most of us act based on ‘Lag’ measures, that is the results. A Lag measure can be how many sales closed. While the respective lead measure would be how many sales appointments made. By focusing on ‘Lead’ measures you are focusing on the things if done correctly will deliver the Lag measure. By focusing on Lag measures you do not make an impact on results, because it is after the fact. Lead measures are predictive of results, the things that will deliver the Lag measures.

Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

What gets measured gets done. People play differently when they are keeping score. These are two adages that reinforce the need to measure effort and results. The scoreboard must be visible to the team. Recently I gave a workshop to a Sales Team, and one entire wall of the Sales Room was dedicated to a daily updated scoreboard of sales. While this was a lag measure and I informed them of this, it was nonetheless a very compelling scoreboard that created daily enthusiasm and motivation.

Discipline 4: Create a Culture of Accountability

This discipline is based on the principle of accountability: that unless we consistently hold ourselves accountable, the goal naturally disintegrates in the whirlwind of activity. The secret to discipline 4 is not to allocate blame to others but to examine your role in achieving or not achieving targets. What could I or our team have done to achieve better results.

The 4 Disciplines work because they are based on principles, not practices. Practices are situational, subjective, and always evolving. Principles are timeless and self-evident, and they apply everywhere. There are three things to watch out for in implementing the 4DX Discipline:

  • The disciplines sound easy but they take sustained work to implement
  • Each of the 4 Disciplines are paradigm shifting and goes against your general intuition. For instance it is intuitive to have many goals, but the more you have the less you will achieve with excellence
  • The 4 Disciplines go together as a set not as individual choices. They work together in sequence. Think of the 4 Disciplines as an operating system for execution.

In Stephen Covey’s classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he covers the core principles that govern human behaviour and effectiveness. The 4 Disciplines are the equivalent principles for getting things done.

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