Disciplines of Execution

Learn how to put your plans into practice.

At the beginning of each year, a lot of us make these grand promises to make a change in our lives. We decide to go sign up for a gym membership so that we will have a six-pack by the beginning of summer. However, come February, we frequent the gym just as often as we did in December. How come? To put simply, we fail when it comes time to execute.

That is no different for businesses. Having the ability to change is exactly what makes businesses successful. However, in order to change, you need to make some executions. So, how do you ensure that happens?

In this piece, we will outline the four disciplines that you should attempt to follow in order to enhance your execution and reach your objectives. This doesn’t entail yelling at your staff or taking barbaric measures at times of disappointment. If you learn to include those disciplines into your business, you will have a clear vision of what your most important objectives are and you’ll be able to successfully do the most difficult thing; change how people behave.

You will learn:

  • What do whirlwinds have to do in regards to reaching your goals?
  • How come fuzzy goals won’t bring you to the moon and back
  • How come you should always keep a scoreboard in the office

Getting people to change is the real challenge of executing strategic goals.

Change is a good thing, especially when it comes to business. How come? Look at it like this; if you aren’t constantly getting better, you’re giving your competitors a chance to come moseying on in. However, stopping that from happening is very difficult because:

Although there is an endless number of potential growth strategies, there are only two ways that you can execute them: either with a pen stroke or by altering how humans act.

The easiest is without a doubt with the stroke of a pen. Executives literally just have to sign a paper and then someone from some other department or level will manage the rest of it.

However, those are merely quick solutions. On the contrary, lasting change requires people to change how they behave. That’s where the majority of executives fall a bit short, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Those who have ever tried to stop smoking or have gone on a diet can confirm that making a change is not easy. The thing is, in these examples, you’re only trying to change yourself. This means that changing others is that much more difficult.

The thing is, your employees may not have a clear understanding of the business’s goal or an idea of how altering their behavior will assist the company in reaching that objective. On the other hand, they could just not even care in the first place.

At first, it may feel as if there are simple solutions to those issues. You could just disperse detailed descriptions of your business’s goals, specifically outline every staff member’s responsibilities, and fire those who just couldn’t care less. However, the core part of the issue is a whole lot more difficult.

Each one of these issues and decisions are called the whirlwind, which is what the authors use in order to outline the daily tasks that take up a lot of your time, thus sucking up all of your creative energy. The whirlwind is the biggest enemy against change. For instance, suppose you spend an entire hour trying to get someone to make a few changes, however, during that time, all that’s going through their minds are the ten urgent things that they have to get done as soon as possible.

Even though it is hard, you can reach big strategic goals even though a whirlwind exists. If you master the four disciplines of execution, it’ll make things a whole lot simpler. We’ll go into more detail in the next couple paragraphs.

Focusing on specific, wildly important goals is the first discipline of execution.

The very first discipline of execution lies in focusing only on what actually matters.

We do get how all of us have this instinct to try to do more. Due to the fact that the majority of executives are overachievers, they are in particular encouraged by that sentiment. However, the more that you attempt to do, the less that you’ll be able to both pay attention to and put work into individual efforts. Therefore, if you really want to accomplish something great, then you really need to concentrate on it.

As a result, your strategy needs to place an emphasis on one or two Wildly Important Goals, or WIGs, with which you can go after when inside the whirlwind.

For instance, decreasing costs by 20 percent by the end of the year is an instance of a WIG. However, when coming up with those objectives, generally, WIGs have to be specific and have a great influence on how your employees perform.

Specificity is extremely important since a WIG shouldn’t act like either a vision or a mission statement and on the contrary, outline a precise objective that the entire team can work toward.

In order to understand how come specificity can be so strong, you need to hear this story: Back in 1958, NASA had worked under the vague objective of broadening “human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and in space”. However, that was changed in 1961 when then President John F. Kennedy had publicly announced to the agency to bring a man to the moon and then have them return in one piece to Earth before the decade ended. That is how one clear goal with a set timeframe caused Neil Armstrong to set foot onto the moon on July 21st, 1969.

Just as this NASA example outlined, it’s crucial to find WIGs that have a huge influence. There’s no need to exert all of your blood, sweat, and tears into something that won’t really do anything significant to your business.

The second discipline of execution: meet your goals by choosing measures that reflect current behavior.

You learned from the previous section that you need to focus on reaching wildly important goals. In order to do that, you have to focus on things that will help you win instead of those that bring you down when you barely make it.

That is so much simpler to say instead of do since the majority of people only pay attention to lag measures. These measures are a reflection of previous performance, showing your standing in relation to your objective. Both profit margins and customer satisfaction rankings are examples of lag measures.

Even though paying attention to those measures is only normal, it doesn’t help you much in reaching your goal. What we’re trying to say is that those signals are merely reflections of previous events that you can’t alter anymore, which is why paying attention to them can be depressing.

For example, suppose you’re trying to lose weight. It’s not recommended that you wait up until the end of the month to weigh yourself. This is because should you not meet your goal, you will feel like a complete loser. In addition, by that point, it’ll be way too late to change anything.

That is why in order to reach your wildly important goals, it would be better to pay attention to lead measures. In comparison to lag measures, lead measures echo current behavior, which means that you can still impact them in order to assist you in reaching your objective.

In the losing weight example, calorie counts and exercise metrics are just what you need if you want solid lead measures, as they’re predictive of what your weight loss goal will be. I mean, just think about, if you track both your diet and exercise, there’s a much greater chance that you’ll lose weight. In addition, you have the entire control over those two factors.

Don’t take it wrong, though. We do understand that the road to weight loss requires the intake of less junk food and a whole lot more exercising. However, understanding and going through with it are two different things. Therefore, you have a much better chance of following through with your plans when you monitor lead measures as those metrics tell you how your current actions are directly impacting your objective.

Motivate your team by keeping score of their performance: the third discipline of execution.

With those initial two disciplines, you outline your wildly important goal and pinpoint which metrics will assist you with getting it. The third discipline is about assisting your employees with pinpointing the goal, thus encouraging them to help you reach it.

A great way to get the ball rolling on that is by having your team keep score on how each one is performing. That will boost performance since it’s no secret that everyone enjoys to win. The thing is, people automatically get more engaged whenever there is a win at stake. In fact, keeping score is one way that you can bring forward that game-face energy as well as motivation.

For example, whenever you watch children play football at the park, you can most likely immediately tell whether or not they’re keeping score. The fact that people are cheering for each touchdown is one telltale sign.

That is why your team needs to make a sort of scoreboard that tracks everyone’s progress on the WIG. Regardless if you use a sophisticated online tool or an old-school chalkboard, you just need to be able to show each person how they’re doing.

Since motivation is the main objective behind the scoreboard, you need to make sure that it’s understandable while simple enough for your staff to maintain on their own. In addition, it should have both lead and lag measures as well crucial information about where a team needs to be and where it is in real time. With all of that data nicely spread out, each staff member should be able to tell, just by looking at it, if they are winning or losing.

Suppose boosting production by 20 percent by the end of the year is one of your WIGs. In order to reach that goal, your staff have to raise production by 5 percent every month. Therefore, your scoreboard needs to depict the lag and the lead measures that are related to that certain goal, that way your team understands how it is that they’re doing.

The fourth discipline of execution is establishing a culture of accountability.

The third discipline taught us how to encourage employees to play a part in your wildly important goals. However, the fourth one is the main part of the execution process; it revolves around getting your staff to commit to the goal for the long-haul.

In order to make that a reality, your staff need to be held accountable to one another instead of just you. No one wants their fellow staff members to be disappointed, therefore they’ll have this even bigger sense of responsibility if they’ve got to answer to the peers as well.

This proves that having constant WIG meetings will guarantee an endless commitment to those goals. Those meetings need to have three things; a synopsis of the commitments from the previous week, a scoreboard review, as well as a plan for the next week.

Those meetings will ensure an ongoing progress in the direction of the WIG as every staff member will be held responsible for establishing and reaching weekly commitments that influence the lead measures.

It’s imperative that you let employees select their commitments on their own that way they are actually interested in playing a part in the process. When you are a team leader, your position simply requires you to ensure that the commitments are specific and directly linked to the WIG.

Town Park, a valet parking services company provides a really good example of how that works in reality. When they had started to begin using the Four Disciplines method, the team leaders had chosen the WIG of boosting customer satisfaction. As a result, they pinpointed “reducing retrieval time”, which is the amount of time that’s between a client’s call for a vehicle and the valet’s delivery of it, to be their important lead measure. When they had placed a focus on that metric, the valets had come up with an innovative answer; the would rotate the vehicles from the end of the lot to the entrance at the times that they knew a client would be calling for it soon.

Now, although we have essentially just outlined the four disciplines, it’s not that easy. It requires true effort as well as commitment in order to actually use them in your workplace. Keep on reading to learn how.

Follow a step-by-step process to implement wildly important goals and identify useful predictive measures.

Bringing forward the four disciplines to your work may initially be a bit difficult, however, it will definitely be worth it in the end. In order to bring in the first discipline, which is identifying a WIG, you just need to follow the following four simple steps:

Begin by collecting lots of ideas. Talk to leaders and employees to ensure that you are receiving as much information that you can.

Next, rank those ideas based on the influence that they will have on to overall WIG.

For instance, a hotel giant chain’s WIG was to boost total profit from $54 million to $62 million by the end of the year. Therefore, their second WIG revolved around enhancing their relationships with restaurants as well as local sports and culture venues. They thought that the link would bring more clients to the restaurant and hotel, which helped them reach their profit goals.

Afterward, put your ideas to the test to make sure that they go hand in hand with your overall WIG. The restaurant in the example earlier could have made the mistake of expanding their restaurant menu as their secondary WIG, however that most likely wouldn’t have increased profits. This is why trying out your WIGs is so crucial.

In the last stage, you need to pinpoint an easy and understandable definition of your goal. If all goes well, you would start with a verb and then continue by pinpointing the lag measure, a deliverable, as well as a deadline. For example: Decrease (verb) production costs (lag measure) from 20 to 15 million (deliverable) by December 31st (deadline).

You can pursue those same steps in order to choose your lead measures, therefore putting to action the second discipline. This is really useful when you need to consistently re-evaluate as well as try out your lead measures, therefore, ensuring that they’re predictive, precise, as well as measurable.

Follow through on introducing a scoreboard and creating a cycle of accountability.

As we learned in the last selection, there are some easy steps that you can follow in order to implement both the first and the second disciplines. You aren’t able to bring forward either the third or the fourth disciplines with that kind of methodic orderliness, though, which is why you do need some sort of plan.

Let’s begin with the third discipline. Creating a scoreboard doesn’t need as much involvement in comparison to any of the other steps. All that you need to do is create a preliminary theme such as a speedometer, or a bar chart, just to name a few examples.

Afterward, take a step down and ask your staff to design and create that board. This will get them to be even more engaged with the process. Don’t forget to let them know that a solid scoreboard should only have important information such as the goal, the lead, as well as the lag measures. As soon as the board is up, give someone the role of updating the score on daily basis.

Now, we’re ready for the fourth discipline.

Implementing an environment of accountability means that you have to set the example for your employees. The fourth discipline is a crucial step that lies at the heart of execution. That being said, it is also a pretty complex one as you need to be really committed and dedicated. Don’t forget that as soon as you decided on a weekly meeting, you need to be there every single time.

Begin the meeting by announcing your commitments in order to let everyone know that it’s not something scary and difficult to do. Afterward, ensure that you go over the update scoreboard and commemorate each and every success.

Don’t forget that the whirlwind doesn’t have anything to do with the WIG meeting and be sure that you’re only talking about WIGs. Every team member that doesn’t reach their WIG commitment due to the whirlwind needs to be held accountable.

Should they not reach a commitment, be sure that you deal with it with respect. Let them know that you truly value their work, but why it’s imperative, for the benefit of the entire team, that every person goes through on their WIG commitments. Afterward, be sure to offer them another chance to try and meet that commitment.

Follow a six-step process to involve all departments in the Four Disciplines model.

If you are interested in bringing forth the Four Disciplines into a big organization that has more than ten different departments, be sure that you plan it out with care. That process requires six steps:

Begin by clearly outlining your overall primary WIG.

After, get the team leaders involved; every department head needs to outline one individual WIG along with the right lead measures that go hand in hand with the overall WIG. When you’re the head, you have the right to get rid of any goals that don’t seem to work with the company’s bigger goals. However, be sure that every manager has the freedom to select their own WIG. If not, you won’t receive the level of engagement that you’re aiming for.

Next, have a chat with all of the team leads and teach them about the Four Disciplines model. They are the ones who will need to bring that process forward in their own departments, anyways.

The fourth step requires each team leader to go and bring that process to life within their specific team. In addition, they need to ask for feedback as well as get their department’s approval to keep going forward on both the WIGs and the lead measures.

The next step involves individual teams working on making that method close to perfection. In the ideal word, the department head needs more coaching about the process for about three more months at the least.

Lastly, bring it all together by establishing quarterly meetings with every team leader in order to talk about the process that you’re making all together as a company.

That’s it! You’ve brought forward a process that lets you bring your vision to life and reach your goals.

Final Summary

Executing strategic goals demands you to alter how people behave during the whirlwind of urgent, everyday assignments. However, in order to execute their vision across the entire company, the leaders need to pay attention to only one or two strategic goals as well as useful key measures.

Practical advice:

Select a goal that will influence your performance.

When you are selecting a wildly important goal, make sure that you take two things into consideration: things that are inside the whirlwind and the things that are outside of it. A wildly important goal from the whirlwind could potentially be something that needs to be dealt with immediately or something that your team is already very good at and just needs to take it as leverage. On the outside of the whirlwind, you can typically select from things that give you the chance to get a strategic advantage such as offering new item features.