Executing With Excellence: A Book Review

The Four Disciplines of Execution, by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling

Let me start by saying I love this book!  I’m a fan of simple, common sense pointers, and 4DX doesn’t disappoint.  The First Discipline is that beyond keeping the day-to-day business moving forward (the “whirlwind”), leaders and their organizations can only Effectively Focus on one or two Wildly Important Goals, or WIGs.  If that was all this book was about, I’d have been disappointed.  Focus (one or two goals beyond the day-to-day whirlwind, and no more) is always critical, goals are by definition tactical, and not strategic, and the choice of a goal is obviously paramount.  If you’re a follower of my blog, you’ll know that I regularly advocate answering the question “What is the smallest change you could make that would have the greatest impact in achieving your goals?”  4DX asks the same question in a slightly different way:  “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?”  These kinds of questions help you focus on what really makes a difference.

Where 4DX really grabbed my attention was with the Second Discipline, Act on the Lead Measures.  I’m used to seeing what 4DX describes as a Lag Measure, which tells you if you’ve achieved a goal, after the fact.  Think spending against budget, YTD revenue, or retention rates.  Lead Measures, by contrast, are virtually within your control.  The easiest example is for a WIG to lose weight.  Your weekly weight is a Lag Measure; Lead Measures could be how much food you eat every day, and how often you exercise.  Weight Watchers uses the Lead Measure concept with its points tracking system.  While it makes sense when thinking about weight loss, it’s not as intuitive in the business context.  Lead Measures must be predictive, in that they measure something that leads to the goal, and they must be something you can influence.  Said another way, “If luck is playing a significant role in your career, then you’re fixating on lag measures.”  Lead Measures are where it’s at when choosing the actions for focus to achieve your WIG.

The Third Discipline, Keep A Compelling Scoreboard, describes ways to create a simple, visually gripping presentation that allows team members to see at a glance how the team is doing against both the Lead and Lag Measures.  Succinct, visible scorecards are not Excel spreadsheets covered in numbers in tiny font that take several minutes to decipher.  People should be able to see the scoreboard and know immediately if the team and their efforts are on track.  Just like on the playground, people engage differently, with more intensity, when they keep score.

Scorecards are also critical because they drive accountability, which leads to the Fourth Discipline, Create A Cadence of Accountability.  For many leaders, whether or not you’re operating on Lead Measures, holding people accountable is the most challenging aspect of leadership, and one that leaders often avoid.  The Fourth Discipline is where you as the leader bring it all together; without accountability all you have is focus (your WIG), clarity (Lead Measures), and engagement (Compelling Scorecard).  Accountability in the 4DX model is not the annual performance review; rather it is at least a quick weekly gathering of the team, to hold one another accountable for taking the actions that will move the lead measures.  Not to be confused with discussing the problems raised by the “whirlwind” of the rest of the business activity, these weekly WIG sessions are focused only on an account of the commitments the team made in the prior week, a review of the scoreboard and any successes and failures, and the plan with commitments for the week ahead.  The team is accountable for advancing the scoreboard, and staying focused on the actions that will directly impact lead measures.  In making commitments, each person should be able to answer another variation of the critical question, “what is the smallest thing I can do this week that will have the biggest impact of our lead measures?”

It sounds deceptively simple, but of course it’s not.  The whirwind is still swirling around you, and you’ve also got to choose the right WIG, figure out the best Lead Measures to influence that WIG, devise a sharp, simple scoreboard, and hold people accountable.  Even so, The Four Disciplines of Execution is a solid approach to delivering excellent execution, and I highly recommend the book.  I’ll be posting other comments on particular aspects of 4DX in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned for more on how to use 4DX to get where you want to go.



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