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Book:  The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Author:  Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:   McChesney, C., Covey, S. & Huling, J. (2012). The 4 disciplines of execution : achieving your wildly important goals. New York: Free Press.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. The real enemy of execution is your day job! We call it the whirlwind. It's the massive amount of energy that's necessary just to keep your operation going on a day to day basis; and, ironically, it's also the thing that makes it so hard to execute anything new. The whirlwind robs from you the focus required to move your team forward. (pg. 6)

  2. The cadence of accountability is a rhythm of regular and frequent meetings of any team that owns a wildly important goal. These meetings happen at least weekly and ideally last no more than twenty to thirty minutes. In that brief time, team members are held accountable for producing results despite the whirlwind. (pg. 13)

  3. Because it's your strategic tipping point, you're going to commit to apply a disproportionate amount of energy to it - the 20 percent that is not used up in the whirlwind. Remember, 80% of your energy will still be directed at sustaining the whirlwind, so ignore the temptation to worry that by making one or two goals important, you will ignore everything else. (pg. 32)


Other Key Ideas:

To achieve a goal you have never achieved before, you must start doing things you have never done before. (pg. 4)

If you and your team operate solely from within the whirlwind, you won't progress - all your energy is spent just trying to stay upright in the wind. The challenge is executing your most important goals in the midst of the urgent! (pg. 8)

Start by selecting one (or, at the most, two) extremely important goals, instead of trying to significantly improve everything all at once. We call this a wildly important goal (WIG) to make it clear to the team that this is the goal that matters most. Failure to achieve it will make every other accomplishment seem secondary. (pg. 10)

When you narrow the focus of your team to one or two wildly important goals, the team can easily distinguish between what is truly top priority and what is the whirlwind. They move from a loosely defined and difficult-to-communicate collection of objectives to a small, focused set of achievable targets. (pg. 11)

Lag measures are the tracking measurements of the wildly important goal. When you receive them, the performance that drove them is already in the past. Lead measures are quite different in that they are the measures of the most high-impact things your team must do to reach the goal. (pg. 11)

A good lead measure has two basic characteristics: It's predictive of achieving the goal and it can be influenced by the team members. Acting on the lead measures is one of the little-known secrets of execution. Most leaders are so focused on lag measures that the discipline to focus on the lead measures feel counterintuitive. Lag measures are ultimately the most important things you are trying to accomplish, but lead measures are what will get you to the lag measures. (pg. 12)

People play differently when they're keeping score. People also play differently when they are keeping score. The kind of scoreboard that will drive the highest levels of engagement with your team will be one that is designed solely for the players. The scoreboard must be simple so that members of the team can determine instantly if they are winning or losing. If the scoreboard isn't clear, the game you want people to play will be abandoned in the whirlwind. (pg. 13)

Each week, team members answer a simple question: "What are the one or two most important things I can do in the next week (outside the whirlwind) that will have the biggest impact on the scoreboard?" Then members report on whether they met the previous week's commitments, how well they are moving the lead and lag measures on the scoreboard, and their commitments for the coming week. (pg. 14)​

Every wildly important goal at every level must contain a clearly measurable result, as well as the date by which that result must be achieved. All WIGs must have a finish line in the form of from X to Y by when. (pg. 37)​

While a lag measure tells you if you've achieved the goal, a lead measure tells you if you are likely to achieve the goal. While a lag measure is hard to do anything about, a lead measure is virtually within your control. (pg. 45)

As a leader, you've likely spent your entire career focusing on lag measures even though you can't directly affect them. There are two reasons almost all leaders do this. First, lag measures are the measures of success; they are the results you have to achieve. Second, data on lag measures is almost always much easier to obtain than data on lead measures. It's easy to step on a scale and see your weight, but it's not easy to find out how many calories you've eaten today. The data is often hard to get, and it can take real discipline to keep getting it. (pg. 49)

In the end, it's the data on lead measures that enables you to close the gap between what you know your team should do and what they are actually doing. Without lead measures, you are left to try and manage to the lag measures, an approach that seldom produces significant results. (pg. 49)

Asking people to track their goals could be a scary thought. How do you know they aren't lying to you? You should bet that you can trust your employees. Besides, a fraud will surface eventually. (pg. 55)

The lead measure data is almost always more difficult to acquire than lag measure data, but you must pay the price to track your lead measures.  If you're serious about your WIG, then you must create a way to track your lead measures. Without data, you can't drive performance on lead measures. (pg. 60)

Ask the question: "Above sustaining your day-to-day operation, what is the one thing your teams could do to improve the district WIGs the most?" (pg. 62)​

One of the most demoralizing aspects of life in the whirlwind is that you don't feel you can win. If your team is operating exclusively in the whirlwind, they're giving everything they have just to sustain their day to day operation and survive. They're not playing to win; they're playing not to lose. (pg. 73)

The WIG meeting should be held on the same day and at the same time every week - this consistency is critical. Without it, your team will never be able to establish a sustained rhythm of performance. It is truly amazing what you can accomplish by the simple discipline of meeting around a goal on a weekly basis over an extended period of time. (pg. 80)

During a WIG meeting, you need to report on commitments, review the scoreboard, and clear the path and make new commitments. Should look at both lead and lag measures during this time. (pg.82)

Ask yourself: "What are the one or two most important things I can do this week to impact the lead measures?" (pg. 84)

The commitments you make each week must represent a specific deliverable and they must influence the lead measure. (pg. 88)

The vast majority of your energy will still be spent managing your day-to-day priorities, as it should be. Consider actively scheduling your commitments toward your lead measures into your weekly calendar. (pg. 90)​

Lead measures are hard to keep track of. They are measures of new and different behaviors, and tracking behaviors is much harder than tracking results. Often, there is no readily available system for tracking lead measures, so you might have to invent such a system. Lead measures close the gap between knowing what to do and doing it. (pg. 137)

Even a high-impact commitment, if repeated week after week, becomes routine. You should always be looking for new and better ways to move the lead measures. (pg. 183)

With the clear vision of the 4DX process, employees understand how their day-to-day activities relate to the company's overall business results. And, they feel that they are working toward a common goal. (pg. 218)

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