We were recently at a meeting where several of the people there started talking about a book they had read, “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” written by three top executives of the FranklinCovey Company . . . Chris McChesney, Jim Huling, and Sean Covey (son of Stephen Covey, who was a founder of the FranklinCovey Company and author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”). Execution is a compelling topic because no matter how good an idea you have, and no matter how thoroughly you plan to bring your idea to life, it will all go for naught if you don’t execute your plan well. So the boys from FranklinCovey give us their take on the four disciplines you must have in place if you’re going to execute a plan well. But we believe there is a fifth discipline . . . arguably the most important discipline . . . that needs to be in place if you’re going to execute well. To learn more about “The 4 Disciplines of Execution,” and about the fifth discipline that we believe was overlooked, please continue reading below.
“Ideas are cheap. Ideas are easy. Ideas are common. Everybody has ideas. Ideas are highly, highly overvalued. Execution is all that matters.” ~ Casey Neistat
Every morning, a business owner starts the day with some idea of what he or she wants to accomplish during the day. But then the biggest customer calls with a problem that demands immediate attention or a key piece of equipment breaks down, and suddenly, the owner’s Plan for the Day is pushed aside in order to solve these emergency situations. It’s the idea that important but long-term things we want to do for the health of the business will always give way to the Crisis du Jour. Throughout the book, the authors refer to this as the “whirlwind” . . . the daily operational demands of the business that make it difficult to focus on the long-term objectives for the business. In one way or another, all of the authors’ “4 Disciplines” are aimed at taming the “whirlwind.” Let’s look at them one at a time.
- Focusing on the Wildly Important. Pick a long-term goal that is high-profile, highly impactful, and gives the business the most bang for the buck. But only one. Don’t try to solve everything at once. It’s better to make good progress on one goal than to make no progress on a dozen.
- Acting on Lead Measures. Identify the actions and activities that have the most impact on moving you toward your goal. Track both lag and lead measures. Lag measures are accurate because they’re tracking activities that have already happened. Lead measures, on the other hand, are predictive in nature and are therefore less accurate. So lead measures tell us what we think is going to happen while lag measures tell us what actually did happen.
- Keep a Compelling Scoreboard. A little friendly competition, whether between individuals or teams, can create some fun and excitement around achieving a goal. But more importantly, they tell us whether or not we’re moving in the right direction toward our goal. Design a scoreboard that’s easy to read and to understand, and then post it in a common area for everyone to see.
- Create a Cadence of Accountability. Accountability happens when everybody holds each other accountable to do what they’ve been asked to do, and this has to be done at regular, frequent intervals (that’s the “cadence” part). If accountability is applied sporadically, it disintegrates very quickly. So set regular accountability sessions (i.e., every Friday afternoon at 2:00) and make it a priority to keep that “cadence.”
And then there’s the missing, fifth, discipline.
- Generate a Sense of Absolute Commitment. Accountability (Discipline 4 above) speaks a little to commitment, but only to doing the activities we’ve promised to do. Somewhere along the line we need a commitment to getting the outcome we want. Think of “accountability” as an individual taking responsibility for carrying out certain, specified tasks. Commitment, on the other hand, is a determination by an individual or an organization to achieve a specific outcome . . . no matter what.
Think of a professional sports team where each member of the team is held accountable to perform in a professional, workman-like manner . . . but the team still has a losing record. Compare that to a team that is committed to win . . . a team that, despite injuries to key players, despite playing in adverse weather conditions, despite playing on the road, still finds a way to win. Make no mistake, accountability is a crucial tool in any organization, but if you have to place a bet on which organization will be most likely to execute its plans well, bet on the organization that is fully and truly committed to the outcomes it wants to achieve.
In many organizations, commitment means “We’re committed to giving it a try” or “We’ll give it our best shot” or words to that effect. They leave a door open in case this doesn’t work out. No, that’s not true commitment. True commitment means you’re all in, no turning back, failure is not an option, pull out all the stops. That level of commitment is the only way to overcome the “whirlwind” of daily distractions and ultimately achieve your long-term goals.