The 4 Disciplines of Execution - Global Leadership Summit, Session 5A

Typically leaders are educated in strategy, but not much in execution. Our day to day responsibilities, interruptions, emails, and general management tasks fill our days.  In fact, that's the definition of "the whirlwind". So how do we prioritize and carve out time for our key strategic initiatives?  Chris McChesney's session outlined the four main components of execution.

The hardest thing a leader will do is drive a strategy to change human behavior—even when it’s in their best interest!  The technical stuff can be figured out, but a change in behavior is the tough nut.  Several leaders complain about team members, instead of proactively working with them to improve execution. We tend to blame the people.  Edwards Deming said, “Anytime the majority of the people behave in a particular way the majority of the time, the people are not the problem…the problem is in the system.”  Just as an airplane flies because it follows natural laws, fixing the system is just a part of the rules and principles leaders have to follow.  

#1 Focus
Focus on the wildly important in addition to the whirlwind of day to day operations.  There is a law of diminishing return on initiatives.  Have you ever noticed it?  The more goals you have, the less gets done.  Typically, two to three goals is doable.  Chasing eight to ten means less actually gets done.  Eleven or more goals on your plate means nothing gets done.  Although most goals are based on good ideas, we must narrow the focus and prioritize.  There will always be more good ideas than there is capacity to execute.  So let's pair down our goals:

What lives at the corner of "Really Important" and "Not Going to Happen on Its Own"?  This is your W.I.G.—Wildly Important Goal.  Unfortunately, all the subgoals create a sprawl, a lack of focus.  Here are four ways to stay focused on you W.I.G.:

  1. What are the fewest battles necessary to win the war? Eliminate sub-goals!
  2. One W.I.G. per team at a time.
  3. You can veto goals, but don’t dictate them. Let the teams have ownership so their skin is in the game.
  4. Define a gap (from X to Y, by when) and move the goal with a target and timeline.

One of the greatest examples of the motivation a solid goal provides is when NASA put a man on the moon.  They were immediately held accountable when President Kennedy said, "We’re going." Morale and engagement went up. His definitive statement flipped a switch in their minds and it was game on.  The goal was no longer the safe and vague, “Lead the World in Space Exploration” but the very specific “We’re Putting a Man on the Moon”.

#2 Leverage
Act on the lead measures.  Lead measures are predictive of the success of reaching the goal. We need to know the data behind the lead measure.  Think, “how many calories have I consumed?” vs. “I need to eat less.”  A shoe store implemented the lead activity of measuring the feet of the kids coming into the store. This led to faster check-out, clarity on what to buy, etc.

#3 Engagement
Keep a compelling scoreboard and have the players, not the managers, keep score. Make it simple, highly visible to the players, and include the right lead/lag measures.  This could be as simple as the lag measure on top and lead activity on the bottom of a one-page report.  The number one driver of someone’s morale and engagement is when they feel like they are winning.

#4 Accountability
Ask, “What are the one to three things I can do that will have the most impact on lead measures?”  Determine which is the most urgent and act on that first.  Continue this exercise in a “W.I.G. Meeting”:  Report on last week’s commitments, update the scoreboard, and make commitments for next week.  Have the players come up with their own commitments instead of being handed them from leadership. This creates a high stakes, winnable game and the natural laws for execution turned out to be the same laws for engagement.