I read a lot of books each year and I usually learn something from all of them, but only a select few make it into what I call my Success Library—books so powerful that they deeply inform my ideas about how to be successful in work and in life. The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling is one such book.
Do you have a personal or professional goal (or two) that you would desperately like to achieve? Something that you’re done talking about; done dreaming about; done making excuses about; something that you’re committed to turning into reality as quickly as possible?
Maybe you want to take that trip to Europe, lose 20 lbs, make the President’s Club, start a business or write that book?!
Or maybe you’re the manager or leader of a team that’s underperforming and it’s your job to help them get back on track?
If so, this book has many of the answers you’re looking for.
Of course, if you want to really master the 4 disciplines, you’ll have to buy the book, read it and practice it. It’s full of real world examples of how organizations have applied this methodology and achieved great results.
Today, I just want to briefly review what each of these disciplines entails, along with some key takeaways…
Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important
One of the problems when trying to make changes at work or in our personal lives, is trying to take on too much. We tackle too many goals all at once and dilute our focus, attention, creativity, energy and effort across five, seven or even ten goals!
But that simply doesn’t work!
Maybe you can make incremental progress on all your goals but what would you have accomplished if the lion’s share of your attention focused on a single, game-changing objective? Usually, these important goals remain unfulfilled because we are carried away by the frenetic whirlwind that is our day-to-day life.
Set too many goals and all of them may fall prey to the whirlwind. Your most important needs or desires will yet again be postponed.
Don’t do it. Instead, focus on one (or two) Wildly Important Goals or WIGs.
Here’s how you set your WIGs according to the authors:
In determining your wildly important goal, don’t ask “What’s most important?” Instead, begin by asking “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?” This question changes the way you think and lets you clearly identify the focus that would make all the difference.
In your personal life, what one goal would be a game-changer for you?
A year ago, I was significantly overweight and I didn’t feel at my best mentally or physically. I decided that although I could pursue money, career, or travel goals, my main concern would be to get to a healthy weight.
That doesn’t mean I couldn’t pursue other things, just that losing weight was my #1 most important goal and as such got my best energy, effort and time. After all, what good is anything in life if we don’t feel healthy enough to enjoy it? And the most impactful thing I could do to improve my health was to lose weight.
That became my WIG.
But here’s a tip. Break down BIG goals into tiny bits and tackle that subgoal instead. In other words, forget about losing 40 lbs. I was 240 lbs and my first 2 week goal was to get down to 237 lbs. Losing a pound and a half a week without crazy dieting is possible. Breaking down big goals into smaller pieces makes them more approachable and gives us momentum and the motivation to keep going.
So, my WIG looked like this:
Go from 240 lbs on [INSERT DATE] to 237 lbs by [INSERT DATE].
Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures
As we all know, if we’re eager to accomplish something we need a way to measure our progress. However, we tend to focus on what the authors call Lag Measures. These metrics only tell you how much progress you’ve made towards your goal, they don’t tell you what you need to do in order to get there.
In my weight loss example, every time I got on the scale I was seeing a lag measure. If I used to weigh 240 lbs and one morning I saw 238 on the scale. That means I lost 2 lbs and accomplished 5% of my goal. Fantastic! But how do I know what actions I need to take to keep making progress every day?
Lag measures don’t tell you.
Lead measures do.
After careful thought and research, I realized that to lose weight the most important things I can do are (A) Control the amount of calories I consume and (B) Increase my physical activity throughout the day (walking) so as to burn more calories naturally (no crazy work out regimen). Once you know what you should do you can create a lead measure. I created 2: my number of calories consumed per day and my number of calories burned per day (I also tracked my number of steps per day). They are lead measures because if I improve those two numbers daily, my weight will eventually come down and I will achieve my goal.
The same concept applies if you’re a salesperson trying to increase sales or a customer service agent trying to improve customer loyalty scores.
What specific actions lead to success in your field? How can you devise a measure or metric that plots that effort?
Something else to consider is what systems or tools you’ll use to take those measurements?
I simply relied on my smartphone, which tracks all my steps automatically, which I then used to calculate daily caloric burn. Likewise, I used a food diary app to tally all the calories I consumed on any particular day. And then I applied…
Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
This is an easy step, but one that is often overlooked.
Don’t skip this discipline!
Go get a chalk board, white board, poster board or even a piece of paper and put your WIG at the very top, then make a chart with a Date column, Lag Measure column, and additional columns for your Lead Measures.
This is your scoreboard and you should post it in plain sight—somewhere where you or your team have no choice but to see it every day.
Then, go to your scoreboard daily and manually write down the numbers you achieved. No spreadsheets or other tech-gizmos. This is old-school. Go up to your scoreboard—chalk or marker in hand— write down your numbers.
This act does 2 things: (1) it keeps your goal front and center every day at almost every moment, which aids in motivation, and (2) the act of writing down your numbers will force you to reflect on your performance and progress.
If you work with a team, it’s best to let the team design and maintain their own scoreboard. There’s a whole section in the book with clear instruction on how to implement this with your team or organization. You’ll need to read the book to get that valuable information.
Discipline 4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
This simply means that at the end of each day or week, etc. you take a brief amount of time to reflect on your progress—the things that are going right, the things that you will do to improve performance, and ideas on how to remove any obstacles that may be in your way.
This allows you to zoom out and see the big picture.
This is valuable for an individual but it’s absolutely critical for a team.
Leaders should get the team together to review the scoreboard and identify what’s working and what needs to be improved by each team member. Each person reports on what they were able to accomplish since the last meeting and what they commit to accomplishing before the next meeting.
This reminds everyone that this is serious business, that everyone is committed to the WIG and that each person has a clear understanding of what is expected of him or her.
In the end it’s all about clarity.
The clarity that the 4 disciplines instill in you or your organization is what enhances your ability to execute. Your most important goals and strategic initiatives no longer have to succumb to the power of the whirlwind.
You can get ahead and out execute competitors by using these four disciplines.
This process can be applied to your own personal goals or to those of a team. It’s simple, straight-forward and with a little practice you’ll be achieving things you never thought possible. Honestly, I never thought possible to lose 40+ pounds whithout dieting or training like a maniac. Diets aren’t healthy. And how long can you train like a Navy Seal or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Not long.
With the 4 disciplines I have a system that will serve me for life!
I use these ideas every day in many different areas and I truly believe that this is a book you can’t afford to ignore. You should put it in your own Success Library.
Now, what WIG will you pursue?
photo courtesy of Agberto Guimaraes