The 4 Disciplines of Execution – The secret of getting things done, on time and with excellence

Summary by Thanh Bui – IT Specialist, School for Family and MWR

Stephen R. Covey and Chris McChesney (2012). The 4 Disciplines of Execution – The secret of getting things done, on time and with excellence.  Brilliance Audio. 

(This audio book is available on Books247)

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution – The secret of getting things done, on time and with excellence

The “4DX” concept is based on the principles of focus, leverage, engagement and accountability. The first part of the book explains the 4 principles of execution, and the second part presents case studies and tips on how to install the 4DX in multiple teams in a large organization.  The last part of the book also includes the 6-step process to roll out the 4DX, some failure points to watch and ways that the 4DX principles can be used to improve our personal lives.

The implementation of the 4DX is not a top-down, nor is it a bottom-up process. It requires the involvement of senior leaders but at the same time gives team leaders at lower levels the freedom to define their own goals that will contribute the most to the overall  goal. The rule is: Leaders only veto, never dictate. This will allow teams to be fully committed to their goals and therefore be accountable for their results.

Key aspects of the 4DX:

  1. The 4DX is a process, not a training event
  2. It must be done with intact teams
  3. It must be directly implemented by certified leaders that are closest to the frontline

The 4DX says easy, does hard

More than 2000 organizations worldwide have implemented the 4DX with excellent results. However, many others failed miserably.

  • The 4DX is not a set of best practices nor is it a menu of options, it’s rather an operating system with 4 inter-related components that must be implemented in their prescribed order.  It must be done with discipline and committment.
  • The implementation of the 4DX requires cultural and behavioral change for the entire team and organization. This is never an easy task without a full-blown effort from the entire team and organization.
  • The 4DX is counter-intuitive: we have to define our goal (lag measure) but then we will not focus on that goal, instead, we will have to focus on our lead measures.
  • It’s not easy to keep the whirlwind from competing with our Wildly Important Goals (WIGs). In general, in order to achieve our WIGs, the whirlwind should not be allowed to take more than 80% of our workload.

The 4 Disciplines:

Discipline #1: Principle of Focus: Focus on the Wildly Important Goal (WIG)

Most of our workdays are filled with unexpected, urgent and routine tasks that will keep us from doing anything new. These tasks are called the WHIRLWIND.

The team (organization) must identify no more than 2 most important and meaningful goals  despite the whirlwind.

All goals must have the formula of  “From …x… to …y… by …when…

Discipline #2: Principle of leverage: Act on the Lead Measures (as opposed to lag measures)

Lag measures are past data (sales, customer satisfaction, economic growth etc.) while lead measures are sets of short-term data that are predictive of long-term lag measures and are influenceable (daily production, daily staff counts, daily calorie intakes etc.)

For example: losing 10 lbs by the end of December is the goal (lag measure), running x miles a day is a lead measure because we know for sure it will move the lag measure (lose weight) and it’s within our control (influenceable).

Another way to identify lead measures is to ask the question: If everything else stays at the current level, what are the 2 (or 1) most important things that can have the most impact on our goal?

Discipline #3: Principle of Engagement: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

Unlike leader/coaches’ complex scoreboards that are sometimes impossible to decode, the team’s scoreboard must be simple and compelling to them. There’s no unique format for the scoreboards as long as each team member can clearly see where they are and what it will take to achieve their goals. If team members look at the scoreboard and can’t tell in a second whether or not they’re winning or losing, they’re probably about to lose. This scoreboard must be visible to everybody and updated frequently in order for the team to be fully engaged and motivated.

Discipline #4: Principle of accountability: Create a Cadence of Accountability

Conduct short  WIG meetings (20-30 minutes) at least every week where each team members will hold each other accountable for producing results.  The key is to create a cadence of accountability: regularly and rhythmically to assure that their WIGs will not disintegrate in the whirlwind.

The 6-Step Process of Rolling out the 4DX across an organization (with 10+ teams):

The first 3 steps takes several days to complete and are part of the Leader Certification training.

Step 1: All leaders clarify the overall WIG that their team will contribute to.

Step 2: Each leader defines their team’s WIGs and lead measures (2 full days): review case studies, learn in-depth concepts of the 4DX; each leader will choose their team’s WIGs that represent the greatest contribution to the overall WIG. This is a long process and may take multiple attempts to accomplish the final WIG and lead measures.

Step 3: Leader Certification: leaders will learn how to conduct WIG sessions, how to design scoreboards, how to handle team member’s accountability and how to prepare for the team launch session.

Step 4: Team launch session (~2 hours):  team leaders will present an overview of the process to their teams, discuss with team members and finalize their WIGs and lead measures. During this session, team members also set format/ground rules and practice WIG session for the following week.

Step 5: Executing with coaching:  this is when the games really begin. Teams will hold weekly WIG sessions to discuss their progress, accountability and, as needed,  review/modify lead measures in order to achieve their goals.

During the first 3 months of implementation of the 4DX, leaders and team members will need guidance to overcome conflicts and prevent fallout. This is where the internal coaches will be needed.  Each organization should have at least 2 internal coaches to make sure they’re always available to the teams.

Internal coaches are designated staff. They don’t have to be full-time coaches, but they must be passionate about the 4DX and always available to the teams. Their roles are:

-Repair operational breakdown during the 4DX implementation
-Perform preventive maintenance: watch for early warning signs of fallout.
-Prepare for quarterly summit meetings.

Step 6: Quarterly Summit: Leaders will report to senior leaders in front of their peers.  This is the opportunity for team leaders to hold each other accountable for their contribution to the overall goal of the organization.

Failure Points to watch:

  1. Absence of goals that really matter
  2. Lack of full committment of senior leaders: it doesn’t have to the CEO, but at least one of the most senior leaders must be responsible for implementing the 4DX.
  3. Certifying leaders at the wrong level: leaders who are at a too high level will never reach the front line teams that will produce results; leaders at a too low level will lack experience to create the best team’s WIGs and lead measures. Ideally, the leaders who get certified should be at one level above the lowest level leaders. For example at a grocery store, the best certified leaders are the store managers, not the bakery manager; in a factory, the best certified leaders are shift supervisors, not the plan manager.

Bringing it home

Although the 4DX was not designed to run our lives, these great principles have been adapted by several people to improve their personal lives. This is where each of us can really relate to, but again it requires personal committment and perseverance. Are you up for the challenge? Only time will tell.

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