Book Summary

The four disciplines of execution By SEAN COVEY, CHRIS MCCHESNEY AND JIM HULING

Everyone has good ideas but what’s rare is the ability to execute on those ideas. A good idea without execution is worthless.

Authors Sean, Chris and Jim surveyed over 2,000 business leaders from around the world to understand why they routinely failed to execute on their good ideas and important goals. They found that leaders and teams who routinely fail to execute on their good ideas are completely consumed but what they call the whirlwind; the chaos of day to day life.

It’s the reason you get to the end of the week and wonder “Wow! I was busy all week but I don’t think I accomplished a damn thing.” It’s the endless stream of incoming messages; the problems that show up unexpectedly that you need to address. Everything in the whirlwind seems urgent and when everything seems urgent those important but less urgent ideas get forgotten and left behind.

The only way to reliably execute your good ideas and important goals is to have a system of execution that can withstand the power of the whirlwind. Authors Sean Chris and Jim have identified four disciplines that make up a system of execution that can help you reliably execute no matter how chaotic the world gets around you.

Discipline number one: focus on your W.I.G.

At any given moment at a major airport, there are planes taxing around the airport. There are planes taking off and there are planes coming to the airport that need to land soon. If you were an air traffic controller, you would need to manage all those planes and each passenger in those planes would tell you that their plane is the most important plane. Even though each of those planes is important and urgent to those people only one plane is wildly important to you right now; that’s the plane that’s coming in to land right now. Focusing on and landing this one plane successfully makes all other planes seem secondary.

You need to start approaching work like this air traffic controller, keeping all your urgent and merely important goals on your radar and doing the minimum you can to prevent them from crashing or getting out of control and then using all your remaining energy to successfully execute and land your wildly important goal: W.I.G.

To find this wildly important goal, just ask yourself, “if everything else remained at its current level of performance, what one achievement would make everything else seem secondary?” Once you have a good idea of what you think that achievement might be frame it in the following format: “from X to Y by Z.” An example could be: my wildly important goal is to raise my monthly sales revenue from 6,000 to 12,000 dollars a month by December 31st.

Discipline number two: measure lead behaviors.

Let’s say your goal is to lose 20 pounds so you go on a diet. During the first two weeks, you step on the scale every day to see if your weight has changed but day after day the scale hardly moves. How likely are you to stick to your diet if a metric that you’re measuring isn’t changing? In this case your execution will suffer.

The problem is most results that we want to change like losing weight, increasing revenue or growing the number of subscribers all has a lag effect. There’s a considerable amount of lag time between the actions we take and the results we want to see. During that lag time, if you only measure your lag result; a metric that will hardly change in the short term regardless of how much action you take, you’ll quickly lose focus on your wildly important goal and stop executing.

Without any signs of improvement our execution will suffer. Therefore, we need to measure something that we can influence and improve every day or every week. What we need to measure our lead behaviors. These are the critical day-to-day activities that ultimately lead to our desired result. If you had a blog and you wanted to get more subscribers, you shouldn’t just measure the increase of subscribers each week. You should measure the number of words you write each day and the number of articles that you post each week.

If you’re a salesperson, you shouldn’t just measure the number of sales you’re getting each week. You should also measure the number of daily prospect calls you’re making and the number of follow-up emails you’re delivering. These lead behavior measurements are something that you can increase every day and when you increase these metrics every day, you increase your engagement and execution. When you focus on proven and validated lead behaviors, achieving your leg result will simply be a matter of time.

Discipline number three: put up a scoreboard.

Let’s say you get together with friends on Saturday and go play soccer in the park. You make teams, you’ve set up the nets and then you start the game but thirty minutes into that game some of your friends are losing interest because no one remembered to keep score. But what if everyone on your team knew they were down by one goal with five minutes left to play, do you think they would still be disengaged and walking off the field?

The authors say people play differently when they know the score. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing soccer or executing a work project. Knowing the score generates a will to win and the will to win fuels execution. If we aren’t frequently reminded of the score, our will to win will fade, our execution will suffer and the whirlwind will consume all of our attention.

The best way to be reminded of the score is to put up a scoreboard in your office that is simple and easy to see. You should be able to look at this scoreboard and know if you’re winning or losing in five seconds or less. It should only include three things: your W.I.G, your lag measurements and your lead measurements. If your W.I.G was increased monthly sales revenue from 6,000 to 12,000 dollars by December 31st then your lag measurement would be sales and your lead measurement would be number of calls or hours spent making Facebook marketing videos.

If you’re increasing your lead measurement day after day or week after week, then you feel like you’re winning and once you see a lead measurement corresponding to an increase in a lag measurement then you verify that you’re winning and your execution and commitment goes through the roof.

Discipline number four: schedule weekly accountability talks.

Have you ever been in a project team at school or at work or you need to verbally report on your status and make commitments each week? I have and it’s amazing how much more action I take when I know my teammates will hold me accountable to what I say.

As a project manager at a construction firm I needed to sit around a table every Monday morning and remind my peers of what I said I would do, what I did and what I plan to do this week to hit my next project milestone. It was a powerful routine of accountability. I didn’t always like it but it was amazing how much my execution increased before and after each meeting.

In the book, the author’s promote the practice of regular face-to-face meetings with your peers or teammates where you state your goals instead of your boss or your teammates telling you what your goals are. When you verbally commit to your own goals in front of your peers or teammates who will not only support you but also hold you accountable, you have a strong desire to honor your word and protect your reputation. These are powerful motivators that cause you to focus on your wildly important goal and prevent yourself from being consumed by the whirlwind.

By implementing these four disciplines into your work week you can get yourself and your team to reliably execute your greatest ideas and your wildly important goals no matter how chaotic the whirlwind of your day-to-day responsibilities might be. If you’re finding it hard to execute important goals I highly recommend grabbing a copy of “The four disciplines of execution”

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