Monday, November 25, 2013

Focus and Leverage Part 281

In my last posting I told you about a wonderful book I’m reading, The 4 Disciplines of Execution:  Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals, authored by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling.  I explained that the 4 Disciplines of Execution  that the authors refer to this as 4DX, is a simple, repeatable and proven formula for executing your most important strategic priorities in the midst of the whirlwind of all the other competing priorities.  I told you that the 4 Disciplines were:

 -  Focusing on the Wildly Important

-  Acting on Lead Measures

-  Keeping a Compelling Scorecard

-  Creating a Cadence of Accountability

I also told you that  4DX is not a theory, but rather a proven set of practices that have been tested and refined by hundreds of organizations and thousands of teams over many years.  In addition I explained that I have written about a technique first introduced as the Intermediate Objectives Map by H. William Dettmer who most recently has elected to change the name of this logical tool to the Goal Tree.  In this posting I want to further discuss each of these 4 disciplines that, if used correctly, can propel your organization to exciting levels of improvement.  I also want to explain how I intend to integrate these disciplines into the framework of the Goal Tree.

The authors of this book explain that there are two principle things a leader can influence when it comes to producing results: Your strategy (or plan) and your ability to execute that strategy.  If you are a leader, my bet is that you struggle more with the execution piece.  The authors are saying the same thing and when they have asked clients what they were taught more of, they received a clear answer….it was strategy.  So when I saw the review of this book on Amazon, I knew I had to buy it.

The authors point out correctly that if you are leading people, you’re probably trying to get them to do something different because no significant result is achievable unless people change their behavior and this is not easy.  The simple fact is, when you execute a strategy that requires a lasting change in behavior of other people, you are clearly facing one of the greatest challenges you will ever face as a leader.  There are two distinctively different strategies for improvement.  One, the authors refer to as stroke-of-the-pen, are those that you execute just by ordering them to be done.  The second strategy is referred to as a behavioral change strategy.  With this type, you can’t order them to happen….they require as the name implies, a change in behavior and not by just a few, but many people.  Organizational change requires that the entire organization must do something it has never done before, so no wonder it is so difficult.  It is not unusual to see this type of strategy fail at the execution stage.

The authors tell us that one of the prime suspects behind execution breakdown is clarity of the objectives.  In other words, people don’t understand the goal they were supposed to execute.  Another problem the authors point out that the people who did understand the goal, had problems committing to achieving it.  Accountability was also an issue, meaning that most people will tell you that there was no accountability for regular progress on the organization’s goal.  So it’s no wonder that execution is so difficult.  If the people weren’t sure of the goal, weren’t committed to it, didn’t know what to do about it specifically, and weren’t being held accountable for it, then how could they possibly execute it.

The authors rightfully point out that the real enemy of execution is your day job, which they referred to as the whirlwind.  The whirlwind is the massive amount of energy that’s necessary just to keep your operation going on a day-to-day basis; and ironically, it’s also the thing that makes it so hard to execute anything new.  In other words, “the whirlwind robs from you the focus required to move your team forward.  And as the name of my blog indicates (i.e. Focus and Leverage), without the proper focus, then any path will do.  In everyone’s defense, the whirlwind is urgent and acts on you every minute of the day.  Yes the goals are important, but as the authors point out, “when urgency and importance clash, urgency will win every time.  An important point is made here, “Executing in spite of the whirlwind means overcoming not only its powerful distraction, but also the inertia of “the way it’s always been done.”  The key takeaway here is that if you ignore the urgent (the whirlwind), it can kill you today, but if you ignore the important it will kill you tomorrow.

What I have just articulated is why I believe this book is a must read.  The 4 Disciplines of Execution are not designed for managing in your whirlwind.  The 4 Disciplines are rules for executing your most critical strategy in the midst of your whirlwind.  So just what are the 4 Disciplines?  Let’s look at each one in more detail.  Remember, ultimately I want to demonstrate how I intend to integrate the teaching within this book with the Goal Tree, so keep this in mind as we move forward.

The first Discipline is Focusing on the Wildly Important, so what does this mean?  In many of my blogs I have told you that if you try and improve everything, you’ll usually end up improving nothing or at least very little.  The authors echo this when they say, “basically, the more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish.”  And because ambitious leaders want to do more, this is a very important thing to remember.  Focus is a natural principle, so it’s important to learn how to do this.  You may remember from previous posts on the Goal Tree that the first step is deciding on the Goal of the organization.  The first discipline requires you to go against the natural tendency to attempt to improve many things and focus on that one truly important goal.  The authors refer to this one (or maybe two) important goal as a Wildly Important Goal (WIG) to make it clear that this is the one that matters most.  The authors tell us that, “failure to achieve it will make every other accomplishment seem secondary, or possibly even inconsequential.”

In my next posting, we’ll continue discussing the Four Disciplines for Execution and then begin to discuss how I believe they fit so naturally with the Goal Tree.

Bob Sproull





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