In this posting I will continue to write about a great book I am reading, The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals written by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling. In my last posting I explained the first Discipline, Focusing on the Wildly Important and I clarified what the authors meant that to mean. I also told you that 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. These authors are saying the same thing. So let’s now look at the second discipline, Act on the Lead Measures.
But before I present Discipline 2, let’s first talk about the rules that are required to apply Discipline 1 across the organization. The authors define Rule #1 as follows: No team focuses on more than two WIG’s at the same time. Personally, I am much more rigid in my belief that there should only be one WIG, but we’ll go with the authors for now. The authors explain that this rule acts like a governor on an engine. Although there may be dozens of goals across the organization, focus on the one WIG that is most important.
Rule # 2: The battles you choose must win the war. For this rule the authors tell us that there’s a relationship between battles and wars, meaning that the only reason you fight a battle is to win the war. In other words, the sole purpose of WIG’s at lower levels in the organization is to help achieve the WIG’s at higher level. That is, the lower-level WIG’s must ensure the success of the higher level WIG’s. This concept is very much in line with how Goal Trees are aligned. In a Goal Tree we start with a single goal, but immediately beneath the goal are 3-5 Critical Success Factors (CSF’s) which must be achieved if the organizations goal is to be achieved. This is where the first integration of Goal Trees and the wildly important goals (WIG’s) occurs. What I am saying here is that in addition to the CSF’s articulated in the Goal Tree, I am proposing the inclusion of WIG’s within the Goal Tree. Later on in my postings I will demonstrate this visually.
Rule # 3: Senior leaders can veto, but not dictate. The authors tell us that “the highest levels of execution are never reached when the strategy is devised solely by the top leaders of the organization and simply handed down to the leaders and teams below.” The point is, “without involvement, you cannot create high levels of commitment that execution requires.” “While the senior leaders will undoubtedly determine the top-level WIG, they must allow the leaders at each level below to define the WIG’s for their teams.” The authors explain that this not only leverages the knowledge of these leaders, but also creates a sense of ownership and involvement which are both critical to the success of any improvement initiative.
Rule # 4: All WIG’s must have a finish line in the form of X and Y by when. For me, this is one of the keys to success in that every WIG at every level must contain a clearly measurable result. In fact, when the WIG is articulated, it should contain a measurable target and a finish line. For example, suppose you state your WIG as something like, improve patient satisfaction. Written in this manner doesn’t provide enough direction on either the target or by when. But suppose you wrote your goal as something like, Improve patient satisfaction from 81 percent to 93% by January 30th. Stating the WIG in this manner tells the team where you are now, where you want to go and the deadline for achieving the goal. Written this way, the team now has the needed clarity.
But what about lower level goals, or in the case of the Goal Tree, the Critical Success Factors (CSF’s)? How should they be written? Quite simply, they should also be written in the form of X and Y by when. The purpose of the WIG is to inform the team of what winning the game looks like. The authors provide an analogy to explain why clarity is so important. Suppose you were playing a game of basketball, but you weren’t keeping score. Are you playing to win? No, it’s only when you are keeping score that winning becomes important.
Another very important point here is the difference between lagging and leading metrics. The WIG will always be a lagging indicator simply because it is the result of actions taken to reach it….so it lags….it’s a future indicator. A leading indicator is measurable in real time and tells you if you are likely to achieve your goal.
Now let’s return to discussing Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures. The authors tell us that “lead measures must be both predictive of achieving the WIG and influenceable by the team.” Some comparative examples of the difference between Lead and Lag Measures provided by the authors are as follows:
Hospital Quality Improvement
Decrease in mortality rate in the hospital from 4% to 2% this year.
Evaluate susceptible patients twice a day against pneumonia prevention protocols.
Increase average check amount by 10% by year end.
Suggest the specialty cocktail of the day to 90% of all tables.
Both of these lead measures are both predictive and influenceable by the improvement team. If the team acts on the lead measure, they will move the lag measure. The authors explain that “acting on the lead measures is essential to superb performance, but it is also the single most difficult aspect of installing 4DX in your team.” They further explain that there are three reasons for this.
- “Lead measures can be counterintuitive. Most leaders focus on the lag measures because the bottom line results are what ultimately matter to them. But in reality, lag measures can’t be acted upon because they are the result of past actions taken.
- Lead measures are hard to keep track of. The authors explain that lead measures are measures of new and different behaviors and tracking behaviors is much harder than tracking results.
- Lead measures often look too simple. They demand a precise focus on a certain behavior that might look insignificant, particularly to those outside the team.”
The authors tell us that there are two different types of lead measures. “Small outcomes are lead measures that focus the team on achieving a weekly result, but give each member of the team latitude to choose their own method for achieving it. The other type is leveraged behaviors that track the specific behaviors you want the team to perform throughout the week. As such, they provide a clear measurement of how well the team is performing. In other words, a leveraged behavior lead measure holds the team accountable for performing the behavior, rather than producing the result.” The authors provide the following example.
What the authors are attempting to do is to help you understand that it’s not a question of which is a better lead measure, but rather it’s a question of which is a better lead measure for your team.
In the final section of this posting, the authors present the steps for arriving at high-level lead measures.
Step 1: Consider the possibilities. Begin by brainstorming possible lead measures, but resist the temptation to choose quickly. They recommend asking questions like, “What could we do that we’ve never done before that might make all the difference to the WIG.”
Step 2: Rank by impact. When you’re satisfied with your list of candidate lead measures, you’re ready to identify the ideas that promise the greatest potential impact on the Team WIG.
Step 3: Test top ideas. Once you’ve identified some high-leverage lead measures, test them against these 6 criteria:
- Is it predictive? This is the most important test of all, so if it fails this one, reject it.
- Is it influenceable? Does the team have at least 80% control over the measure?
- Is it an on-going process of a “once and done”? Will it result in something habitual and not a one-time deal?
- Is it a leader’s game or a team game? The behavior of the team must drive the lead measure.
- Can it be measured? Success on lag measures absolutely requires successfully tracking the lead measure.
- Is it worth measuring? If it takes more effort than its impact is worth, it fails this test.
Step 4: Define the lead measures. Ask these questions.
- Are you tracking the team or individual’s performance?
- Are we tracking the lead measure daily or weekly. This should be at least weekly.
- What is the quantitative standard? How much/how often/how consistently are you supposed to perform?
- What is the qualitative standard? How well are you supposed to perform?
- Does it start with a verb? Simple verbs focus the mind immediately on action.
- Is it simple? State your lead measure in as few words as possible.
The deliverable for discipline 2 is a small set of lead measures that will move the lag measure on the WIG.
In my next posting we’ll delve into Discipline 3: Keep a compelling scorecard. I encourage all of my readers to go get this book because it is full of great ideas and case studies. I am so thankful that I found it!!