Hard work, no results? Try the Four Disciplines of Execution

Written by Davinia Upshall, Brainiact Mornington Central

If you’re working towards your business goals amid the everyday hustle, there’s a helpful strategy known as the Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX) developed by FranklinCovey. This approach is designed to help you focus on and reach your most important objectives, even with the constant distractions of daily tasks and responsibilities.

Discipline 1: Focus on the wildly important goal

The first discipline of 4DX is to concentrate on a single crucial goal, or what’s called a wildly important goal (WIG). Many business owners get wrapped up in day-to-day activities like answering calls, managing team questions, purchasing supplies, and interacting with customers. While these tasks keep you busy, there is an opportunity cost to them – they might divert your attention from setting and achieving bigger, long-term goals.

In 4DX, the idea is to focus on one major goal at a time. This helps prevent the daily operations from overwhelming you and taking you away from your main objectives. By narrowing your focus, you can achieve more by doing less. Instead of juggling several goals, centre your efforts on your WIG. Everyday activities are part of the whirlwind—necessary but consuming, often sidelining your primary aim.

To apply this discipline effectively, you need to clearly define your WIG. It could be anything from improving customer satisfaction to increasing annual revenue. Whatever your WIG, the key lies in the way you articulate it. Your WIG should identify where you are now, where you want to be, and by when. In other words, what’s your starting line, finish line, and deadline? For example, don’t just aim to “increase revenue.” Be specific: “Increase revenue from $750,000 to $1 million by the end of the fiscal year.”

Then, you need a plan on how you’re going to achieve your WIG. This leads us to the second discipline.

Discipline 2: Act on the lead measures

Your success will be based on two kinds of measures: Lead and lag measures. Lead measures are the actions you can take to directly affect your widely important goal. If your goal is to climb a certain mountain by the end of the year, effective lead measures might include how many hours you train a week or how much elevation you gain each time you climb. These are the specific, actionable steps you can control and track on a regular basis to ensure you’re moving toward your goal.

To make your goal manageable, break it down into bite-sized, achievable targets. If you aim to scale a mountain within a year, you might set milestones for each quarter, and then divide these into monthly or weekly goals. For example, to reach an altitude of 10,000 meters, you might plan to climb 2,500 meters every month. This method helps you see your progress and adjust your actions as needed.

Remember to choose lead measures that you can control and that have a clear impact on your goals. For instance, if improving customer satisfaction is your aim, your lead measures could include decreasing response times to customer inquiries and conducting more frequent customer service training.

Lag measures, on the other hand, track the success of your efforts. In business, lag measures would include things like revenue, profit, and customer satisfaction. These measures are called ‘lags’ because by the time you see them, the actions that caused them have already passed and it’s too late to change. By focusing on lead measures, you influence your lag measures positively.

At the end of each period, you assess your progress using lag measures—did you reach the 10,000 meters? If you only reached 7,500 meters, it’s time to figure out what lead measures need to change to improve your results.

Discipline 3: Keep a compelling scoreboard

People are naturally competitive. We perform best when we know the score and whether they’re doing well or not. This principle is true in both sports and business. A clear and accessible scoreboard helps keep everyone informed about their progress towards the WIG, the effectiveness of their actions, and if they’re on track to win.

A good scoreboard is straightforward and visible to all team members. It needs to show at a glance if you’re meeting your goal based on the actions you’re taking (lead measures).  For example, if your goal is to meet specific sales targets, you could have a dashboard that displays weekly sales data compared to these targets, making it easy for everyone to see how well they are doing. Lead measures should be activity-focused and lag measures should be outcome-focused. So, if you’re climbing a mountain, your lead measure is the number of steps you take and the lag measure is the distance you’ve covered.

Update the scoreboard as often as necessary for your goal. It could be weekly or monthly, depending on what you’re trying to achieve and when you’re trying to achieve it. Keeping a regular cadence is what is important. If you’re tracking something like steps climbed and you don’t meet your target one week, the scoreboard lets you know to step up your efforts the next week. If you surpass your goals, you might decide to either keep the pace or take a brief pause to celebrate your success.

The scoreboard must include both the actions you’re monitoring (lead measures) and the final results (lag measures) on the scoreboard. This helps you tweak your strategies using up-to-date information. At the end of a set period, like a quarter, you can see if you’ve reached a significant milestone and decide what to do next.

Overall, maintaining a clear scoreboard motivates the team and keeps everyone focused and aligned with the goals. It ensures everyone knows how close they are to success and what needs to be done to get there.

Discipline 4: Create a cadence of accountability

The last discipline focuses on regular accountability checks to make sure everyone knows their responsibilities. A “cadence of accountability” simply means a rhythm of regular team meetings that focus on your WIG.

Typically, these are short, weekly meetings for your team members to discuss what they have committed to do, review the progress shown on the scoreboard and plan their actions for the next cycle. This routine helps everyone stay accountable not just to their manager, but to each other. It turns their commitments into personal promises, boosting motivation and engagement.

During these meetings, each team member should be prepared to answer key questions: What are the one or two most important things I can do this week to impact the scoreboard? Did I meet my commitments from last week? Did my actions move the scoreboard? What will I commit to doing next week? This approach ensures that everyone’s actions are aligned with the team’s objectives, and allows for quick adjustments if needed.

This rhythm of accountability transforms the planning and execution process from reactive to proactive, greatly enhancing the likelihood of achieving your goals.

A good example would be when the United States’ goal was to land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. The overarching goal was clear, but achieving it required each team member to have specific, aligned goals that contributed directly to the mission. Regular updates and meetings ensured everyone was productively working towards the overarching mission.

How often these meetings occur can vary based on your team’s needs and the complexity of the goal. However, they should only be quick, focused discussions that reinforce individual responsibility and collective dedication to the main goal. It might sound tedious to some, but it’s what makes or breaks a successful business.

Implementing the disciplines

Now that you know the four disciplines, it’s important to know how to successfully implement them. The 4DX framework requires a shift from focusing only on daily tasks to adopting a holistic, strategic approach. You might bump into common hurdles like underestimating how distracting daily tasks can be, setting unclear or unrealistic WIGs, and not defining clear lead measures.

To effectively use this framework, remember to:

  1. Define clear goals: Make sure your main goal is specific and achievable. Instead of vague goals like “we aim to do X,” use precise, time-bound goals: “X to Y by when”.
  2. Engage your team: Get your team involved in determining and understanding the action steps needed to reach the goal. When everyone helps set the goals and knows what steps to take, they are more committed and more likely to adjust instead of run when they get feedback.
  3. Stay disciplined: Don’t underestimate the power of regular check-ins and accountability meetings. These sessions are so important to keep everyone on track.
  4. Monitor the right metrics: Keep an accurate scoreboard that tracks both the immediate steps taken (lead measures) and the final outcomes (lag measures).
  5. Plan robustly: A strong and realistic plan is needed for achieving any goal. If the goals are too lofty or the plan is weak, it’s hard to motivate your team or reach your targets.

Make sure to carve out time from the whirlwind to focus on the WIG. The WIG should take priority for the person or team focusing on it. To do this, you may need to leverage resources available to you to create the capacity. This might be through systemising and automating some processes or by engaging external people resources.

The Four Disciplines of Execution can lead your business to exceptional results. By focusing on the essentials, implementing effective measures, visually tracking progress, and maintaining accountability, your business can overcome daily challenges and achieve remarkable success. Incorporate these disciplines into your business strategy, and watch as your team’s collective efforts turn ambitious goals into real achievements.