4 Disciplines to Execute a Winnable Game

Published May 16, 2018

The 4 Disciplines of Execution are designed to create a winnable game. They give you the power to execute your most important goals in the face of competing priorities and distractions. The disciplines are powerful, yet simple. However, they are not simplistic. They can be tricky to apply and sustain, as they require us to work differently than we normally do.

Discipline 1: Focus on The Wildly Important

This discipline requires you to focus on less in order to accomplish more. You start by selecting one wildly important goal or WIG, instead of trying to work on a dozen goals all at once. We are not suggesting you ignore the work necessary to maintain your operation. We are suggesting you narrow your focus to work on what you want to improve significantly.

Most intelligent, ambitious people don’t want to do less, especially if it means saying no to good ideas. They are wired to do more, but there are always more good ideas than there is capacity to execute.

When you choose a wildly important goal, you identify the most important objective that won’t be achieved unless it gets special attention. In other words, your normal course of business won’t make it happen.

To define a WIG, identify where you are now, where you want to be and by when. Said differently, you define a starting line, a finish line and a deadline. Psychologically, it is very important to have a single measure of success. This is the discipline of focus, and it’s the first step in creating a winnable game.

Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures

No matter what you are trying to achieve, your success will be based on two kinds of measures: Lag and Lead. Lag measures track the success of your wildly important goal. Lags are measures you spend time losing sleep over. They are things like revenue, profit, quality and customer satisfaction. They are called lags because by the time you see them, the performance that drove them has already passed. You can’t do anything to fix them; they are history.

Lead measures track the critical activities that drive or lead to the lag measure. They predict success of the lag measure and are influenced directly by the team.

A common example of a lag measure is weight loss. Which activities or lead measures will lead to weight loss? Diet and exercise! Proper diet and exercise predict the success of weight loss, and they are activities we can directly influence.

Simple enough, but be careful. Even the smartest people fall into the trap of fixating on a lag measure that they can’t directly influence. This is because lags are easier to measure, and they represent the result we ultimately want. Think of a lead measure as a level that moves your wildly important goal.

Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

People play differently when they are keeping score. If you doubt this, watch a group of teenagers playing basketball. See how the game changes the minute score-keeping begins. It’s not a subtle change.

The lag and lead measures won’t have much meaning to the team, unless they can see the progress in real time. Bowling through a curtain is not that much fun. Discipline 3 is the discipline of engagement.

People perform best when they are emotionally engaged, and the highest level of engagement comes when people know the score—whether they are winning or losing the game. It’s that simple.

The best scoreboard is designed for and often by the players. A player’s scoreboard is quite different from the complex scoreboard that coaches love to make. If players know the score, if they can influence the lead measure and if the lead measure moves the lag measures, you know you have a winnable game. Disciplines 1, 2 and 3 are nothing more than a formula for creating a winnable game. Discipline 4 is how we play that game.

Discipline 4: Create a Cadence of Accountability

The cadence of accountability is a rhythm of regular and frequent team meetings that focus on the wildly important goal. These meetings happen weekly, sometimes daily. Ideally, they last no more than 20 minutes. In that brief time, team members hold each other accountable for commitments made to move the score.

The secrets to Discipline 4, in addition to the weekly cadence, are the commitments that team members create in the meeting. One by one, team members answer a simple question: “What are the one or two most important things I can do this week that will have the biggest impact on the scoreboard?”

In the meeting, each team member reports first if they met last week’s commitments, second if the commitments move the lead or lag measures on the scoreboard and finally, which commitments they will make for the upcoming week.

People are more likely to commit to their own ideas than to orders from above. When individuals commit to their fellow team members, not only to the boss, the commitment goes beyond professional job performance to become a personal promise.

When the team sees they are having a direct impact on the wildly important goal, they know they are winning. And nothing drives morale and engagement more than winning.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn, here.

About the Author(s)
Chris McChesney

Chris McChesney

Executive; Wall Street Journal #1 National Best-selling Author

Franklin Covey

Chris McChesney is a Wall Street Journal #1 national bestselling author of The 4 Disciplines of Execution and is the Global Practice Leader of Execution for Franklin Covey. Known for his high-energy and engaging presentations, McChesney has consulted with many of the world’s top brands and leverages this practical experience to help leaders from the boardroom to the front lines of an organization get better at executing the ideas that matter most.

Years at GLS 2016