Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed when planning? You just have too much to do and cannot really cope?

You did your planning for the year and started ignoring your new plans almost immediately.  Or are you confidently and happily executing on them?

The whirlwind

We all have 10 or more items on our daily to-do lists and tend to have 10 to 20 important strategic goals somewhere in a folder. Each day we firstly tackle a huge list of client and everyday to-do tasks. We run around and stress madly to get everything done. In this daily whirlwind of task we barely, if ever, attend to strategic goals.

Recognise that two very different areas require our attention:
•    The daily whirlwind or “to-do list” activities – which include urgent and important client projects and the day-to-day running of our companies; and

•    a very small range of important strategic and operational goals which, when achieved, will grow our companies.

The discipline of execution

At the start of the year, I reread a book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling (Simon & Schuster, 2012) about the execution of plans. A finding by other authors is that the “lack of execution is the single biggest obstacle to success.”

I use the Balanced Scorecard (BSC) and for years have propagated the creation of a “BSC Light”. However, I also inserted too many important goals about building my business into my own BSC. This year, I limited it to nine goals but this is the important breakthrough: I learned to focus each week on only ONE to two goals at a time.

Fail-safe execution requires a low number of goals and a sharp focus.

4DX: The Four Disciplines of Execution

Discipline 1. Focus on the Wildly Important

4DX firstly urges a strong focus on the wildly important. Create ONE major, hugely important overall company goal. This one goal has to be clear and it has to contain measures: X to Y by when.  (Not: “We will land a man on the moon” but “Our nation will land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth before this decade is out.” President J.F. Kennedy, 1961. Notice the difference?)

I pursue this main overarching goal from a number of Balanced Scorecard perspectives. Each perspective has ONE major goal (X to Y by when). Each week I select the one goal (out of nine) which currently provides the highest leverage towards achieving my company’s moonshot goal.  This is my Wildly Important Goal.

Discipline 2. Act on Lead Measures – Lead WIGs

Create a series of goals to support your main organisational goal. A series of achievements or milestones, taken together lead to the lag outcome described in your main WIG.

Not all important goals are Wildly Important.  You, firstly, need to create a short list of truly important goals and put them in some framework with headings.  I placed one important goal under each Balanced Scorecard heading. You could use your own framework e.g.  Finance, Products & Services, Marketing, Client Management, and Learning/Courses.

A “Wildly Important Goal” is one that claims your current attention.  It is advisable that you should narrow and sharpen your focus and only have ONE or two goals per week. These are your Wildly Important Goals (WIGs).

You need to step out of the whirlwind and attend to them.

Important goals come from one of two sources:
•    From within the whirlwind: It could be something that needs to be fixed; out-of-control costs; unsatisfactory client service, etc. It could be in an area in which you are already performing well, and where improving this strength could result in a significant impact.

•    From without the whirlwind: This usually means a choice to reposition yourself strategically or perhaps launch a new product or service.

Once a WIG is achieved it goes into the whirlwind. Every time this happens the whirlwind changes positively.

Discipline 3. Keep Compelling Scoreboards

4DX makes progress visible by means of simple scoreboards. Most owners or companies do not have scoreboards. Nor do they keep track – except perhaps through meetings and by means of notes/minutes. Owners do not grasp the beneficial impact of keeping precise and visible track of progress on important WIGs.

Good scoreboards can be read at a glance (5 seconds) and provide strong motivation. (Will you attend or watch a game which is played without a scoreboard?)

Keep a scoreboard for every lead WIG. Scoreboards also assist in figuring out which lead WIGs will have the greatest leverage and impact.

Discipline 4. Create a Rhythm of Accountability

The discipline of accountability. No matter how brilliant your plans or how important your goals, nothing will happen until you follow through with consistent action and until you hold yourself accountable.

4DX brings the practices that drive accountability and follow-through, despite a whirlwind of competing issues: The most important practice is the Weekly and Daily Meetings about the WIGs of the week. Here you check progress – or lack of progress – and what you commit to achieving this week.

Hold weekly and daily meetings without fail. Create a cadence, a rhythm of accountability.

Ultimately, Discipline 4 is the most crucial of the four, since the actual “game” of business is played in your WIG meetings. Do not take the game lightly. Do not take these meetings with yourself and your WIGs lightly. Do not cancel or skip these meetings. Focus on your ONE to two WIGs of the week and do so fully.

And do not dilute a WIG meeting with items from the whirlwind. (Attend to your to-do whirlwind items afterwards.)

How serious are you about knowing the rules of the game, of turning up on the field at weekly and daily practice sessions, at playing the game and about winning?

Turn these four disciplines of execution into a habit.  Achieve consistent success.