🏁 Why Organization Fails and The Discipline of Execution: The 4DX Methodology — Alessandro Marchesin
April 24, 2021
“Seventy per cent of strategic failures are due to poor execution of leadership. It’s rarely for lack of smarts or vision,” — Ram Charan, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.
When does this gap come from? Why do so many businesses fail to maintain ambitious promises during planning moments? One of the primary explanations could come to form educational side: every management and business administration for sure face an extensive amount courses like “Innovation & Strategies,” “Business Strategies,” “Strategical Business Administration”, and so on, but how many time education is focused on the how? Moreover, suppose you think that changing the execution of a strategy is about changing a profoundly rooted behaviour in the routine of each worker of your company. In that case, you can understand how more significant the challenge could be.
So, how can we ensure execution, despite the need for behavioural change? Franklin Covey was driven from this question during all his research, in which he studied organizational and teams’ dynamics for seven years in several companies. The output of his research was that the main issue was not the lack of talent, commitment, or passion. It was about the whirlwind: the whirlwind is composed of all the urgent things that you need to do daily to make your company survive. The vast amount of energy required to keep the operation going on every day is averagely taking 80% of your daily work routine.
Unfortunately, an urgent task rarely corresponds to the important ones. What should a wise leader do in this case? Differentiate between whirlwind and strategic objectives because they are both necessary for the organization and very different. They constantly compete for one against the other for your resources, your time, your energy, and your attention.
So, what are the 4 Disciple of Execution? They are rules for managing the most critical strategy in the middle of the worst whirlwind ever, they do not control the whirlwind, and here they are:
- Focus on the widely important
- Act on Lead Measures
- Keep a compelling scoreboard
- Create a cadence of accountability
Managers should keep some rules in mind before going through them to have a better understanding of the disciplines:
- They may sound straightforward, but their implementation requires lots of effort: it estimated that a practical implementation in a medium-big organization would need 2–3 years.
- 4DX is a counterintuitive methodology: the 4 Disciplines are paradigm-shifting and might even fly in the face of your While it might seem instinctive to you to have many goals, the more you have, the fewer you will achieve with excellence. If you want to achieve a specific goal, don’t focus on the plan itself but on the lead measures that drive the purpose. As you implement each discipline, at least initially, you’ll be doing things that, at first glance, might not seem to make sense and that run counter to your instincts.
- 4 Disciplines are a matched set, not a menu of choices. While every one of the disciplines has value, their real power is in how they work together in sequence. Each discipline sets the stage for the following discipline, leave one out, and you’ll have a far less effective result. For instance, please think of the 4 Disciplines as the operating system of a computer. Once installed, you can use it to run almost any strategy you choose, but you need the whole system for it to work.
First discipline: focus on the widely important
The principle of this discipline may sound counterintuitive, but it tells that the more goals you focus on, the less you will be able to reach. Here’s the reason why you have to concentrate on your WIG (Widely Important Goals). Here a big challenge for the leader arises the responsibility to say no to many potential strategies that might lead to the reach of success for the company.
“Focusing is about saying No,” “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully,” “Deciding what not to do as important as deciding what to do” — Steve Jobs.
Now that having focus has been defined as fundamental, the next step is understanding the organization’s WIG. The most critical question to answer should be: “if everything else stayed at their current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact?”. Essentially, a good WIG is that once achieved, basically redefines and enchants organizational performance.
The discipline also tells how a good WIG should look to be precise. It is not enough to define, for example, that my WIG is to have “better sales performance in Ireland.” Still, it should follow the format from X to Y by when, so in this case, it would be better to rephrase it as “Increase sales revenues from Ireland from 15 to 31 million by October 15”.
Now that the final goal clear, measurable, impactful, the next step is understanding how to work on it effectively.
Second Discipline: Act on the lead measures
Another counterintuitive fact is that, even if your goal is defined by a measure (for example, before the millions of sales revenues were identified), it is often impossible to act upon it directly, or some steps are way more impactful than others.
According to the theory, two types of measures are individuated:
- LAG Measures: LAG measures are those defining your They are not influenceable and being historical measures, they are mainly useful for reporting the current situation. LAG measures are ultimately the most important things to be achieved, but they are not directly actionable.
- LEAD Measures: LEAD measures define the activities that can impact your LAG. They are influenceable, predictive and highly repetitive. The fundamental principle behind LEAD measures is simply this.
Achieving the wildly important goal is like trying to move a giant rock that, despite all the team’s energy, doesn’t move. It’s not a question of effort because the team would have somehow already moved it if it were. The action alone is not enough. LEAD measures act as a lever, making it possible to move that rock. Let’s consider the two primary characteristics of a lever: first, unlike the rock, the lever is something we can proceed with. It’s influenceable. Second, when the lever moves, the rock moves, so it is predictive.
An excellent example of the theory is a football match: when two teams are playing, the LAG measure is the goal scored. They are not something that someone can control. They tell you perfectly who is winning and who is losing. It’s the result of other actions and something that the players cannot change directly. In this case, the LEAD measure, so the thing you have in control, is the percentage of ball possession, the number of passages realize, the number of shots on target, et cetera. All those measures are predictive because we are almost sure (even if everybody knows that football may be bizarre) that if you manage to increase them, you will score a goal.
Third discipline: keep a compelling scoreboard
You can consider this specific discipline a discipline of engagement, and it is based on an elementary principle: people play differently if they are keeping the score. You can be super capable with the theory of lag and lead measure but using them constantly implies always knowing if you are winning to losing.
There are mainly two types of scoreboards: the coach scoreboard and the players’ one. The coach scoreboard is the one that most likely is already used to understand the situation: it is complex and rich in data, but it requires careful study to figure out if the team is winning. The players’ scoreboard, instead, is managed directly by the players. To be effective, it needs to have the following characteristics:
- It should be simple: everyone can react in real-time rather than getting confused. Think about the scoreboard in a football game. Usually, only a few data are displayed: score, time, quarter, down and distance, and time-outs. While, for the same game, the coach’s data needs to track on the Coaches need this data to manage the game, but the scoreboard on the field shows only the data required to play the game.
- It should be obvious. Again, taking the football example, the scoreboard has enormous bright numbers so that everyone can know the real-time score. Visibility enhances accountability and engagement of team players, and it can also foster healthy competition between teams in the same organization. Besides, the main “enemy” is still the whirlwind because if we miss the goal and score, the team can easily forget the WIG a few times because of the constant daily urgent.
- It should shows lag and lead measures. Constantly seeing the scoreboard movements also help the team’s engagement, above all if its content is repeatable and direct actions they took. Having both legs and lead means knowing what they are doing (the lead) and what they are taking out from their effort (the lag).
- It should need just five seconds to be understood. It means that a good players’ scoreboard should tell you in a glance (less than 5 seconds) your situation. If the team can’t quickly determine if they are winning or losing by looking at the scoreboard, it’s not a game. It’s just data.
Here’s how a compelling business scoreboard could look like:
Fourth discipline: create a cadence of discipline
The fourth discipline is to create a cadence of accountability, a recurring cycle of accounting for past actions and results and planning to move forward.
Discipline 4 is where execution happens: disciplines 1, 2, and 3 set up the game, but until you apply Discipline 4, nothing will happen. If the team members don’t keep each other accountable (all of them, not just the team leader to the team), the goal will swallow in the whirlwind of daily urgent but not lead-oriented activities. The “WIG” sessions are the fundamental tool to make this shared accountability happen. A WIG session is:
- A fixed meeting within the team is held on the same day and at the same time every week (sometimes it could happen even more often, but never less frequently than weekly). This cadency and consistency are critical because they foster the team to establish a sustained performance rhythm. Missing even a single week causes you to lose valuable momentum, and this loss of momentum impacts.
- A meeting in which a whirlwind is not allowed: no matter how urgent the matter is, it should treat this in another moment. In this way, the team is focused, and the meeting is fast and efficient.
- A meeting that lasts from twenty to thirty minutes. At the beginning, or in a particular type of organization and team, it may take more time, but it’s essential to strive to keep it efficient and practical so that there are no risks to lose attention and engagement.
- A meeting in which success is celebrated and learnings are shared: to maintain the team committed is essential to recognize the ones who move the scoreboard and made the difference in the
To meet these requirements, the WIG session should follow the following structure:
- Account: every member of the team report on last week commitments and relative results to the whole
- Review: the lag and lead measures that compose the scoreboard are review to have a crystal-clear current state.
- Plan: based on the previous parts and learnings of the agenda, team members clear the path from bottlenecks and set new commitments for the following
I believe it is vital to shift our beliefs: virtuous organisations are the ones who productively execute every day many hours of meaningful works.
You do not need to be head of a 400 people company to start implementing 4DX, and you can begin to also today in an everyday setting.
Let’s say you want to lose weight. How can you implement 4DX?
- Discipline 1: don’t be general. Define how many kilograms you want to lose and by when.
- Discipline 2: now, you can forget about kilograms, focus on actions and measures you can influence, for instance, # calories assumed and # exercise session
- Discipline 3: stick it on the wall, write on a big piece of paper your goal, how many times you are exercising, and so on
- Discipline 4: take 20 minutes a week to check the actions you did, the result they brought, and design the action plan for the following week.
Still interested in the topic? I have written an article about 4DX in the healthcare sector. Feel free to take a look!
Citations, images and inspiration from McChesney, C., Covey, S., Huling, J., Thele, S. and Walker, B., 2021. The four disciplines of execution. New York: Simon & Schuster.