Book Review: 4 Disciplines of Execution

There are some intriguing concepts and insights that Sean Covey (and the other authors) had in the book, 4 Disciplines of Execution. He has a very extensive background as a business executive and has had his program utilized by some very large, multi-national (and even international) companies.

The fundamental problem they define is this: Many executives and employees know their general strategy; they simply fail in the execution phase of their goals. Execution fails for 3 reasons:

  1. Lack of clarity

  2. Lack of commitment

  3. Lack of accountability

The authors go through many examples of how executives have given their team many numbers, goals, and other such tasks to accomplish. The sheer number of goals, however, renders them all useless due to the inability of humans to focus intensely on so many goals at one given time. The takeaway of this snippet brings us to our first Discipline of Execution:

  1. Focus on Your Wildly Important Goals
    If all variables and workloads were to stay steady right now, what would be the most drastic way to improve effectiveness? More phone time? More marketing? Hold a meeting where you ask everyone what that would be. They emphasize that you take your time with the brainstorming, and to not just do the first couple things that come to mind. They talk extensively of what they call “the whirlwind”. The whirlwind are the daily tasks required to run a company. For us, this would be along the lines of calling throughout the day, having conversations about candidates, etc. They cry out “Don’t let the whirlwind get in the way of your WIGs!” This is why the WIGS are called “Wildly Important”. You are supposed to make them wildly important. The whirlwind is always urgent, but the goals are important. “What is urgent may kill you today, but what is important may kill you tomorrow.”

  2. Focus on Lead Measures
    There are two types of measure they define that you can track as the progress of the company. They are lag measures and lead measures. Lag measures are measures that rise to the surface after the work to attain them has already been achieved. They lag. Some examples would be profit margins, turnover, number of new clients, etc. Lead measures are actionable measures which affect the lag measures. I.e. - if your lag measure is new clients attained, the lead measures of those which would lead to new clients being attained, things you can control in real-time, would be things like a) speaking with 15 new prospective customers a day b) asking for 10 referrals a day or c) presenting 2 candidates a week, etc. These are variables that one can control and can thus be leveraged in favor of increasing the lag measures. The conclusion is this, focus on the lead measures, do not focus on the lag measures. By the time you read the lag measures, it is too late to do anything about it.

  3. Create an Interactive Scoreboard
    I love the quote from former Greenbay Packers manager, Vince Lombardi. “If you’re not keeping score, you’re just practicing.” The authors of the book put a strong emphasis on several things in this regard: a) workers themselves record their metrics. Look at any pickup game. As soon as someone starts keeping score, they’ll play very, very differently. b) you can see the scoreboard within 5 seconds. A scoreboard is useless if it takes any amount o effort to see it. And c) Make the scoreboards simple and transparent

  4. Create a Cadence of Accountability
    One of the biggest takeaways I found from the book is the strong emphasis for concise, weekly meetings. Every. Single. Week. In these meetings, he strongly recommends everyone discussing their prior commitments, their progress on those commitments, and their commitments for next week. I know that in the metrics report, you have “3 Quantifiable Achievements I would like by next week”, but perhaps it would serve us well to get back into doing weekly meetings and discussing accountability and planning more often in them. They ultimately conclude that none of the 3 disciplines will actually work effectively if number 4 is missing, and they provided examples of such cases.