Disciplines help in executing business strategies

Chris West
Chris West

At the beginning of a new year, it’s essential for business owners to step back, take a breath and contemplate the future of their ventures and wildly important goals they hope to achieve in the coming year.

Every business has a strategy.  Even the “no strategy” approach is, in essence, a strategy. I believe a perfect strategy executed poorly will yield mediocre results while even a mediocre strategy executed perfectly will lead to excellent results.

In determining strategies for a given year, business owners should first look at the “big picture” and think about their long-term “visions.” Where’s the business going? What are the growth opportunities in new markets, products or service lines? How does the business affect the communities it serves?

Owners thinking in this way will be able to hold fast to their core values and core purpose — the foundational elements of a company — and springboard into lofty long-term goals requiring the company to change and adapt to an evolving market and economy. Vision involves painting a vivid picture of what the company will look like five, 10 or 20 years. Without vision, it’ll be more challenging to engage employees and key stakeholders in executing short-term, ground-level strategies. Simply put, all strategies and goals should connect to the long-term vision for the company.

One of the best books I’ve read on executing strategies is “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” (4DX) by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling. The concepts in 4DX make practical sense, providing an easy-to-understand framework to implement with individuals and teams throughout an organization. I’ve seen the 4DX methodology in action, and it works.

Discipline 1: Focus on the wildly important. Instead of devoting mediocre effort to many goals, focus effort on only one or two goals. Leaders struggle to narrow their focus and find themselves with too many competing priorities. The most important goals will always go head to head against the “whirlwind” — the so-called  “day job” or daily demands to keep the business running. The whirlwind is important because it represents all the urgent and critical things that must be done to keep the lights on. The whirlwind can’t and won’t go away. The trick is to achieve the company’s most important goals in the face of the whirlwind.  Research has shown when teams within an organization focus on more than three goals, the chances of achieving any of the goals diminishes significantly. There’ll always be more good ideas than the capacity to execute. Focus on only the most important goals. Once a goal is determined, a clear finish line is necessary to keep the organization focused. It’s not enough to say, “We want to improve customer satisfaction.” It’s better to say, “We’ll improve customer satisfaction by increasing our customer satisfaction index from 78.3 to 85.0 by Dec. 31, 2019.”

Discipline 2: Act on lead measures. There are two differing measure indicators, “lag” and “lead.” Lag measures represent the goal you want to achieve. The lag measure for the goal “I want to lose 10 pounds” is getting on the scale, closing your eyes and hoping the scale shows a lower reading. A lag measure tells you if you’ve achieved your goal, but a lead measure tells you if you’re likely to achieve your goal. Lead measures remain within your immediate control. The classic lead measures for the goal “I want to lose 10 pounds” is diet and exercise — two measures you control on a daily basis that should lead to a positive movement in the lag measure (weight loss). Determining and defining your lead measures is one of the more challenging aspects of the 4DX concept. If a wildly important company goal is to increase the customer satisfaction index from 78.3 to 85.0, then a lead measure could be to decrease average wait times at the counter from five minutes to three minutes. The key to lead measures is they must be tracked, even if it means developing a new system.

Discipline 3: Keep a compelling scoreboard. Employees like to know if they’re winning. Keeping a scoreboard that tracks progress on lead and lag measures will keep them engaged. Don’t make the scoreboard too complex. Keep it simple, clear and engaging.

Discipline 4: Create a cadence of accountability. This is where execution happens. Disciplines 1, 2 and 3 set up the game. But until you apply Discipline 4, your team isn’t in the game. Discipline 4 requires your team to meet at least weekly to discuss what they accomplished in the past week and what specific actions to do this week to affect lead measures. Meetings shouldn’t last more than 20 minutes. Remember, there’s a whirlwind. Weekly meetings hold team members accountable for their specific actions affecting lead measures all while facing the whirlwind.

As a business owner, 4DX offers a process to reignite the passion of your team, bring focus and discipline to their efforts and ultimately help them see they’re winners.