Getting Things Done

These four disciplines of execution can help us overcome the obstacles to accomplishing the non-urgent, but still important, tasks.


Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

One of the struggles all of us face is figuring out how to get things done. Too often, after investing a great deal of time and effort identifying opportunities, assigning responsibilities and establishing schedules, results are not achieved, and we are left wondering what happened. This can lead to employee frustration and frequent complaints that things never get done. 

In the book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution,” authors Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling cite a “whirlwind” as the main reason why things that need to be done do not get done. This whirlwind is with us every day; in fact, it is our day job. The whirlwind consists of all the urgent things that must be done to keep the business running, such as processing quotes, scheduling work, answering customer inquiries, repairing machines, correcting quality problems, shipping the right parts in the right quantities, and so much more. So when faced with our own constantly blowing whirlwinds, how do we get other important things done? Here is where the four disciplines come in.

The first discipline is Focus. We must recognize that we cannot do everything we need to do all at once. It is also likely that we cannot do everything we think we can do at once. The key is to focus on one or two really critical things, or what the authors refer to as wildly important goals, or WIGs. These WIGs are the goals that matter most to the company at one particular time. Put another way, a WIG is something that, if implemented, would have a great impact on the company. Following that guideline, it is easy to see why there should never be more than two WIGs being pursued at any one time. When developing a WIG, consideration must be given to how it will be measured in specific terms (i.e., increase output by 20 percent, reduce defects by 10 percent) and the timeframe for completion (i.e., within three months, by December 31).

The second discipline is Leverage. How we measure performance on our WIGs is critical to successful execution. Most of us are adept at establishing measures, but we generally focus on lag measures, or those things that have already happened. For example, most of us measure on-time delivery, which is a critical measure, but because it measures performance that has already occurred, it is a lag measure. First-pass yield, average lead time and output per man-hour are further examples of lag measures.

To best leverage our WIGs, we need to establish lead measures. These are generally more difficult to develop than lag measures, but are actually more useful as they show the actions being taken to achieve the WIGs. A lead measure must be both predictive and manageable by the team working on the WIG. The predictive component dictates that the measure must affect the WIG. For example, training machine operators to inspect parts should positively affect the percentage of good parts coming off a machine. Therefore, an effective lead measure for reducing defects could be the number of operators fully trained to inspect parts. As the number of fully trained operators goes up, the number of defects produced should go down. The influenceable component requires that the measure should be at least 80 percent controllable by the team working on the goal. There is little more frustrating than being held accountable for something over which you have no control. Regarding the trained operators, if the team can control at least 80 percent of the type and timing of operator training, then it would meet the influenceable requirement of a lead measure.

The third discipline is Engagement. Employee engagement in any goal requires they know exactly what is going on, or more specifically, how their performance is affecting what is going on. The authors speak of the need for a “compelling scoreboard” that is managed by the employees themselves. Such a scoreboard should be simple, visual and frequently updated. It should include the measures (both lead and lag) being employed in the area. The scoreboard is a way to keep everyone connected to the goal and engaged in assuring success.

The fourth discipline is Accountability. The  authors advocate a “cadence of accountability,” meaning a regular review of measures and commitments. Brief, focused meetings are the best way to create this cadence that is meant to hold each other accountable. Placing accountability at a peer-to-peer level increases the likelihood that commitments are met, because most people do not want to disappoint their peers. There is value to having everyone discuss on a regular basis the status of commitments they have made.

I personally found these four disciplines of execution to be most insightful and intend to employ them as often as I can to help me get things done.