The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling: Summary and Notes

4 disciplines of execution“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, unapologetically—to say no to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.”

Rating: 7/10

Related Books: Summary of The Four Disciplines of ExecutionGood to GreatSpeed of TrustExtreme Productivity, Work The System

Print | Ebook | Audiobook

Get all my book summaries here

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Short Summary

The 4 Disciplines of Execution teaches you how to execute your goals effectively. The authors provide an easy-to-use framework for achieving personal, team, and organization objectives even when you feel there is no more room for another item on your to-do list. This book will change how your team works.

Section 1: The Four Disciplines of Execution

Discipline 1: Focus On The Wildly Important

The first discipline of execution is to focus on one or two wildly important goals (WIG). Execution starts with focus and without it, the other disciplines will not matter.

The whirlwind: All the things that you do day-to-day that are necessary to sustain your business

“Focusing on the wildly important means narrowing the number of goals you are attempting to accomplish beyond the day-to-day demands of your whirlwind.”

The principle behind Discipline 1 is the belief that humans are wired to only achieve one goal with excellence. Trying to focus on more than one goal will overload the prefrontal cortex. When you engage in multitasking, you may be hampering your ability to think deeply and creatively.

“Nothing is more counterintuitive for a leader than saying no to a good idea, and nothing is a bigger destroyer of focus than always saying yes.”

Your most important goal (WIG) should be measurable.

For example:

NASA’s mission of getting a man on the moon by 1969 was a measurable goal.

Discipline 2: Act On The Lead Measures

Discipline 2 is about applying maximum energy to activities that drive your lead measures. Discipline 2 is the discipline of leverage.

“Discipline 2 requires you to define the daily or weekly measures, the achievement of which will lead to the goal. Then, each day or week, your team identifies the most important actions that will drive those lead measures.”

Conventional thinking focuses on the lag measures while the 4DX principle focuses on moving the lead measures.

For example:

While you have no control over the time and place that your car breaks down (lag measure), you can determine how often your car gets maintenance (lead measure).

Lead measures foretell the result and are predictive in the sense that if the lead measure changes, the lag measure will also change.

For example:

If you want to increase sales, you should want to increase the number of outbound sales calls. If they increase, your sales volume should also increase.

Discipline 3: Keep A Compelling Scoreboard

4 disciplines of execution - Discipline 3: Keep A Compelling Scoreboard

Discipline 3 is about scorekeeping. You need to know whether you are winning or not.

People play differently when they are keeping score.

Great teams know whether they are winning or not because they keep a scorecard that points to the direction.

Without a scorecard that keeps compels action, energy dissipates, intensity lags and the team will go back to business as usual.

“The scoreboard is for the whole team. To drive execution you need a players’ scoreboard that has a few simple graphs on it indicating: Here’s where we need to be and here’s where we are right now. In five seconds or less, anyone can determine whether we are winning or losing?”

Characteristics of a compelling scorecard:

  1. It is simple. A good scorecard only has few pieces of data
  2. It is visible to the team. Visibility adds accountability
  3. It should show both lead and lag measures. Showing the expected outcomes helps the scoreboard come to life
  4. It can tell at a glance if you are winning. The team should be able to tell if they are winning or losing by looking at the scoreboard

Discipline 4: Create A Cadence Of Accountability

Creating a cadence of accountability means creating a frequently occurring cycle of accounting for past performance.

In a 4DX organization, accountability means making the personal commitments necessary to move the entire team’s score forward. This usually happens in a WIG session that should be held at least once a week at the same time.

Three-part agenda of a WIG session:

  1. Account: Report on commitments. Identify the commitments achieved during the week in review
  2. Review the scoreboard: Learn from successes and failures. Identify all the things you’ve been able to achieve so far in regards to the lead and lag measures
  3. Plan: Clear the path and make new commitments.  Make commitments for the coming week

“The WIG session encourages experimentation with fresh ideas. It engages everyone in problem-solving and promotes shared learning. It’s a forum for innovative insights as to how to move the lead measures, and because so much is at stake, it brings out the best thinking from every team member.”

Section 2: Installing 4DX On Your Team

4 disciplines of execution - Section 2: Installing 4DX On Your Team

5 stages of behavior change:

  • Stage 1: Getting Clear. The organization commits to change and develops a crystal clear WIG goal
  • Stage 2: Launch. This involves launching the team into action on the WIG
  • Stage 3: Adoption. At this stage, team members adopt the 4DX process and adopt the behaviors that drive the achievement of WIG
  • Stage 4: Optimization. The team becomes more purposeful and engaged in their work
  • Stage 5: Habits. By making the 4DX process habitual, you will more easily achieve your goals

People deal with change in three ways:

  • Models. The models are the top performers and are the most engaged
  • Resisters. These are team players who have doubts about the plan working
  • Potentials. Potentials are the majority and they represent people with the capacity to be top performers

Installing Discipline 1

When you have many goals to work on, you actually achieve none of them. That is why selecting the right WIG is important.

Steps to choosing the right WIG:

  • Consider the possibilities. Brainstorm as many wigs as possible
  •  Rank by impact. Identify the WIGS that have the greatest potential impact on the organization
  • Test top ideas. Test your ideas to see whether they are measurable are aligned with your overall WIG, who owns the result, and who owns the game
  • Define the WIG. Define the WIGs according to the following rules: Begin with a verb, define the lag measure in terms of X to Y by when, keep it simple and focus on what, not how

Installing Discipline 2

Act on the lead measures for superb performance. Lead measures must be both predictive and influenceable.

There are two types of lead measures:

  • Small outcomes. These are lead measures that focus the team on achieving weekly results
  • Leveraged behaviors. These are lead measures that track the specific behaviors that you want your team to follow

“The ideal lead measure is a behavior change that becomes habitual and brings continuous improvements to the lag measure.”

To make achieving the lead measure more likely, make it a team effort. If the leader is the only one who’s involved, everyone else will lose focus.

Installing Discipline 3

“The key to engagement is a big, visible, continually updated scoreboard that is compelling to the players.”

When people are keeping score, they play at their finest. While a coach’s scoreboard is complex, a player’s scoreboard is simple.

The more a team is involved in designing a scoreboard, the more distinct the responsibilities.

Steps to designing a great scoreboard:

  1. Choose a theme. The theme you choose should clearly show the measures that you are tracking
  2. Design the scoreboard. Design the scoreboard with one question in mind: “Is it simple?” A simple scoreboard should tell you whether or not you are winning at a single glance
  3. Build the scoreboard. Allow the team to build the scoreboard. The greater their involvement, the more they will take ownership of the result
  4. Keep it updated. A simple design will make it easier to update the scoreboard

Installing Discipline 4

Discipline 4 is the discipline of accountability.

Accountability starts with holding WIG sessions. A WIG session has the singular purpose of refocusing the team despite the daily whirlwind. WIG sessions should take place regularly, sometimes weekly, and where possible more often.

WIG sessions keep the team focused on the WIG despite the constant demands of the whirlwind. It also enables team members to learn from each other and how to move the lead measures.

Finally, WIG sessions give team members the help they need to keep their commitments.

WIG session activities:

  1. Account: Report on last week’s commitments
  2. Review the scoreboard: Learn from last weeks successes and failures
  3. Plan: Clear the path and make new commitments

Key to successful WIG sessions:

  • Hold WIG sessions as scheduled. Hold them in the same place, in the same place every week
  • Keep the sessions brief. Sessions should not be more than 20 – 30 minutes. This is key to maintaining an energetic pace
  • Set the standard as the leader. As the leader, report on your own commitments. By reporting first, it shows that you are not asking anything that you are unwilling to do yourself
  • Celebrate successes. Reinforce commitment to the WIG by recognizing superior performance from your team members
  • Share learning. Throughout the week, people will share what they know works and what doesn’t work
  • Refuse the whirlwind to enter. Keep your focus on commitments that are strictly related to your WIG

Section 3: Installing 4DX In Your Organization

4 disciplines of execution - Section 3: Installing 4DX In Your Organization

  1. Design the implementation to fit your culture. How you implement the 4DX principle will vary from one organization to another
  2. Realize it’s harder to implement the 4 Disciplines in an organization that’s already successful. When an organization is successful, it can be harder for them to see why they should try something new
  3. The senior leader must focus on holding all leaders accountable. This involves following up on accountability reports of everyone
  4. Provide the infrastructure to support implementation. Depending on the size of your organization, provide all the necessary resources to implement the 4DX principles
  5. Remember that implementing 4DX will raise the engagement of your team. As team members see the scoreboard, they will become motivated to work harder

Things to help leaders implement the 4 Disciplines:

  • Embed the language of the 4 disciplines in your culture. When the leader stops walking and talking about the 4 Disciplines, the entire organization will stop believing that they are serious
  • Ensure that your leaders are clearing the path. Look for a breakdown in execution and clear-the-path commitments
  • Appreciate frontline work as it is what matters the most. Your team needs to know that WIGS must be accomplished
  • Focus on raising the performance of your B-level leaders. The way to do this is to consistently hold your WIG sessions and holding everyone accountable
  • Be willing to hold the leadership high ground. It is up to the leader to set the pace for the achievement of the WIG goals