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The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling.
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How often have you come up with an amazing plan, showed it off, admired it, been sure that it’s the solution to all your problems, only to have it die a slow death over the next few months? This isn’t uncommon—strategy (your beautiful plan) is much easier and better-studied than execution (actually carrying out your plan).

The 4 Disciplines of Execution explains how to actually do the things in the plans. Execution requires behavioral change, which is one of the hardest things to generate, both in yourself, your team members, and your organization. The greatest enemy of execution and behavioral change is the whirlwind—the day-to-day activities necessary to keep an organization running. It’s very difficult to make changes when you’re stuck inside the storm and completely occupied with just trying to keep things running.

The authors have come up with a system called 4DX (4 disciplines of execution). This system makes it possible for organizations to achieve wildly important goals while fending off the whirlwind. It works for any kind of team (e.g. creative, military), in any type of structure (e.g., matrixed), and in any industry (e.g., manufacturing, government). It even works in personal or family settings. Additionally, in the process of achieving a goal, 4DX creates behavioral change that leads to a permanently higher level of performance.

This book is not about how to tame the whirlwind; it’s about how to get things done in spite of the whirlwind. You should give 4DX 20% of your time and energy. 80% should remain with the whirlwind. The whirlwind may be an enemy of execution, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important—you need these day-to-day operations to keep an organization running.

4DX contains the following four principles: focus, leverage, engagement, and accountability. These principles probably aren’t new to you—in fact, they’re natural laws. (They’ve been affecting you even if you weren’t aware of them until now.) However, the key of 4DX is to apply the principles in a very particular way.

Discipline 1: Focus

In Discipline 1, choose one to three goals to focus on. Call them wildly important goals (WIGs) to remind yourself and your organization that they’re top priority. Choosing so few goals may feel counterintuitive. Do it anyway.

Senior leaders choose the WIG for an organization. Then, each team comes up with supporting WIGs. There are four rules for choosing team WIGs:

  • Rule #1: Focus. No team will choose more than two WIGs.
  • Rule #2: Team WIGs must directly support the overall WIG.
  • Rule #3: Teams get to choose their own WIGs. Senior leaders can veto, but cannot make the final decision.
  • Rule #4: All WIGs must be stated in the format “from point A to point B by deadline.”

For example, consider an organization with an overall WIG of “Increase profit from $10 million to $15 million by June 1.” A sales team might come up with a single WIG: “Increase profit from our department from $2 million to $3 million by June 1.”

How do you choose good WIGs? WIGs must be challenging but also attainable. There are four steps to settling on a WIG:

  1. Brainstorm. Ask yourself what kind of change would have the most impact on your organization or team. Consider things that aren’t working, and things that, if they worked even a little better, would have a large impact. Involve peer leaders and your team in the brainstorming.
  2. Assess. Consider the list of team WIGs you brainstormed. Which ones will have the highest impact on the overall WIG?
  3. Test. Your WIG must support the overall WIG, be measurable, be driven by the team rather than the leader, and shouldn’t depend more than 20% on another team.
  4. State. Choose your WIG and write it in the format “from point A to point B by deadline.”

Discipline 2: Leverage

In Discipline 2, you learn how to get from point A to point B. Points A and B are lag measures—results that can’t be changed after they’ve been measured. For example, a lag measure is your body weight on a scale.

To create results, you’re going to need a different type of measure—a lead measure. Lead measures predict and influence lag measures, so when you apply disproportionate energy to lead measures, the lag measures move too. If your lag measure is your weight, the lead measures are how much you eat and exercise. If you want to change your weight, it’s more productive to change your diet and exercise than to weigh yourself multiple times, hoping your weight will have changed since the last time you stepped on a scale.

It may feel counterintuitive to spend a lot of time and energy on a measure that isn’t a result. Do it anyway.

For example, the above team had a WIG of “Increase profit from our department from $2 million to $3 million by June 1.” Their lead measures can be things that increase revenue or reduce costs, such as “each team member must pitch the product to three new clients a week.”

How do you choose good lead measures?...

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide Strategy vs. Execution—Or What Vs. How

There are two parts to getting results, strategy and execution. Strategy covers what to do to achieve change (the plan) and execution covers how to actually do it.

Strategy is the easier of the two and traditional business education (such as MBAs) focuses on it. To learn strategy, you study a single organization in depth. You look at “photographs” (single moments in time) of the company or executive. Then you copy what’s working.

Execution is more like a movie. You have to study it over time, and you have to study many different companies. You look at why things happen. Execution, at its most powerful, involves behavioral change, and not just your own. Execution is hard because you have to change the behavior of other people. Sometimes this is the behavior of certain people in the organization, sometimes it’s everyone in the organization. And a grudging agreement to temporarily change won’t work—you need people’s commitment and engagement.

Types of Strategies

There are two main types of strategies, stroke-of-the-pen strategies and behavioral-change strategies:

  • Stroke-of-the-pen. These strategies are executed by an order or authorization. They...

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide Defining Discipline 1: Focus

The key of this discipline is to focus on—and only on—the wildly important. Genetically, human beings work best when they do one thing at a time. Multitasking overloads our brains, and when our brains are overtaxed, they slow down. As you practice multitasking, you actually get worse at thinking and problem-solving. As a result, it’s physically impossible to be most effective when concentrating on too much at once.

You can see the harmful effects of multitasking in the workplace too. When you have too many goals, you get hit with the law of diminishing returns. If you have four to ten goals, you might achieve one or two. If you have more than ten, you won’t achieve any of them. Too many or unfocused goals also make the whirlwind worse. What might be five goals at the top of an organization cascades down to many smaller goals at the bottom of the hierarchy, creating too much to focus on. Also, conventional organizational goals often lack measurability, focus, and a deadline.

Therefore, when you want to create change, choose one, at max three, very important goals to work toward. Call them Wildly Important Goals (WIGs) to make it easy for you and staff to...

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Shortform Exercise: Why Is Focus So Hard?

Most leaders know that focus is important but find it difficult to do.


What factors make it difficult for you to choose a focus? Consider internal factors such as your own nature or desire to look good, what others ask of you, and your whirlwind.

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide Implementing Discipline 1: Focus

A WIG must challenge your team, but it must also be achievable. Don’t game your team by choosing something impossible while privately thinking if they manage 75% of it, you’ll be happy. Long-term, this will affect your ability to engage your team and produce results.

There are four steps to selecting WIGs:

Step 1: Brainstorm a List of Possible WIGs

To brainstorm, come up with ideas on your own and consult team members and peer leaders, if applicable.

Brainstorm on Your Own

Brainstorm a list of possible WIGs even if you think you already know what the WIG should be. Ask yourself, “If everything about my organization stayed the same, where would a change have the most impact?” (Don’t ask, “What’s most important?”—you’ll get distracted by the whirlwind and other people’s opinions.) Come up with as many ideas as you can. The more ideas you have to choose from, the better your final WIG will be.

To come up with ideas, look within and outside of the whirlwind, and consider your mission.

  • If you’re choosing a WIG from inside the whirlwind, your options are:
    • Something that’s very badly broken that absolutely must be fixed, for example, going over...

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Shortform Exercise: Choose a Team WIG

There are four steps to creating a team WIG.


Invent an overall WIG for your organization. (If you’re not clear on the overall goals of your organization (not uncommon), or you’re not having a brainwave, you can use this one, which should apply to most organizations: increase profit from point A to point B over the next year.)

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide Defining Discipline 2: Leverage

Think of your WIG’s point A as a big heavy rock. No matter how hard your team pushes against it, it’s immovable. However, if your team applies a lever, the rock shifts. The team has to move the lever a lot to move the rock a little, but the rock does move. Discipline 2 is about finding the right lever to move the WIG value from point A to point B.

Point A and point B values are also called lag measures. Lag measures are results. They tell you if you’ve reached your WIG, so they’re very important. However, as the name implies, the actions that produced these results have already happened, so there’s nothing you can do to change them. Some examples of lag measures are revenue, profit, customer satisfaction, and body weight on a scale. (The whirlwind of daily tasks is full of lag measures.)

The lever in the rock example above is a lead measure. Lead measures quantify the actions that have the most impact on the WIG. Lead measures don’t tell you if you’ve achieved the WIG; instead they forecast if you will achieve the WIG. They’re predictive of the lag measure and, because the actions that drive them are ongoing, they’re influenceable. For example, if your lag...

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide Implementing Discipline 2: Leverage

Finding lead measures can be challenging. If you’re trying to do something you’ve never tried before, you have to do new things. How do you know what these new things should be? Like coming up with a WIG, there’s a four-step process:

Step 1: Brainstorm a List of Possible Lead Measures

Like step 1 of WIG brainstorming, come up with as many ideas as possible. The most effective lead measures may not be the ones that first occur to you. Make sure you focus on ideas that will help achieve the WIG. You’re not looking for a catch-all list of things it would be good to do. Coming up with lead measures requires a bit of that Discipline 1 focus.

While brainstorming, consider:

  • What have we never done before that will help achieve the WIG?
  • What are we good at that we can use to achieve the WIG?
  • What are we bad at that might get in the way of us achieving the WIG?
  • What are the activities we already do that are most important to achieve the WIG? Keep in mind the 80/20 rule—80% of your results will come from the top 20% of your actions. Choose your lead measures from these top activities.
  • What did other people or companies with similar WIGs do? What were...

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Shortform Exercise: Find Lead Measures

There are four steps to finding lead measures.


Recall the team WIG you came up with in the previous exercise. Brainstorm a list of possible lead measures that will affect the WIG’s lag measures (X and Y). Remember, lead measures must be both predictable and influenceable.

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide Defining Discipline 3: Engagement

Discipline 3 engages your team by making the achievement of the WIG into a game they can win. Humans have a natural urge to compete, and people behave differently when they see an opportunity to win—they become highly motivated and engaged, and this drives a high level of performance.

The opposite is also true—it’s human nature not to try as hard as you can if no one’s keeping score. For example, consider this anecdote about an important high school football game. Hurricane Katrina had knocked down the scoreboard, but the field was fine, so the game went ahead. But because the fans couldn’t see the score, no one knew what was going on in the game, and no one cared about the game.

The authors claim that an opportunity to win is one of the most powerful ways to engage people, more powerful than money, benefits, conditions, and workplace relationships. People desperately want the opportunity to achieve.

People perform best when they are personally winning. They don’t necessarily care whether the organization or their boss is winning, they care if the team they’re on is winning.

Winning, in the context of Discipline 3, is achieving the WIG. The score is lead and...

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Shortform Exercise: What Engages You?

People are most engaged when they feel like they’re playing a game they can win.


Imagine the last time you did something without keeping track of the score. For example, you might have been playing catch with your daughter, reading a book, or making dinner. How motivated and engaged were you?

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide Implementing Discipline 3: Engagement

There are three steps to implementing Discipline 3:

Step 1: Choose a Scoreboard Format

There are several options for format:

  • Trend line. Trend lines are most effective for lag measures. You can see where you’re supposed to be and where you are.
  • Common gauges (speedometer, thermometer, and so on). This is most effective for time measures (for example, process speed).
  • Bar chart. This is most effective for comparing performance of individuals or teams.
  • Andon chart. An andon chart shows symbols that represent the status of measures, such as a smiley face when something is on target, or a sad face when it's not. This type of chart is most useful for displaying lead measures.

The goal is to get team members invested in the scoreboard, so let them personalize it by adding details such as photos or other elements that represent the team. For example, engineers might set up flashing lights on their scoreboard. Personalization helps a team take ownership and makes winning about personal pride.

Shortform Example: Book Production Department: Formatting

Maria and her team used a trend line to show the difference between their goal costs...

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Shortform Exercise: Make a Scoreboard

There are four steps to creating a player’s scoreboard.


Recall the WIG and lead measures you came up with in the previous two exercises. Think about what scoreboard format would be most appropriate. Remember, some of the options are trend lines, bar charts, gauges, and andon charts.

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide Defining Discipline 4: Accountability

Disciplines 1-3 set up execution, but Discipline 4 is where it actually happens. If you were to stop 4DX after Discipline 3, scoring would happen, but only for a short while. In time, the scoreboard would become a to-do list that no one’s doing. Or, everyone would come up with their own ideas about how to do things, scattering effort in all directions. Without accountability, the game/goal will be overtaken by the whirlwind of day-to-day operations.

In 4DX, “accountability” doesn’t mean an annual performance review or getting called out for failing—there’s no negative connotation. Here, accountability isn’t top-down or organizational; it’s personal. You’re accountable to your team members (not just your boss), but most importantly, accountability becomes a matter of personal pride. Since you helped choose the WIG and lead measures, you can make commitments you have the power to carry out. Discipline 4 reconnects everyone, in a personal way, to the WIG, in spite of the distractions of the whirlwind.

The key to Discipline 4 is that the accountability is precise and regularly scheduled—a cadence.

The WIG Session

The cadence of accountability is primarily...

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide Implementing Discipline 4: Accountability

This chapter illustrates the implementation of Discipline 4 by taking us through the agenda of an example WIG session.

Agenda Item 1: Review the Scoreboard

The leader starts the WIG session by reviewing the scoreboard. This includes:

  • Stating whether the team is above or below the target for the team WIG.
  • Stating whether the team is above or below the targets on the lead measures.
  • Congratulating the team.
  • Congratulating the top performers.
  • Emphasizing the need to consistently meet and maintain the targets, even if everything’s already on track

Shortform Example: Book Production Department: Scoreboard Review

Maria might say something like, “Congratulations to Craig and Emiko, who both exceeded this week’s lead measures by renaming four book’s files this week.”

Agenda Items 2 & 3—Leaders

The leader completes both steps 2 and 3 before the team members.

Agenda Item 2: Account for Last Week’s Commitments

The leader reports on her own commitments, in first person, by:

  • Reminding everyone of her commitments.
  • Stating whether she completed, exceeded, or failed to meet her target.
  • Sharing anything she learned that might help...

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Shortform Exercise: Choose a WIG Session Commitment

Leaders have two options for WIG commitments. They can commit to actions that will move the lead measures, or actions that will improve the team’s execution.


Think of a problem at work. What can you do to solve the problem by yourself?

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Shortform Exercise: Run a WIG Session

The WIG session has a very specific agenda. Imagine you’re leading a WIG session. Recall your WIG, lead measures, and scoreboard from the previous exercises.


The first step of a WIG session is to review the scoreboard. Picture your scoreboard—how will you summarize it for your team? (Consider if your lead measures are moving your lag measures, and if the team or individuals are meeting or exceeding the performance standard on the lag measures.) How will you celebrate top performance?

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide Implementing 4DX Across an Entire Organization

(Shortform note: The authors are part of an organization called FranklinCovey, which provides 4DX training. In this section, when they write “leader” or “coach,” they mean a person who’s gone through their training program and been certified.)

It’s more challenging to roll out 4DX on a large scale than it is to get it working with individual teams. There are three things to keep in mind:

  • 4DX isn’t a one-off event, it’s a long-term process with six steps.
  • Start with a pilot that includes a maximum of 20 teams. These teams must be able to contribute to the overall WIG (vs.isolated leaders). As the pilot teams succeed using 4DX, other teams will get interested.
  • An internal leader, not an outside consultant from FranklinCovey, must implement 4DX. This is important because:
    • Leaders who know they’ll have to teach something learn it more completely.
    • A teacher naturally becomes an advocate for the subject.
    • To advocate 4DX, leaders must lead by example.
    • An internal teacher has more credibility than an external consultant.

Six-Step Process

There is a...

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide Ancillary Benefits of 4DX

In addition to helping you execute a wildly important goal, 4DX also increases engagement and creates permanent behavioral change in your team.

Engagement

All four of the disciplines increase engagement and morale, not only Discipline 3:

Discipline 1 improves morale because once there’s a WIG, even though people still have to deal with the whirlwind—the daily responsibilities necessary for running an organization—and the WIG’s challenges, they have clarity and a finish line.

Discipline 2 improves engagement because looking only at lag measures can be a frustrating end goal with no roadmap. Even if employees understand the WIG and think it’s important, if they don't understand their own contribution, two things keep them from engaging: they don’t know what to do or they don’t think they’re capable. However, lead measures are concrete, doable, and measurable.

Discipline 4 helps overcome Patrick Lencioni’s three major reasons for disengagement:

  • Namelessness. When people feel like they’re not individually important, they disengage. In a WIG session, every single person speaks. No one is anonymous.
  • Lack of relevance. When people feel that their...

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide FAQs, Tips and Traps

The following frequently asked questions address the 4DX process as a whole. The questions are sorted into thematic categories.

Success and Failure

We tried 4DX for a year and didn’t get results—why?

A WIG is a strategic bet—it’s not a guarantee. Sometimes you won’t achieve a particular WIG. That’s not a failure of the 4DX method. Likely, the failure had something to do with an outside force, such as your competition making a better strategic bet. For example, an insurance company chose a WIG about a new policy for a new market. They worked very hard to move their lead measures, but the lag measures never moved because a competitor had come up with a more economical product and delivered it electronically.

We’re going to reach our WIG before our time is up—what should we do?

Don’t change the WIG—your team will lose their engagement. They’ll feel like the finish line is always moving and it’s impossible to reach. Do, however, keep seeking higher performance.

There are three scenarios that could create an exceeded WIG:

WIG was initially set too low

In this case:

  • Congratulate the team.
  • Take responsibility for setting the WIG too...

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The 4 Disciplines of Execution Summary The 4 Disciplines of Execution Guide 4DX in a Personal Setting

4DX is an operating system that gets results and creates permanent behavior change. This doesn’t only apply to the workplace—you can use it for personal and family goals as well.

It can be hard to get things done in your personal life because they don’t have inherent urgency. For example, caring for your health or strengthening your marriage aren’t as urgent as bringing in a paycheck.

80% of the US health budget is devoted to five behavioral issues: smoking, drinking, overeating, stress and insufficient exercise. Everyone knows these five things are bad for you. But even after experiencing heart attacks, many people don’t change their behavior. They know they should, and they probably want to, but they can’t. Their problem is execution.

The process is similar to how you would approach a workplace goal:

Discipline 1: Focus

Choose your WIG. It might be harder to define a point B...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Strategy vs. Execution—Or What Vs. How
  • Defining Discipline 1: Focus
  • Exercise: Why Is Focus So Hard?
  • Implementing Discipline 1: Focus
  • Exercise: Choose a Team WIG
  • Defining Discipline 2: Leverage
  • Implementing Discipline 2: Leverage
  • Exercise: Find Lead Measures
  • Defining Discipline 3: Engagement
  • Exercise: What Engages You?
  • Implementing Discipline 3: Engagement
  • Exercise: Make a Scoreboard
  • Defining Discipline 4: Accountability
  • Implementing Discipline 4: Accountability
  • Exercise: Choose a WIG Session Commitment
  • Exercise: Run a WIG Session
  • Implementing 4DX Across an Entire Organization
  • Ancillary Benefits of 4DX
  • FAQs, Tips and Traps
  • 4DX in a Personal Setting