This article is by Chris McChesney and Jim Huling. Chris McChesney is global practice leader, execution practice, and Jim Huling is a managing consultant, for FranklinCovey. They coauthored The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals.
It’s likely that by now you’ve put the finishing touches on your strategy for 2013. And if you’re like most leaders, by now you’ve fallen in love with your vision for the year—goals achieved, teams engaged, customers delighted, and success rewarded.
While this vision plays in your head like a Spielberg movie, we want to echo sobering advice from a former heavyweight champion: “Everyone has a fight plan until they get hit in the face.”
The vast majority of leaders, 80% in one recent study, will fail to achieve the strategy they have laid out for their teams, and for most it won’t be because of any flaw in their planning.
After working with thousands of leaders and teams in every kind of industry, and in schools and government agencies worldwide, this is what we have learned: Your biggest challenge isn’t deciding what to do. Your biggest challenge is getting people to execute it at the level of excellence you need.
Our experience has shown there are four primary reasons teams fail to execute:
1. They have too many important goals.
Basically, the more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish. If you’re currently trying to execute five, 10, or even 20 important goals above the day-to-day operation, the truth is that your team can’t focus. That’s why your first challenge is focusing on one (or, at the most, two) wildly important goals, instead of trying to significantly improve everything all at once. This is the discipline of focus.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally recently said it best: “You just can’t be world class on 97 different things.” Focus is a natural principle. The sun’s scattered rays are too weak to start a fire, but once you focus them with a magnifying glass they bring paper to flame in seconds. The same is true of human beings. Once their collective energy is focused on a challenge, there is little they can’t accomplish.
2. They hope for good lag measures (outcomes) instead of driving lead measures (behaviors).
Lag measures are the tracking measurements of the wildly important goal, and they are usually the ones you spend most of your time hoping for. Revenue, profit, market share, and customer satisfaction are all lag measures, meaning that when you receive them, the performance that drove them is already in the past. That’s why you’re hoping. By the time you get a lag measure, you can’t fix it. It’s history.
Lead measures are quite different. They are the measures of the most high-impact things your team must do to reach the goal. In essence, they measure the new behaviors that will drive success on the lag measures, whether those behaviors are as simple as offering a sample to every customer in the bakery or as complex as adhering to standards in jet-engine design. This is the discipline of leverage.
Simply put, all actions are not created equal. Some have more leverage than others when you’re reaching for a goal. And it is those that you want to identify and act on.
3. They have a scoreboard designed for the leaders, not the players.
People play differently when they’re keeping score. However, the truth of this statement is more clearly revealed by a change in emphasis: People play differently when they are keeping score. It’s not about you keeping score for them.
This is the discipline of engagement. The kind of scoreboard that will drive the highest levels of engagement with your team will be one that is designed solely for (and often by) the players. This players’ scoreboard is quite different from the complex coach’s scoreboard that leaders love to create. It must be simple, so simple that members of the team can determine instantly if they are winning or losing.
The highest level of performance always comes from people who are emotionally engaged, and the highest level of engagement comes from knowing the score—that is, knowing whether one is winning or losing. If your team members don’t know whether they are winning the game, they are probably on their way to losing.
4. They don’t hold one another accountable.
Most teams view accountability as reactive and negative. If you say, “Come see me in an hour; we need to have an accountability session,” they can be fairly certain it’s not a good thing.
But what we’re describing here is a particular kind of accountability, the accountability that is created when a team actively meets every week to answer the question “Did we do what we committed to one another we would do?” When the answer is yes, when members of a team see their peers consistently following through on the commitments they make, they grow in respect for one another. They learn that the people they work with can be trusted to follow through. When this happens, performance improves dramatically.
Your team wants to win. They want to make a contribution that matters. However, many lack discipline, the disciplines of focus, leverage, engagement, and accountability that drive how a team executes. Bring these disciplines to the execution of your 2013 strategy, and your team not only will have the experience of winning on a key goal, they will become a winning team.
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