Hey, it’s May. What do you mean, “so what?” The year is almost half over. Remember back in January, when you identified all those things you wanted your organization to achieve, that amazing strategy you put together for 2017 filled with things you wanted to change? How’s that going for you? 

Nearly halfway toward achieving them? Not really? Well, the good news is you are not alone. The bad news is 70% of major change efforts in organizations fail, says John Kotter in the Harvard Business Review article “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail.” That’s a pretty dismal percentage. But there is something we can do to change that, and you still have more than half the year left.

In their book The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Chris McChesney and Sean Covey offer some ideas on why most strategies fail. Strategies that require people to change, which is what most ambitious strategies do, are difficult to execute—often due to people’s resistance to change.

A second reason is employees can’t execute on what they don’t understand. Employees often do not understand their organization’s goals. Surveys show most people cannot reiterate the top three goals of their organization.

One of the biggest obstacles to change is what McChesney and Covey call the “whirlwind.” This is “the massive amount of energy that’s necessary just to keep your operation going on a day-to-day basis.” Most people spend their energy keeping up with the daily demands of the job, leaving no time to implement a new strategy.

As the leader, it’s your role to not only set the strategy but also to create an environment that allows your team to execute on that strategy. You can set the best strategy in the world, but if your team isn’t able to execute on it, nothing happens. In the book The Work of Leaders, execution is defined as “making your vision a reality.” Execution is taking the good ideas that you defined in your strategy and turning them into results.

So how can you ensure your team has what they need to execute your strategy? McChesney and Covey identify four disciplines of execution. The first is “Focus on the Wildly Important.” It’s critical to set the right goals. Stay with me now. This is not as easy as it sounds. The most difficult part is selecting the one or two exceptionally crucial goals that will truly make a difference. They answer the question, “If every other area of our operation remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact?” These goals are called WIGs, Wildly Important Goals. McChesney and Covey say this is where your company’s time and energy must be focused, even at the expense of other good ideas. You can’t let the whirlwind blow them off course.

The second discipline is “Act on the Lead Measures.” This is where you identify the actions needed to achieve your WIGs. By delineating specific activities that are based on clearly defined and measurable targets, you increase the likelihood you will achieve the goal. McChesney and Covey give us two ways to measure goals. Most of us are familiar with “lag” measures. They tell us what we have accomplished after the fact.

Surveys, satisfaction reports and revenue calculations are good examples. But there are also measures that can predict and influence lag measures. These are called “lead” measures. Examples of lead measures are presenting X number of proposals, making X number of calls and writing X number of follow-up letters.

Some things to consider when selecting a lead measure:

  • Is it predictive, and can it be influenced?
  • Is it an ongoing process?
  • Is it something your team can do?
  • Is it measureable and worth measuring?

Discipline three is “Keep a Compelling Scoreboard.” We all know what gets measured gets done, right? McChesney and Covey advocate for a scoreboard employees create that ensures they will be invested. It should “drive action, promote problem solving and boost energy and engagement.” Keep it simple and visible. It should show the lead and the lag measures and tell you immediately if you are winning or losing.

Update it weekly. 

The fourth and final discipline is “Create a Cadence of Accountability.” Accountability is what will keep your WIGs from blowing away in the whirlwind. When you create a sense of personal accountability through a weekly WIG meeting, it keeps things front and center for the team and ensures they maintain focus. The 30-minute meeting has a simple agenda. Each person gives a status report on their commitments. Everyone reviews the scoreboard and discusses what’s working and what should be adjusted. The meeting concludes by defining what needs to be accomplished by the next meeting. 

There are seven months left in 2017. What are you going to do with them? Let the four disciplines of execution help you. If you would like to learn more about them, we will be focusing on them at Targeting Team Leadership, an experiential workshop The Council’s Leadership Academy is offering in September. We’d love to see you there.

McDaid is The Council’s SVP of Leadership & Management Resources. elizabeth.mcdaid@ciab.com