The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution!

At the start of every year, many of us make bold promises to change our lives. We get a gym membership and decide we’ll have those abs by summer. But then February rolls around, and we’re as gym-shy as we were in December. Why is that? Quite simply, it’s because we fail when it comes to execution.

The same is true for companies. Being capable of change is what makes companies succeed – but changing requires execution. So how do you do it?


Getting people to change is the real challenge of executing strategic goals.


Change is good, especially from a business standpoint. Why? Well, look at it this way: If you aren’t always improving, you’re creating an opportunity for your competition to swoop in. Preventing that is a big challenge. And here’s why: Even though there are an infinite number of possible growth strategies, there are only two ways to execute those strategies: with the stroke of a pen or by changing human behavior. Of course, stroke-of-the-pen actions are easy for executives. All they have to do is sign a paper and then someone, somewhere, will take care of the rest. But these are normally quick-fix actions. Lasting change, on the other hand, requires people to alter their behavior. That’s where most executives come up short – and not surprisingly. Anyone who’s ever stopped smoking or gone on a diet will concur: change is hard. And these examples only involve changing yourself. Changing others is even harder!

After all, your staffers might not understand the company goal or have a clear sense of how changing their behavior will help achieve that goal. Alternatively, they might simply not care. At first glance, it may seem like there are easy fixes to these problems. You could just hand out detailed descriptions of company goals, be precise about each team member’s responsibilities and fire anyone who doesn’t care. But the heart of the problem is far more complex. All of these problems and decisions are called the whirlwind – a term the authors use to describe the daily tasks that take up your time and drain your creative energy. The whirlwind is the biggest foe of change. Imagine you spend an hour persuading someone to make certain changes; meanwhile, they’re busy thinking about the ten urgent things that need to be taken care of ASAP.

Although it’s difficult, you can achieve major strategic goals despite the whirlwind. Mastering the four disciplines of execution makes it easier. Focusing on specific, goals is the first discipline of execution.

1. The first discipline of execution is to focus solely on what matters.

We understand the instinct to strive to do more. Since most executives are overachievers, they are particularly motivated in this respect. But the more you try to do, the less you’ll be able to focus on and put effort into individual tasks. If you want to achieve something truly excellent, you have to concentrate on it. Accordingly, your strategy should prioritize one or two important goals!


2. The second discipline of execution: meet your goals by choosing measures that reflect current behavior.

You should concentrate on measures that help you win, not measures that make you depressed when you come up short. This is easier said than done, since most people naturally focus on lag measures. To clarify, lag measures reflect past performance, showing your position relative to your goal. Profit margins and customer satisfaction rankings are examples of lag measures.


3. The third discipline is about helping your staffers identify with the goal, thereby motivating them to help you achieve it!

To that end, you should have your team keep score of team-member performance. This will improve performance, because, after all, everyone likes winning. And people instantly become more engaged when there’s a victory at stake. Accordingly, keeping score is a way of activating that game-face energy and motivation.


4. The fourth discipline of execution is establishing a culture of accountability.

The fourth discipline is the real heart of the execution process: It’s about making team members commit long-term to the goal. And in order for that to happen, your employees have to be accountable to each other – not just to you. No one wants to disappoint their peers, so staffers will feel a greater sense of responsibility if they have to answer to their colleagues, too.

These gatherings should include:

  1. An overview of the commitments from last week,
  2. A review of the scoreboard and
  3. A plan for the following week.

These meetings will guarantee steady progress toward the goals, since every team member will be responsible for setting and meeting weekly commitments that have an impact on the lead measures. It’s important to allow staffers to choose their commitments themselves, so they are engaged in the process. As team leader, your role is simply to make sure that commitments are specific and directly connected to a specific goal. Follow a step-by-step process to implement wildly important goals and identify useful predictive measures.


Follow a six-step process to involve all departments in the Four Disciplines model.

If you want to implement the Four Disciplines at a large organization with more than ten different departments, make sure you plan it out carefully. This process involves six steps:

1. First, clearly define your overall primary goals.


2. Next, involve the team leaders: Each department head should define one individual goal (and appropriate lead measures) that aligns with the overall goal. As the institution leader, you can veto certain goals that seem incompatible with the organization’s broader goals, but make sure each manager has the freedom to choose her own goal. Otherwise, you won’t get the level of engagement that you’re looking for.


3. Third, sit down with the team leaders to teach them about the Four Disciplines model. After all, they’ll need to execute this process within their own departments!


4. After that, each team leader goes ahead and launches the process with her own team. They should also ask for feedback and get their department’s approval for moving forward on the goals and lead measures.


5. In the fifth step, individual teams work on perfecting the method. Ideally, department heads should get additional coaching on the process for a period of at least three months.


6. And, finally, wrap it all up by setting up quarterly meetings with all the team leaders to discuss the progress you’re making together as an organization.


And there you have it! You’ve implemented a process that allows you to execute your vision and achieve your goals.

Let’s do this!

Love, Marietta


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