4 Disciplines of Execution

What Stalls Growth: Poor Execution

In the first two blogs of this series about the main reasons for stalled business growth, I talked about the importance of investing in the capacity and the capability of your people and ensuring they are happy, skilled and productive. I also discussed the need to have a strong strategy that your staff can focus on and use to drive growth.

The third reason for stalled growth lies with how you execute your strategy – how you get your staff to do the things you want them to do to achieve your goals. If you and your staff are not productively implementing a great strategy, growth will be hampered and your company will perform poorly. The best way to boost execution is with the ‘4 Disciplines of Execution’ – let me explain why.

Why does poor execution stall growth?

The fact is that poor execution robs you of your profits and your time which could be better spent driving your company forward. This is because poor execution creates:

  • Poor productivity – your people will be taking too long to get things done.
  • A lack of accountability – your people will be working on the wrong priorities.
  • Busy fools – your people are continually being caught up in the day to day whirlwind of the business and not putting focus, time, and energy into the one or two important priorities or goals for the company.

The best way to get on top of your execution is to follow the internationally proven “4 Disciplines of Execution” method. I use these with most of my clients and as a result, see significant improvement in productivity and profits. I recommend reading the book, but knowing how time-poor you all are, I have broken down the disciplines for you below.

4 Disciplines of Execution

Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling are internationally respected business leaders and authors. In their book The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals, they discuss four ways in which managers and employees can improve the execution of their strategy.

1st. Focus

The first discipline that companies should adopt is to focus on ‘wildly important goals’ (WIGs) first and to only ever have two to three goals at a time.  A WIG is the most important goal you have set for your company and one that requires special attention in order to succeed, i.e. it won’t happen by itself.

The authors argue that that the chances of successfully executing two or three goals are high, but that the more goals you have, the less likely you are that you will be able to achieve them all or complete them with equal success.

“We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the number of things we focus on very small in number so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose. The table each of you is sitting at today, you could probably put every product on it that Apple makes, yet Apple’s revenue last year was $40 billion.”

 Tim Cook – CEO Apple

Your management team and employees need to be 100% focused on the task that they have been given to do. If you give them too many goals to focus on at once, they will use up all of their energy trying to keep “all the balls in the air” and will burn out quickly.

The authors propose that there are four golden rules for staying focused:

  • Rule no 1. That no team has more than two WIGs to focus on at once – ever.
  • Rule no 2. Smaller goals that are set between the different levels and teams of a business are part of the bigger game plan to execute your main strategy. I.e. the sole purpose of WIGs at lower levels in the organisation are to help make the implementation of your main goal easier.
  • Rule no 3. Senior management/leadership of the company can veto how lower level leaders and teams choose to implement the overarching WIG, but they should not dictate how they decide to help the company achieve its aims. I.e. encourage your staff to engage in the company’s goals by setting their own departments WIGs and targets. They should be allowed to do this without interference, but must ensure that their WIG’s will contribute to the company’s overall success and set their targets accordingly.
  • Rule no 4. Set deadlines for the completion of all WIGs and include measurable targets. E.g. The WIG will increase the percentage of annual revenue from new products from 10% to 30% by the 31st July 2020.

Staying focused on your goals and why you are in business will help keep projects running smoothly and on track. Being reminded of why you are doing this gives employees a common purpose, which aids cohesion, and also helps filter out the ‘waste of time’ projects and unhelpful suggestions.

2nd. Leverage

The second discipline that great companies follow is acting on the lead measures and using them as leverage to achieve your goals.  A lead measure is the system that tells you how your goals are tracking as opposed to a lag measure which tells you when you have reached your goal. Lag measures are in effect, the result of how well you have actioned lead measures e.g. profit, quality, customer satisfaction. Lead measures track the crucial actions that will influence the results (lag measure). Lead measures give you the flexibility to alter how you are achieving your goal along the way, whereas a lag measure only lets you know something isn’t going right once at the end of the reporting cycle.

The authors’ use the following example to show the difference between the two:

“How often your car breaks down is outside of your control, it is the lag measure. However, you can do something about maintaining your car and ensure that it gets done regularly. This is the lead measure. The more feedback you receive and act upon the lead measure, the less likely your car is to break down.” Chris McChesney

 Adopting a reporting system that focuses on your lead measures gives you an opportunity to check on your progress on a regular basis, and use them as leverage to alter the course of your WIGs, before issues become an insurmountable problem.

 3rd. Engagement

The third discipline that great companies follow is that all of the team knows ‘The scoreboard’ and where the business is at in terms of its lead and lag measurements. Results are not just for management’s eyes only, all employees are given access to how well the company is performing and know that their performance is part of the overall result of the business.

The authors have four simple rules for communicating results to the rest of the staff. They should:

  1. Be simple. Reporting does not have to be heavy on information, just the facts, keep it simple.
  2. Be visible. ‘The scoreboard’ should be visible and accessible to every member of the business. Results become important to the individual when they can be seen by everyone.
  3. Be measurable. It should include the lead and lag measurements. Remember, lead measurements provide leverage for improving final results.
  4. Show who is winning. It should be easy to see if the company is doing well and which areas of the business are performing the best. People are known to perform better when they know they are winning.

4th. Accountability

The final discipline that great companies follow is that of a sense of shared accountability. Everyone in the company knows what they are accountable for in their role, but they also know that they are, in part, accountable for the success of the company and achieving the WIGs of the business. Being held accountable for their actions is designed to help teams work together to achieve their results. The authors argue that a team that lacks accountability will lose focus, become distracted and are more likely to create problems within the business then solve them. Teams meet on a regular basis (at least weekly) to share results and reiterate who is responsible for which action that will help them achieve their goals for the week.


Execution is essential to growth and taking some time to focus on how you and your staff execute your business strategy is an important part of improving your profitability and sustaining growth for the long-term. Start by focusing on the 4 disciplines of execution – you will be amazed by the results.

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  • About the Author, Leigh Paulden

    Leigh Paulden


    Leigh Paulden is an author and internationally certified business growth consultant with over 30 years of experience across 30+ different industries. He works with mid-market business leaders looking to grow. He creates the clarity and certainty needed to make great decisions and achieve scalable and sustainable success.

    Find out more about Leigh or contact him to discuss taking your business growth to the next level.