4 Essential Disciplines for Getting Things Done

How to Avoid the Death of Your Project

Do you remember the last time a major initiative died in your organization? Did it go down with a loud crash, or was it slowly and quietly suffocated by competing priorities?

Organizations operate within a whirlwind of activity. All the calls, meetings, deliverables, and urgent deadlines combine to smother new initiatives.

But, if we take the advice of FranklinCovey’s Chris McChesney, we can step outside the whirlwind and make progress on major goals.

McChesney is the bestselling coauthor of The 4 Disciplines of Execution. He has helped organizations such as Marriott, Kroger, Coca Cola, and Lockheed Martin implement the 4DX process to achieve large-scale positive change in their organizations.

I recently spoke with McChesney about the 4DX process. Studying how organizational initiatives break down and what it takes for them to succeed has been his “myopic focus” since 2001, he said.

My team has already benefited from the 4DX process. We started using the system last year. I bet mastering these four disciplines can help your team as well.

1. Focus on the Truly Important Goals

Most of the tasks in the day-to-day running of your organization are urgent but not necessarily important for creating high-level change. These tasks represent the whirlwind, and they have their purpose.

“Please don’t think that the whirlwind is bad. It’s life support. That’s what’s keeping you alive,” he told me.

He even went so far as to suggest that organizations “give the whirlwind 80 percent” or four days out of a five day workweek. But he begged companies, “Don’t let it take 100 percent.” We’ve got to preserve time and energy for truly important goals.

When setting these goals it’s important to be specific because goals often “masquerade as concepts.” It’s important to translate those concepts into targets and then break those targets down into smaller pieces.

Ask, “What’s the starting line? What’s the finish line? By when?” said McChesney. “That has a way of locking in an idea.”

2. Act on Lead Measures

In pursuing goals, McChesney makes a crucial distinction between lag and lead measures. Lag measures are what has happened. It’s important information to know but not as important to achieving goals as lead measures.

Lead measures are measures of what is being done—by individuals, by teams, by the company as a whole—to drive toward your larger goals. Instead of looking back, they’re all about what’s happening right now.

This information is often harder to track but far more important to keep things on track.

3. Keep a Public Scoreboard

To ingrain important goals into your organization’s culture, you need buy-in across the organization. The best way to do that is to turn your goals into a game that matters to all of the players.

Rex Tillerson, current U.S. secretary of state, did this when he was CEO of Exxon Mobil. He devised a badge system based on his experience as an Eagle Scout.

According to most accounts, his employees thought these corny at first but found themselves competing for them anyway. They couldn’t help themselves. They came to enjoy the game and moved the company forward in the process.

4. Build in Accountability

The best way to fight back against the whirlwind is to make the truly important urgent as well. To do that, McChesney recommends establishing a brief, regular check-up meeting.

While people are working, they’re thinking about what they’re going to present in the weekly meeting. It’s not just a question of how did I keep the plates spinning? Instead, it’s how did I advance my organization’s goals?

It’s a great strategy my team has taken to heart. Every week we check in and track how we are working to win the game.

Why It Works

McChesney spent a lot of time discovering these four disciplines and eventually backward-engineered them from personal and organizational successes.

The most surprising thing to him and his colleagues, he said, was just how well it worked when people implemented the system in real life. Even cynics in organizations found themselves playing the game and making positive contributions.

To learn more about the four disciplines, check out my conversation with Chris McChesney and his book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution.

Question: Which steps do you need to take today to accomplish your current priorities?