4DX – Discipline 1

Focus on the Wildly Important

Execution starts with focus.

Why is focus such a struggle? It’s not for lack of trying. The majority of leaders acknowledge they need greater focus. Still, they continue to find themselves with too many competing priorities, pulling their teams in too many different directions.

Focusing in our context means narrowing the number of goals you are attempting to accomplish beyond the day-to-day demands of your whirlwind.

Practicing Discipline 1 means narrowing your focus to a few highly important goals so you can manageably achieve them in the midst of the whirlwind of the day job.

Simply put, Discipline 1 is about applying more energy against fewer goals because the law of diminishing returns is as real as the law of gravity.

We are hardwired to do one thing at a time with excellence. The myth of multi-tasking is destroying excellence; it is diluting our energy and resources to goals that are never realized.

MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller says, “Trying to concentrate on two tasks causes an overload of the brain’s processing capacity. … Particularly when people try to perform similar tasks at the same time, such as writing and e-mail and talking on the phone, they compete to use the same part of the brain. Trying to carry too much, the brain simply slows down.”

In 2017 Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport hosted 969 take-offs and landings over 24 hours. All of them were important, but for the air traffic controller, only one airplane is wildly important at any moment—the one that’s landing or taking off right now.

The controller is aware of the other planes on the radar. but at that moment all her talent and expertise is focused on one flight. Total excellence is required to get that flight on the ground or in the air safely, or nothing else really matters. She lands those planes one at a time.

As many as 50 flights were taking off or landing in an hour at Mumbai.

WIGs are like that. They are goals you must achieve with total excellence beyond the circling priorities of your day to day. It means hard choices that separate what is wildly important from all the merely important goals on your radar. Then, you must approach that WIG with focus and diligence until it is delivered as promised, with excellence.

Those other important goals are still on your radar, but they don’t require your finest diligence right now. Some of those goals might never be WIGs—and some never should have taken off in the first place!

THE LEADER’S CHALLENGE

Why so much pressure to expand goals? In the words of the old cartoon, Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

One reason we take on too much is that, as a leader, we are ambitious and creative. Ambitious and creative people always want to do more, not less. We are hardwired to violate the first discipline of execution.

Another reason you might have too many goals is to cover your bets. If you try and do everything, something might work.

The greatest challenge to narrowing your goals is saying no to good ideas. Its counterintuitive to say no to a good idea, but nothing destroys focus more than always saying yes.

It’s even harder because these good ideas aren’t presented all at once, they filter in over time. Alone, each idea seems to make sense and you would be dumb to say no. Remember this, however:

You must focus on one or two WIGs at once. It’s counterintuitive, but it must happen. As Stephen R. Covey says, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, unapologetically—to say no to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.”

The second trap is trying to turn everything in the whirlwind into a WIG. Within the whirlwind are all the existing measurements for running the organization today. It’s perfectly appropriate for your team to spend 80% of their time and energy sustaining or incrementally improving the whirlwind. Keeping the ship afloat should be job one, but if they are spending 100 percent of their energy trying to significantly improve all of those measurements at once, you’ve lost focus.

Applying the same effort toward all these measurements is like trying to make holes in a piece of paper by applying even pressure with all your fingers. Focusing on one WIG is like punching one finger through the paper—all your strength goes into making that one hole.

Focused energy is needed to accomplish that WIG!

Unless you can accomplish your goal with a stroke of the pen, success is going to require your team to change their behavior; and they simply cannot change that many behaviors at once, no matter how badly you need them to. Trying to significantly improve every measure in the whirlwind will consume all your time and leave you with very little to show for it.

Bottom line: If you want high-focus, high-performance team members, they must have something wildly important to focus on.

IDENTIFYING YOUR WILDLY IMPORTANT GOALS

Start by asking 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?”

This question changes how you think and clearly identifies the focus that would make all the difference.

Remember, 80 percent of your team’s energy will still be directed at sustaining the whirlwind, so ignore the temptation to worry that by making one or two goals most important, your team will ignore everything else. Once you stop worrying about everything else going backward, you can move forward on your WIG.

A wildly important goal (WIG) is one that can make all the difference. it’s your strategic tipping point, and you will commit to apply a disproportionate amount of energy to it—the 20 percent not used by the whirlwind. How do you choose that WIG?

Sometimes the choice is obvious, other times not so much. Urgent priorities in your whirlwind are competing to be most important and usually have good arguments along with them. Remember the question we began the post with: “If every other area of operation stays the same, what one area can we change to have the greatest impact?” This question changes how you think and lets you clearly identify the focus that would make all the difference.

Your WIG will come from inside or outside the whirlwind. Within the whirlwind, it could be a key operational element that isn’t being delivered. Poor project completion time, poor customer service are examples. Or it could be an area your team is doing well but could be leveraged for significant impact. Increasing customer satisfaction from 85 to 95 percent.

Outside the whirlwind, the choice could be about changing or disrupting an established process. Remember, this type of WIG will need an even greater change in behavior, since it will be new to your team.

Whether your WIG comes from inside or outside the whirlwind, your aim is not only to achieve it, but then make the new level of performance a natural part of your team’s operation. Once a WIG is achieved, it goes back to the whirlwind. Every time this happens, the whirlwind changes. It’s less chaotic, chronic problems are solved, and new performance levels are sustained; in essence it’s a much higher performing whirlwind, leaving more time for the next WIG!

FOCUSING THE ORGANIZATION

REFERENCES

“John Naish, “Is Multitasking Bad for Your Brain?” Mail Online, Aug. 11, 2009. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1205669/Is-multi-tasking-bad-brain-Experts-reveal-hidden-perils-juggling-jobs.html.”

4DX – Introduction

From the book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution.”

THE REAL CHALLENGE

Any initiative falls into one of two categories: stroke-of-the-pen OR behavior change.

Stroke-of-the-pen strategies are executed by an order or authorizing them. If you have the money and authority, you can make them happen. Buying a new firewall, giving someone a raise, realigning responsibilities. These may require planning, consensus, and money, you know it will happen.

Behavioral-change strategies are different; you can’t just order them to happen, because executing requires getting people—often a lot of people—to do something different.

Many stroke-of-the-pen strategies evolve and require behavioral change. If it requires people to do something different, you are driving a behavioral-change strategy and it’s going to be hard.

A leader may assume people are the problem since they are ones not doing what needs to be done. Wrong.

When most people behave a certain way most of the time, people are not the problem. The problem is inherent in the system. As a leader, you own responsibility for the system.

To achieve a goal you have never achieved before, you must start doing things you have never done before.

Jim Stuart – FranklinCovey Execution Consultant

THE WHIRLWIND

The real enemy of execution is your day job, the whirlwind of everyday activity and the massive amount of energy it requires to keep things going. The whirlwind robs from you the focus required to move your team forward.

The whirlwind and strategic goals are both necessary, but they are clearly different and compete for time, resources, energy, and attention.

The whirlwind is urgent and acts on you every minute of every day. The goals you’ve set for moving forward are important, but urgency beats important every time. Once you are aware of the struggle you will see it playing out everywhere, in any team trying to execute anything new.

Important goals that require you to do new and different things often conflict with the “whirlwind” of the day job, made up of urgencies that consume your time and energy.

Executing in spite of the whirlwind means overcoming its powerful distraction and the inertia of “the way it’s always been done.” The whirlwind is not bad, it keeps things operating. If you ignore the urgent it can kill you today. If you ignore the important, it can kill you tomorrow. The challenge is executing your most important goals in the midst of the urgent!

Bottom line: if you are going to create significant results you will eventually have to execute a behavioral-change strategy, and in doing so you will be battling the whirlwind. Here’s how to do that.

1. Focus on the Wildly Important

The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish. FOCUS is a natural principal. The sun’s scattered rays support everyday life, but focus them with a magnifying glass and you can start a fire! Once collective energy is focused on a challenge, there is little they cannot do.

FOCUS is the first discipline.

Discipline 1: Focus on the wildly important. This means going against your basic wiring as a leader and focus on less so your team can achieve more. Select one (or two, but really one) extremely important goal. It’s the wildly important goal (WIG), making it clear to the team this is the goal that matters most. Failure to achieve it makes every other accomplishment seem secondary, or even inconsequential.

Narrowing the focus of your team to one or two wildly important goals provides clarity to the team; they can easily distinguish what is the top priority and what is the whirlwind. They move from a loosely defined and difficult-to-communicate collection of objectives to a small, focused set of achievable targets. Discipline 1 is the discipline of focus.

2. Act on the Lead Measures

This is the discipline of leverage. All actions are not created equal, some have more impact than others toward a goal. Obviously it is those that you want to identify and act on to reach your goal.

Progress and success are based on two kinds of measures: lag and lead.

Lag measures track measures of the goal, and they are the ones most people usually follow. Customer satisfaction, return, profit are all lag measures, meaning when you get them, the performance that drove them is already in the past. It’s history, you can’t fix them.

Lead measures are different in that they measure 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.

The lead measure can be predicted to move the goal, and can be influenced by the team.

A good lead measure has to basic characteristics: It’s predictive of achieving the goal and it can be influenced by the team members. For example, a lag measure of losing weight is pounds lost. Two lead measures might be a lower caloric intake and a specific number of hours of exercise per week. These lead measures are predictive because by performing them, you can predict what the scale (lag measure) will tell you next week. They are influenceable because both of these hew behaviors are within your control.

Acting on the lead measures is one of the little-known secrets of execution. Lag measures are ultimately the most important things you want to accomplish, but most leaders are so focused on them that shifting to lead measures feels counterintuitive. But once you identify lead measures, they become the key leverage points for achieving your goal.

3. Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

Watch any group playing basketball and see how the game changes when they start keeping score. But don’t miss this point: People play differently when they are keeping score. It’s not about you keeping score for them.

Discipline 3 is the discipline of engagement. High performance is tied to emotional engagement, and the highest level of engagement comes from knowing the score—if they are winning or losing. It’s that simple.

To drive the highest levels of engagement, the scoreboard should be designed solely for (and often by) the players. It must be simple, so simple that members of the team can determine instantly if they are winning or losing. If the scoreboard isn’t clear, the game will be abandoned in the whirlwind of other activities.

Team members can determine instantly if they are winning or losing.

4. Create a Cadence of Accountability

Discipline 4 is where execution really happens. The first three set up the game, but until you apply 4 your team isn’t in the game. It is based on the principle of accountability: that unless we consistently hold each other accountable, the goal disintegrates in the whirlwind.

The cadence of accountability is a rhythm of regular and frequent meetings of any team that owns a WIG. These meetings happen at least weekly and ideally last no more than twenty to thirty minutes. In that time, team members hold each other accountable for producing results, despite the whirlwind.

The magic is the cadence. Team members must be able to hold each other accountable regularly and rhythmically. Each week, one by one, team members answer a simple question: “What are the one or two most important things I can do in the next week (outside the whirlwind) that will have the biggest impact on the scoreboard?” Then members report on whether they met the previous week’s commitments, how well they are moving the lead and lag measures on the scoreboard, and their commitments for the coming week, all in only a few minutes.

The secret here is that team members create their own commitments. It’s common to find teams where the members expect, even want, simply to be told what to do. However, because they make their own commitments, their ownership of them increases. Team members will always be more committed to their own ideas than they will to orders from above. Even more important, making commitments to their team members, rather than solely to the boss, shifts the emphasis from professional to personal. The commitments go beyond their job performance and become promises to the team.

Because the team sets weekly objectives, the plan adapts as fast as business changes. Energy is directed to the WIG without getting blocked by the whirlwind of change around them.

When your team begins to see the lag measure of a big goal moving as a direct result of their efforts, they will know they are winning. Nothing drives morale and engagement more than winning.

People want to win. They want to make a contribution that matters. However, an organization has to have the discipline—the conscious, consistent regimen needed to execute key goals with excellence. Nothing is more motivating than belonging to a team of people who know the goal and are determined to get there.

The 4 Disciplines are based on principles, Principles are timeless and self-evident, and they apply everywhere. They are natural laws, like gravity. Whether you understand them or even agree with them doesn’t matter—they still apply.

The challenge for leaders has been finding a way to implement them, especially when the whirlwind is raging.

What is 5G?

5G is the 5th Generation of cellular wireless technology.

The first generation of mobile networks, introduced in 1979, used analog radio technology and only allowed voice calls. The second generation switched to digital radio and provided data transport for text and emails. Each successive generation has brought greater transmission speed, making Internet access and video streaming possible.

The latest generation will bring the greatest advance to date in network speed, enabling near-realtime data availability. As with past upgrades, however, this next generation will require new phones, devices and communication infrastructure.

Network speeds from 1-6G
5G represents the biggest boosts in speed since the introduction of wireless networking in 1979.

How is 5G Different?

Two words explain the difference between our current wireless networks and 5G: speed and latency. 5G—if you believe the hype—is expected to be up to a hundred times faster. (A two-hour movie could be downloaded in less than four seconds.) That speed will reduce, and possibly eliminate, the delay—the latency—between instructing a computer to perform a command and its execution. 

In the U.S., 5G will use a band of the radio spectrum that has never before been used for cellular data networks: high-frequency radio waves the length of millimeters rather than centimeters. This wide open “road” will accommodate more data and reduce delays in data transfer (latency) even in peak use hours. 4G towers were designed to support approximately 6,500 devices per square mile, whereas 5G can support upwards of 1 million devices in the same area.

How can 5G Benefit Your City/County/State?

The potential upside to greater capacity and network speed is huge. Surges in cellular network use during emergency events are less likely to slow or prevent vital communications between citizens and first responders. 5G will be the underlying infrastructure to help usher in fully autonomous vehicles, intelligent public safety cameras and connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices used throughout city infrastructure. Jurisdictions with 5G networks are likely to attract tech-savvy residents and businesses that leverage those connections for new digital business models and reach new customers.

Hit the Ground Running

It is exciting to take on a new role, whether that is an internal promotion or a new position with a different organization. It can be nerve-wracking at the same time, however, when you have big shoes to fill.

It’s up to you to ensure your success, and here are some key strategies to do just that.

Do your homework.

Get up to speed before you start, as much as is practicable. If there are areas of the new position that are not your area of expertise, you need to get smart about them. Take time to ramp up for the new role.

Be yourself.

Taking over for a big personality is hard, but don’t try to copy someone else’s style of leadership. Be authentic, it will earn you respect and pre-empt judgement and comparison to your predecessor.

Understand and manage stakeholder relationships.

A key element of your success will be your ability to establish and effectively manage stakeholder relationships, both internal and external. This requires knowing not only who these people are, but also what they care most about, what they each expect from you, and what concerns they have. Some may be skeptical of your ability to live up to your predecessor’s performance. You’ll want to meet with each stakeholder and ask relevant questions like:

  • In your view, what should my top three priorities be over the next six to 12 months, and what would success look like to you?
  • What other internal and external relationships are most important to support these priorities?
  • What concerns do you have, and how can I address them?

Another option is to engage an executive coach to ask these questions on your behalf as part of an “assimilation coaching” program, which may get you more candid answers. However, this is in no way a substitute for you meeting with these stakeholders to start to build these essential relationships.

Assess the team.

Given your top priorities, you’ll want to assess if you have the right team to accomplish them. This includes hiring to fill any gaps on your team, as well as directly addressing performance issues that can prevent you from getting the leverage you need or impede your progress.

Don’t get caught in the weeds. Failing to address performance issues with the team or shy away from difficult conversations will distract from strategic priorities.

Check your mindset.

Manage ‘imposter syndrome.’ Address limiting beliefs.

Seek ongoing feedback and support.

Create feedback loops with key stakeholders. Not everyone will like what you do. Give your team explicit permission to give upward feedback, then listen.

The Skills Leaders Need at Every Level

The relative importance of the seven skills does change to some degree as people move up. So, in the graph above the top seven competences are listed in order of importance, as it happens, for the supervisory group. With middle managers, problem solving moves ahead of everything else. Then for senior management, communicating powerfully and prolifically moves to the number two spot. Only for top executives does a new competency enter the mix, as the ability to develop a strategic perspective (which had been moving steadily up the lower ranks) moves into the number five position.

4 Things Successful CIOs Do

1. Deciding with speed and conviction

No leader makes the perfect decision every time, but high-performing CIOs are decisive. They make decisions earlier, faster, and with more conviction. They do so consistently—even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains.

Even a wrong decision can be better than no decision at all. A bad decision is often better than a lack of direction. Most decisions can be undone, but you have to learn to move with the right amount of speed.

You can’t wait for perfect information. It is good to ask two questions: First, what’s the impact if I get it wrong? And second, how much will it hold other things up if I don’t move on this?

2. Engaging for impact.

Once a course is set, leaders need buy-in from employees and other stakeholders. Strong performers balance keen insight into their stakeholders’ priorities with an unrelenting focus on delivering business results. It starts with an understanding of stakeholders’ needs and motivations, and then get people on board by driving for performance and aligning them around the goal of value creation.

One approach is to build a stakeholder map of the key people who need to be on board. Identify the detractors and their concerns, and then think how to redirect energy of resistance and channel it toward something positive. Make it clear to people that they’re important to the process and they’ll be part of a win. At the end of the day, be clear that you’re making the call and you expect them on board.

Don’t invest energy in being liked or protecting your team from painful decisions. Instead, gain the support of your colleagues by instilling confidence that you will lead the team to success, even if that means making uncomfortable or unpopular moves. A critical capability of high-performing leaders is willingness to engage in conflict.

When tackling contentious issues, leaders who are good at engagement give everyone a voice but not a vote. They listen and solicit views but do not default to consensus-driven decision making.

3. Adapting proactively.

You know you have to divide your attention among short-, medium-, and long-term perspectives, but adaptable leaders spend significantly more of their time—as much as 50%—thinking about the long term.

This long-term focus makes leaders more likely to pick up on early signals. Highly adaptable leaders regularly plug into broad information flows: They scan wide networks and diverse sources of data, finding relevance in information that may at first seem unrelated to their businesses. As a result, they sense change earlier and make strategic moves to take advantage of it.

Adaptable leaders also recognize that setbacks are an integral part of changing course and treat their mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow.

Setbacks are an integral part of changing course and mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow. Successful leaders recognize where and why they come up short and can give specific examples of how they tweaked their approach to do better next time.

4. Delivering reliably.

The ability to reliably produce results is possibly the most powerful of the four essential CIO behaviors. Employees trust predictable leaders.

A key practice is setting realistic expectations up front. In their first weeks on the job reliable CIOs resist the temptation to jump into execution mode. They dig into budgets and plans, and engage with executives, employees, and customers to understand expectations. At the same time, they rapidly assess the business to develop their own point of view on what’s realistic and work to align expectations with that.

Reliable CIOs also score high on organizational and planning skills. They established business management systems that included a cadence of meetings, dashboards of metrics, clear accountability, and multiple channels for monitoring performance and making rapid course corrections. Most important, they surrounded themselves with strong teams.

The single most common mistake among first-time CIOs is not getting the right team in place quickly enough. The stakes are high and the misses obvious. The successful ones move decisively to upgrade talent. They set a high bar and focus on performance relevant to the role rather than personal comfort or loyalty—two criteria that often lead to bad calls.

Conclusion

Leadership success is not a function of unalterable traits or unattainable pedigree. Nor is there anything exotic about the key ingredients: decisiveness, the ability to engage stakeholders, adaptability, and reliability. While there is certainly no “one size fits all” approach, focusing on these essential behaviors will improve a leader’s chances of succeeding in the role.

The Leader as Coach

Historically, managers came up through the ranks and knew what needed to be done, taught others how to do it, and managed their performance. It was command and control.

Today, change and disruption are constant, and what worked in the past does not predict success for the future. Modern managers don’t have all the answers, and this new reality changes how managers and leaders interact with their teams. Prescriptive instruction is replaced by guidance and support. Employees learn to adapt to a constantly changing environment in ways that release fresh energy, innovation, and commitment.

The role of manager is becoming that of a coach.

This is a fundamental shift as more organizations invest in training leaders as coaches. This coaching in ongoing and executed by managers inside the organization rather than consultants; it creates a true learning organization, and it helps define the culture and advance the mission. It’s work that all managers should engage in with all their people all the time, in ways that help define the organization’s culture and advance its mission. An effective manager-as-coach asks questions instead of providing answers, supports employees instead of judging them, and facilitates their development instead of dictating what has to be done.

Skilled coaching involves unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance. Coaching at its best imparts knowledge and helps others discover it themselves.

Aspiration and practice are most often not in alignment.