Covey’s Legacy and The Discipline of Execution

I was saddened to learn today of Stephen Covey‘s death, at the age of 79, following an previous cycling accident. I had drafted this post over the weekend, and it seems fitting to post it as a tribute; our thoughts are with his friends and family.

Stephen Covey authored numerous best-selling books on productivity and leadership, and was named as one of America’s top 25 most influential people by Time magazine. If you have not yet read one of his books, I’d urge you, in the strongest terms, to at least read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” if not all of his books. They are full of insights into being an effective leader, manager and team member. It speaks volumes that Stephen Covey passed his skills and passion on to a whole new generation.

In “4 Disciplines of Execution: Getting Strategy Done” Sean Covey, Stephen’s son, together with Chris McChesney and Jim Huling, speak to the need for prioritised goals in a business, and their important in achieving results. The book outlines how to get things done amid a ‘whirlwind of distractions.’ It advocates a team-based approach to the development of goals and methods of measuring them. “The best ideas come not from the leaders, but from the interaction of the leaders and the front line.” These are 4 disciplines are:

1 – Focus on the wildly important. (set clear goals)
2 – Create a compelling scorecard. (measure them)
3 – Translate lofty goals into specific actions. (break them down)
4 – Hold each other accountable – all of the time. (get them done)

Discipline 1

Focus on the wildly important (goals). Develop clear, measurable goals that are tied to a specific deadline, and are well understood. The goals, obviously, should link in to your overall strategy.

Discipline 2

Create a compelling scoreboard. “People play differently when they’re keeping score.” The scoreboard should reflect:

  1. Where are we now
  2. Where we want to be
  3. When need to be there.

It should be visible and identify if things go off-track, so that corrective action can be taken.

Discipline 3

Translate lofty goals into specific actions. What do we do to achieve them? “To achieve goals you’ve never achieved before, you need to start doing things you’ve never done before.” It is Goal Breakdown Structure i.e. breaking the goals down to specific actions (we’d say Milestones and actions). We need to employ creative new and better thinking process to break goals into specific actions of weekly bite-size chunks, so that progress is made and measured.

Discipline 4

Hold each other (constantly) accountable. The level of mutual accountability, and knowing other are counting on you, raises your level of commitment. It requires that the team stays engaged and aware of results being achieved.

If you are already a Milestone Planner user, you can probably see how this plays out, and how it fits with the collaborative style of it. Set goals together, break them down into milestones and actions, then measure yourselves against them. Success isn’t just about good ideas, it is about executing on the best ideas.

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