The WIGS & the Whirlwind of SMBs
“We have so much going on right now, it’s difficult to get anything done.”
This is a common refrain from CEOs, MDs and other leaders. At any given point in time, they have half a dozen or more important initiatives on the go, all of which have clear benefits to the business. Yet as time zips by, none of these potentially transformational projects ever seem to get delivered, or when they are, they’re often late, over budget, or not to the standard originally expected.
In most cases, this is not a problem of poor strategy, or of laziness or incompetence on the part of employees (the vast majority of people want to do the right thing and help the business succeed.) The problem is one of execution: employees are being asked to deliver multiple major projects at once that compete for their focus and resources, and they are being asked to do so in the midst of the whirlwind that is their day-to-day jobs. They are fighting the law of diminishing returns … and losing.
Chris McChesney and Stephen Covey provide a solution to this problem in their powerful book: The Four Disciplines of Execution. They offer a simple and effective roadmap to ensure a business’s best and most important initiatives actually get delivered, and have the positive impact desired.
The four disciplines are as follows:
- Focus on the Wildly Important
- Follow the Lead Measures
- Create a Compelling Scoreboard
- Create a Cadence of Accountability
1. Focus on Wildly Important Goals (WIGS)
The key to effective execution is doing less, not more. Other than the business-as-usual work, organisations – and especially SMB’s with limited resources – should never have more than between one and three major initiatives (Wildly Important Goals) underway at any one time. This requires leaders to have the courage and discipline to select their WIGS for a period of time (typically three to six months), and then say “no” to everything else other than BAU activity. This is tough, because it requires leaders to say “no” to good ideas, because in the words of Jim Collins, the enemy of the great is the good.
MDs should sit down with their leadership teams and collaboratively decide “What are the one or two (or, at a stretch, three) key things we need to get done over the next three to six months?”. These should not be ‘good ideas’ or ‘nice to haves’ or ‘ought to dos’. They must be the Wildly Important Goals that if not achieved, will mean the organisation simply cannot deliver on its overall strategy.
Each of these WIGS needs to be expressed in the following manner:
“From x to y, by when.”
Here is an example. In early 1961, the US was in a desperate race with the USSR to conquer space, and they were losing. Four years earlier, the Soviets had put the first satellite into orbit, and then, in April 1961, had sent Yuri Gagarin spinning around the earth in the Vostok 1 spacecraft. It was a major blow to the Americans, who saw dominance of space as an existential challenge for the Western world. The US’s failure to compete with the Russians was not due to a lack of resources or desire. It was due to a lack of focus. They did not have a clearly defined WIG.
That changed on May 25, 1961, when US President Kennedy gave his famous ‘Moon Speech’. He said that the US would “Send a man to the moon, and bring him back again, by the end of the decade”. From x, to y, by when. This clearly articulated goal galvanised the US space effort. It gave everyone involved a clear sense of purpose, and ultimately led to the successful Apollo 11 mission, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepping onto the moon on July 20 1969, and coming home a few days later.
Leaders need to take the time to clearly define a small number of Wildly Important Goals for their people, so that everyone is crystal clear on what the definition of success is: from x, to y, by when.
A common question is whether different areas within a business can have their own WIGS. The answer is “yes and no”. Different departments can have sub-WIGS, but they must be directly and clearly aligned with the organisation’s overall WIGS. A good question to ask at a departmental level would be “If we didn’t deliver on our sub-WIGs, could the company still achieve its overall WIG?”. If the answer is “Yes”, then don’t pursue the sub-WIG. This ensures alignment, and that every part of the business is fully focused on helping the organisation achieve its Wildly Important Goals.
2. Follow the Lead Measures
There are two kinds of measures a business needs to track for each WIG:
- A lag measure, which measures progress towards the goal
- 1-3 lead measures that actually drive progress toward the goal.
Weight loss provides a simple illustration of the relationship between lag and lead measures. Say you want to lose 5kg in the next three months. The lag measure is weight, and it is easy to track: you simply step on the scales each morning. However, this is not what directly drives weight loss. Weight loss is a function of two lead measures: 1) calories consumed and 2) exercise undertaken. Basically, you are betting that if you exercise regularly and reduce your caloric intake, you will lose weight. Which seems a pretty good bet!
For each WIG, define the lag measure, and then define one or two lead measures that you believe will drive achievement of it. Lead measures need to meet two criteria:
- They must be predictive – the lead measure should directly and clearly drive achievement of the lag measure (eg exercise driving weight loss)
- They must be influenceable – a lead measure must be something that your people can directly control (eg number of sales calls or client meetings per week).
You are effectively making a bet that the 1-2 lead measures will drive achievement of the lag measure (WIG).
Note, lag measures are generally easy to track. Think sales revenue, new customers, critical incidents, etc. However, the lead measures that drive them generally require a lot more effort. For example, counting calories every time you eat or going to the gym regularly (for weight loss), or the number of outbound sales calls and customer meetings per week (to drive increased sales revenue). This is one of the key reasons why organisations should only have between one and three WIGs: you can’t expect your people to track too many lead measures at once, as they will quickly get overwhelmed, lose focus and motivation.
3. Create a Compelling Scoreboard
Once you have your lag and lead measures defined for each WIG, you need to track these on an ongoing basis, and the results need to be clearly visible to the team. Create a physical (or digital) scoreboard that clearly shows the lag measure and associated lead measures, and put it somewhere where everyone can see it. If your WIG is the number of new accounts signed, then the scoreboard should clearly show the number of new accounts signed for the week, by sales person. It should also show the lead measure for this, which might be the number of new business appointments set each week (also with a separate line for each sales person).
Make the scoreboard simple and compelling. Your people should be able to look up at any moment in time and clearly see if they are winning or losing. This provides the focus and clarity your team needs to drive towards the goal. It also creates conditions under which your people are able to compete and win…and nothing motivates like winning!
4. Create a Cadence of Accountability
Having set the parameters for success, the key is to then establish and maintain momentum. Each week, set up a separate fifteen-minute stand-up meeting for each WIG. If you have three WIGS, there will be three separate stand-up meetings, each taking place at the same time each week. These should not be agenda items on your standard weekly team meeting. They should be separate meetings, with a clear, singular focus on the WIG in question.
At these meetings, each person in the team needs to give a quick one to two-minute update covering the following:
- Report on last week’s commitments. Did they do what they said they would last week in relation to that WIG?
- Review the scoreboard: Is the lead measure moving, and if so, is the lag measure responding?
- Make commitments for the week. Based on what the scoreboard is saying, what are the one to three things they are going to do this week to impact the scoreboard?”
By setting aside fixed times each week for a meeting on each WIG, you build and maintain momentum towards the goal. This takes discipline. It takes focus. And as the leader, it is your job to demonstrate these. So, don’t miss these meetings. If you are regularly missing WIG meetings, ask yourself: “Is this really a Wildly Important Goal?”, and if it is, then why are you de-prioritising it for other meetings? What message does this send your people?
The key to effectively delivering on major initiatives is not to do more, but to do less. Select only one to three Wildly Important Goals at a time, and then ruthlessly focus on achieving them. This helps your people find focus and clarity amidst the whirlwind of the day-to-day, and ensures that the really important initiatives actually get delivered. Your people will feel like they are winning. You will feel more in control. And, once the first set of WIGS have been achieved, you’ll be well placed to figure out the next one to three wildly important initiatives you want your business to focus on!
Please share this post...