Monday, January 8, 2018

The Importance of Making Commitments

It's been a while since I wrote about my association's on-going experiment with 4DX -- The Four Disciplines of Execution. My write-up of this business book recently appearing on my annual post about the top five most visited pages on this blog for the year reminded me that we still haven't given up on it. Indeed, if anything, we have increased our commitment to this apparently simple, yet powerful system of execution.

One of my biggest takeaways from 4DX is the concept of the whirlwind -- all the day-to-day activities and energy that it takes to run your operation. While it is true that it is the whirlwind that can keep your organization from achieving things of long-lasting consequence, it is wrong to think that the solution is to reduce or somehow tame the whirlwind. While there may certainly be tasks within the whirlwind that could be dropped with little ill effect, the whirlwind will never be tamed because it is largely comprised of things that are vitally important to your organization. The tasks within the whirlwind keep the lights on and the doors open. Reducing your organization's attention on those things can put you in even greater jeopardy.

So, to better fight against the whirlwind, 4DX provides the concept of WIGs -- Wildly Important Goals. These are a small number of objectives that the organization will consciously turn its attention toward, things that the whirlwind would typically distract the organization from, but which are actually "wildly important" to the long-term growth and success of the organization. 

In the past, my association erred in identifying too many WIGs to focus on. As we worked to adapt the 4DX nomenclature to our existing system of strategy and execution, we perceived too many of our strategic objectives as WIGs. They were certainly important, but many were important at the level of the whirlwind, and our whirlwind of established activity and energy was already well tuned to accomplish them. As a result, we diluted the extra attention that is meant to be preserved for WIGs and struggled to apply the necessary leverage to achieve the ones with long-term consequence.

So this year we made a change. There is only one WIG and it is going to get the special attention it requires each and every week. Because that's the 4DX prescription for WIGs. The system calls it a "cadence of accountability," and it manifests itself in a weekly WIG meeting where progress against the WIG is measured and decisions are made about what additional tactics are needed to drive success against the goal.

We've been conducting these  weekly WIG meetings for about six months, and some new attention and energy has certainly found its way to our WIG as a result. But until just this past week one important facet of these WIG meetings had completely fallen off my radar screen -- the importance of making commitments. In these meetings, every member of the WIG team in supposed to make a commitment to perform a discrete number of tasks, completely under his or her control, that will help move the organization closer to achievement of the goal.

This, specifically, is how action against the WIG is designed to find its place in the whirlwind of activity that would otherwise consume it. Everyone already has a full plate -- myself included. But in making a commitment to my other team members that I am going to do X and Y in the upcoming week, the likelihood that those tasks will actually find their way on and then off my to-do list is dramatically increased. At next week's WIG meeting, after all, I'm supposed to report on that status of the tasks I committed to the week before, and use their relative success or failure as one of many data points in the on-going strategy of execution that we're building around our WIG.

Without these individual commitments, I believe, the whirlwind will consume all.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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