The Art of Discipline

....by Jeff Haltrecht

Jeff Haltrecht is a principal Leadership Coach at the Polaris Learning Academy and the Facilitator of the Polaris Alumni; he is a regular contributor to Polaris Digest

One of the aspects to business in North America that I find frustrating is the tendency for leaders to execute without having properly planned and tested their strategies.  This art to business – called discipline – should be present from the vision through to the execution stages.  Regrettably, it’s often lacking.

Driven by short-term thinking, I have personally experienced ‘Get it in the market and we’ll course correct along the way’.

The problem with this approach is everyone focuses on the speed to market at the expense of doing the right thing.  Lost in the process is the evaluation of multiple options and/or the analysis of what can go wrong.

In their book Execution:  The Discipline Of Getting Things Done, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan define execution as not simply tactics, but a system of getting things done through questioning, analysis, and follow-through.  A discipline for meshing strategy with reality, aligning people with goals, and achieving the results promised.

Consider the bridge between strategy and execution as discipline; disciplined thought leads to disciplined action.  It’s the glue that holds the model together.

Now if you have been in business for some time, you know its easy to say we did lots of analyses.  But numbers can be manipulated to tell the story you want it to tell.The true magic in discipline lies in the safeguards put in place that help avoid decision-making biases and prevent jumping to execution too quickly.

A recent McKinsy Quarterly article, authored by Bill Huyett, Tim Koller, and Olivier Sibony, put forward four processes to help in this area.  They are so logical you might wish you had thought of them first!

1.     Instead of one path to achieve the vision, identify two to three solutions that will achieve the same goal.

2.     Field two independent teams to evaluate the solution(s) for the existing problem or opportunity

3.     Conduct a ‘premortem’, where five people independently and privately project themselves into the future and pretend the solution(s) has failed.  They then write down the three to five reasons why they believe the failure occurred.

4.     Write a memo to the President explaining why the ‘initiative’ should not be executed.

In practicing these methods of disciplined thought analysis, the people are both testing the strategy, while at the same time finding the right tactics to execute properly.

With employees vetting the solution, they will have the ‘willpower’ to see it through, knowing the right strategy is in place to execute with passion.  The learning from this process will lead to higher success rates in the market and greater wealth for your company.

Is that not worth the extra time and effort to your business?