The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Dear Teachers,

I am almost 80% done with my current grad school class, the one that is both helping and vexing me so with my plan to take over the world improve digital literacy through student-created content. My mantra for this course has been “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” because althought the learning has been incredibly valuable, it has definitely not come easily to me. The course title is “Leading Organizational Change” and it’s all about helping us execute the Innovation plans that we created in the previous course. I wish I could just say, “My plan is great! It will help kids!” and have that be enough for success, but I’m learning there’s a lot more to it than that.

Earlier this summer, I published my original Innovation plan for Improving Digital Literacy through Student-Created Content (IDLTSCC), and I am excited-slash-overwhelmed-by everything I’ve learned in the intervening weeks that will need to happen in order to make it a reality. This was my initial Innovation plan (click to access the entire graphic):

The previous assignment in my current course had us look at the Influencer model of leading change, which spoke to the psychology of change and why it’s crucial to get all six areas of influence working for you when you are trying to change behavior. My Influencer plan is here; I struggled with it, but was basically proud of the final product. (Note to self/you: let your students struggle sometimes. They will own the learning better. As my co-worker is fond of saying, the person doing the work is the person doing the learning.)

This week in my class, I have been applying The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) to my plan. Whereas the Influencer model addresses the psychology of change, the 4DX model addresses the logistics of change: it helps you lay out what actually needs to happen in order for your grand plan to come together and succeed. The models are not competitors, but actually complement each other nicely. I have an idea of how to approach people about my plan thanks to the Influencer model, and an idea of what steps to take from the 4DX model. So I appreciate having learned about both of the models. The 4 Disciplines of Execution are as follows:

Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important Goal (the “WIG”)

What teacher is not familiar with what 4DX refers to as “the whirlwind”? Teachers’ daily whirlwinds are made up of testing demands, parent phone calls, playground or cafeteria duty, the kid that they just can’t reach, the kid that just threw up on everything, an unexpected fire drill, the principal who thinks the teacher would be just PERFECT for a new initiative… does any of that sound familiar? The problem with introducing any new goal or initiative is exactly that whirlwind. McChesney, Covey, & Huling (2012) state that the main reason people don’t follow through on new things is most often simply because they are so very busy; the important gets overshadowed and swallowed up by the urgent. The goals of the organization, while important, never have the same immediacy as the whirlwind.

So through the reading of the 4DX book, I’ve learned that implementing Discipline 1 requires a big shift in thinking: instead of focusing on trying to improve everything at once, I’ll focus on my one wildly important goal, or WIG. I’m pleased to be able to say that my WIG fits in very nicely with both our district’s Vision Statement (Our schools “…empower students to be able to adapt to new learning and career opportunities throughout their lives, collaborate with, and contribute to, the global community and to be disciplined and creative in their thinking”) and our Superintendent’s Operational Expectations. My WIG is very similar to the goal I created for the Influencer strategy:

By May 2017, improve digital literacy by making available to students and teachers a website repository of at least 125 student-created tutorials that address basic digital skills.

Discipline 2: Act on the Lead Measures

Lag measures and lead measures are two phrases that never entered my lexicon before about a week ago. In a nutshell, a lag measure reflects an end goal of some kind, and the lead measures are the measurable steps you take to achieve that lag measure (think goals vs. objectives). So my lag measure, taken from my WIG above, is “improve digital literacy.”  Lead measures, by contrast, are predictive of achieving the WIG, influenceable by the team, and measurable (McChesney, Covey, & Huling, 2012, p. 143).

The three lead measures I have identified and hope to focus on are:

  • Curriculum writers for 7th grade Technology classes will include in the online curriculum planner lessons with capstone projects that involve student-created content
  • Teachers will enable the students to become creators of digital content through a classroom culture of student choice, creativity, and leadership
  • At least five teachers will submit at least five pieces of quality student-created content at least five times per year


As I noted in my Influencer report, I am focusing specifically on 7th grade Technology teachers because those are the classes where the content creation can happen formally and in class; any other teacher in my district is welcomed and encouraged to participate, too. (You know who you are!)


Discipline 3: Keep a compelling scoreboard

The scoreboard offers a visual representation of progress toward the WIG, the thought being that people play differently when they are keeping score (McChesney, Covey, & Huling, 2012, p. 155). For this stage of the project, I care mostly about the number of pieces of content collected, so our scoreboard might, by the end of the first grading period, look something like this:

Alternatively, a simple thermometer type graphic that would simply measure total contributions might give more of a feeling of district unity for the project:

The type of scoreboard could be determined by the teacher participants. We might also need to break down the content by subject a bit more; it wouldn’t make sense to have 97 videos about file management and none on tips to remember one’s password, for example. As the project gets underway, I imagine the teacher participants will begin to take ownership of the scoreboard and will have ideas for how the scoreboard can evolve. 4DX says that the players should be in charge of the scoreboard – so the best possible outcome would be for teachers to demonstrate their ownership of the program by coming up with an amended plan.

One additional benefit of a scoreboard: Covey (2012) states that the single biggest predictor of morale at work is whether employees feel like they’re “winning.” Think of all the things in a teacher’s life that might contribute to feelings of defeat – test scores, lack of student motivation, unhappy parents, etc. A scoreboard that clearly shows that teachers are making progress toward a goal will go a long way toward building morale for the program.

Discipline 4: Create a cadence of accountability

The cadence of accountability involves regular meetings with a specific agenda: refocusing everyone on the WIG.  If you participate in my plan, we will meet via Google Hangouts since we are all so spread out around the district. The first thing we’ll do in these meetings is account: catch everyone up on the progress on commitments that were made at the previous meeting. We’ll review the scoreboard (it will look different from the one above at first!) so we can figure out who is having success and who might need a little help. Finally, we’ll set some new commitments for the upcoming week (these might sound like, “We are almost to the end of the information literacy unit. I’ll work with Maria and Connor to complete their screencasts on database usage and then I will share their creations with you.”) These meetings will be very brief, I promise – I always try to be very respectful of a teacher’s time!

The Stages of Change

The 4DX model outlines the stages of change that one can expect when implementing a new initiative of any kind. The five stages are getting clear, launch, adoption, optimization, and habits. In the first stage, I’m the one who is Getting Clear on my WIG and the whole 4DX process. Writing this blog is helping a lot with own feeling of clarity about the plan. I’ll also try to clarify my passions and goals in my initial face-to-face talks with teachers to ensure that everyone else is as clear as possible about the plan. This first stage also includes the identification of the WIG and lead measures, creating the players’ scoreboard, and committing to the regular WIG sessions.

The Launch stage has already begun! I have the enthusiastic buy-in of two of our curriculum writers for the 7th grade Technology classes, and their participation in getting the “student creation” capstones written in to each lesson is crucial to the success of the launch. I plan to meet with all of the 7th grade Technology teachers at the back-to-school inservice to introduce the program and answer initial questions and concerns. In addition to the 7th grade Technology teachers, I also have commitments from several teachers and librarians to get the program off the ground in their schools. The curriculum writers, teachers, and librarians who are already committed to the program are my models. The 4DX plan explains that with any new push, you can expect that 20% of people involved will embrace the initiative enthusiastically and are called models. Another 20% are the exact opposite; those negative Nellies who can’t wait to tell you all the reasons your plan will never succeed are the resisters. (Don’t be that person.) Most people fall somewhere in the middle, the 60% of potentials who might be swayed to become models, given the right conditions. As the program progresses, the goal is to shift the middle of that bell curve to the right.

In the Adoption stage, I’ll reach out to more of the potentials with offers to mentor them while the models‘ enthusiasm for the program increases. I’ll also need to deal head-on with any active resisters by working to build relationships and clarify any misunderstandings. As the scoreboard begins to shape up and the team can see evidence of their work with students making a difference, the participating teachers will begin to feel more invested in the program. In the Optimization stage, teachers will  feel more ownership of the program and will likely come up with significant program improvements that are not yet on my radar. I can’t wait to formally acknowledge successes as the plan begins to really take hold, and to recognize potentials who start acting like models! Finally, in the Habits stage, teachers may begin to introduce new goals and expectations for student content creation – perhaps on a wider variety of subjects. We’ll get to celebrate the success of accomplishing the WIG, and the entire team will come up with new WIGs and lead measures. In the Habits stage, it’s possible that a new kind of culture will develop in the classrooms of the participating teachers – now THAT’s exciting!


So, dear teachers, that’s the latest on my grad school work and on my grand plan to improve digital literacy. It is very exciting to formalize plans that will help my dream become a reality. I hope you are enjoying the final days of summer, and that your own dreams for student success will also be realized this year. Looking forward to hearing from you soon!




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