One Page: The 4 disciplines of executing your strategy

Ian Merrill
August 2, 2022

Welcome to 'One Page'. In this monthly newsletter, I will talk about the people I have met, and the things I have read or seen relating to Shannon Trust's vision, which is a future where everyone can experience the positive impact of learning. I hope these short pieces will start conversations, generate new ideas, and help our vision become a reality.


The 4 disciplines of executing your strategy


Last month, I reflected on how Shannon Trust's strategy for the next 3 years evolved. With the help of our staff, volunteers, mentors, learners and partners, we asked ourselves a series of 'what if' questions. How can we support more learners, both in prisons and in our communities? How can we best use developments in digital technology? How can we broaden what we do without losing what has always been at our heart?


If I look back at how we built the strategy, it's clear that we took care to identify the types of challenges we faced, ones that we had to overcome to extend our reach and impact. In addition, we sought to simplify a complex environment by focusing on the critical aspects that we thought we could influence. That in turn enabled us to develop a coherent set of objectives that would propel us forward. Job done, right? Not quite. We needed something else, a way of executing the strategy - day by day, week by week. Something that played to the human super power; communicating and cooperating in groups.


We settled on working with the 4 Disciplines of Implementation or 4DX approach (other approaches are available). We started by identifying our key aims or wildly important goals (WIGs). These are the things we want to achieve above all else, that need a real focus to make happen. Research suggests that the more goals an organisation has, the less likely it is to achieve any of them.


We moved on to consider the lead measures that would move us towards those WIGs. Lead measures are the behaviours that have a predictable influence on the lag measures, or the actual targets that we have. As an example, if I am seeking to lose weight, relying on the lag measure (my weight as displayed on the scales), it is too late to make a difference by the time I actually weigh myself. My focus ought to be on the lead measures that will help me lose weight and move towards my goal, for example, good nutrition and exercise. By attending to those lead measures on a regular basis, I am likely to move towards my goal, or lag measure.

We then needed a scoreboard, and one that the team built rather than one imposed from above. This helps us to see our progress, which improves performance and builds morale. Getting this scoreboard right remains a work in progress for Shannon Trust. It takes time to gather data in prisons, and therefore to know that what we are doing is working. Early indications are positive, with much more to do.


These 3 disciplines make up what the 4DX approach sees as a ‘winnable game’. The fourth discipline is about how to play that game. We have developed a ‘cadence of accountability’ where the team come together on a weekly basis. We share commitments about what we will do to move the scoreboard, and report back on how we did. This is not about shaming under-performance. It is about enabling us all to ‘buy-in’ through our commitments and deliver our best, as part of a team.


Our aim here is to execute our strategy well, and ensure that nobody is left out of learning. The discipline of execution has to be attended to every day, and in every way that we work.


If something I have said resonates with you, whether you agree or disagree, or you have a suggestion on how we can improve what we do, please get in touch.

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