The Four Disciplines of Execution presents a practical approach in response to innovative change hurdles.  Change is hard, and it often can overwhelm, paralyze those required to change with fear, or is avoided all-together if the change is not met with a clear goal and collaborative input.  McChesney, Covey, and Huling (2012) have designed a strategy that will help teams clarify their goals, identify the 2-3 vital behaviors to meet those goals, and stay focused among what they call our daily “whirlwind” of urgency.  They suggest that to begin this journey in implementing change within our organizations, we must focus on the first discipline: Focus on the Wildly Important rather than “giving mediocre effort to dozens of goals” (p. 23). It opened my eyes to the many anxiety inducing, urgent, extensive task lists that are often disguised as “goals” but in hindsight are merely the effects of working in education.  There are many demands when working in this line of work, many roles to play, and people (especially our students) to please. As we go back to school this week, the whirlwind hit me hard.  I have started a new position at a new campus, had kinks thrown into my new position, moved classrooms across this traffic-filled city, packing to move apartments by the end of August all while trying to stay above water with my graduate studies have me contemplating on changing my identity and running away to the mountains.  Exhaustion with a few tablespoons of burn-out is how I feel and the students haven’t even entered my room yet. So I have asked myself, how is it that we manage to stay focused when our physical bodies are so tired trying to keep up with this pace? Between a bit of self-care, reminding myself of my why, and encouragement through my most recent read The Four Disciplines of Execution (McChesney, Covey, Huling, 2012), I believe I have the resilience it takes to focus on my one wildly important goal (WIG) to not just connect with my new colleagues, but to truly create a community of innovation at this new campus.  

Much of education focuses on the whirlwind of standardized tests scores, behavioral compliance, and grades rather than helping students discover and own their own learning.  This unfortunately brings a multitude of negatives including devaluing teachers’ expertise and passion to set an environment that is crucial in guiding our learners to inquiry and creativity.  Then we must ask ourselves, how can we re-focus our efforts toward engaging our learners?

As I have mentioned in my previous blog, Influencer Strategy: The New Science of Leading Change, I have identified three vital behaviors in turning my innovation plan into a reality.  Although my new campus is already implementing some project-based themes, I am eager to observe the element of incorporating PBL in a blended learning environment through students’ ePortfolios this year.  As a first year teacher here, I know that I will have to build rapport and trust with my new colleagues to encourage buy-in. I also need to utilize the next several weeks to ask questions, develop relationships with my new planning team, and reflect on how to best implement this proposal in a way that honors my new environment.  I also suggest this proposal be implemented incrementally with the collaboration of my new team to further build a culture of community that values learning.  

Below describes the 5 Stages of Change needed to truly succeed in reaching our wildly important goal.

Stage 1: Getting Clear

This is the most important (and most difficult) stage of implementing change. This approach requires that we are clear and committed to each of the 5 stages, and are all on the same page consistently when implementing the four disciplines.  This also requires accountability with one another that we are all in this together. We must commit to the measures designed to achieve our goal, and no one person is making the executive decision. Otherwise if there is fickle buy-in amongst the team, the proposal is most likely doomed to fail.  When these commitments are agreed upon, we must then develop a clear “Wildly Important Goal” (WIG). During this stage, our team will edit, refine, and move forward with crystal-clarity. This allows the team to consider the lead and lag measures that will affect the WIG. McChesney, Covey, and Huling suggests:

While a lag measure tells you if you’ve achieved the goal, a lead measure tells you if you are likely to achieve the goal.  While a lag measure is hard to do anything about, a lead measure is virtually within your control (p. 45).

To move us closer to achieving our goal, our team will have weekly meetings to discuss the progress of lead and lag measures, create a scoreboard to keep track of our progress, and consider how all of these factors play a part in impacting our WIG.

Stage 2:  Launch

The launch phase requires crystal clarity and focus due to the likelihood that the lead measures could get lost in the whirlwind.  The leader must encourage grit to continue the commitment to the 4DX approach since this is a critical time in which the lag measure could be negatively impacted.  The WIG and lead measures are top priority for the leader in this stage because it could either make or break the progress. McChesney et al. (2012) compared stage 2 to a rocket leaving the intense gravitational pull of the earth (the whirlwind).  This is critical in launching a rocket (WIG) off of the ground with tremendous force (focus and scorekeeping). If the leader is unfocused, or inconsistent, it is likely for the team to follow. This is also the stage in which the leader can discern which team members are on board with the initiative and which may either not be committed at this time or opposed all together.

Stage 3: Adoption

The adoption stage is when the team finally begins to see the realistic benefits of implementing stages 1 and 2.  It increases morale and gives them a boost in morale that the innovative plan may succeed after all. By focusing on the lead measures and keeping score, the team will begin to see the progress toward the WIG.  The team eases into ownership upon noticing how their committed effort has made a positive impact. The resistance or doubts once held by the team begin to fade as the whole team adopts the process and holds one another accountable.  Attention must still be given to the WIG while staying focused on the lead measures, the WIG hasn’t been met quite yet. The accountability and attention to detail allow the leaders and team to adjust or tweak as needed so as to further improve the progress in achieving the WIG.  The accountability allows the team as a whole to adopt the vision and develop resilience to stay focused in their personal daily whirlwind. 

Stage 4: Optimization

In stage 4, the team has developed and adopted a 4DX mindset.  Whereas in the last stage, the team members were encouraged and began feeling a sense of ownership, in this stage the team has had a personal impact in creating, refining, or voicing at one or all parts of the previous stages.  Because of their committed teamwork, they are beginning to reap what they have sewn (in a very encouraging way). Since they have jumped through hurdles and have had a chance to see what has worked and what has not, they improve the plan with greater urgency and efficiency.  It is as though it is second nature since they have adopted, practiced, and committed to the process. The leader should encourage the team during this time and use this as an opportunity to further uplift the team as a community. During this stage, I am confident that my team will begin to see progress and evidence that the WIG will be achieved, further creating an authentic learner-centered environment. 

Stage 5: Habits

When implemented correctly, 4DX has the capacity to be second nature among the demands of the whirlwind.  If practiced with integrity, innovation emerges despite the setbacks while building confidence in the team responsible for their committed practices.  It gives an organization and its team members hope in further innovative initiatives. When we see successful implementation, we not only build trust with those who helped it come to fruition, we begin to dream and believe that maybe even we can bring change in what may seem like hopeless situations.  The WIG becomes part of the team’s vocabulary and the new standard for setting goals. McChesney et al. states:

When 4DX becomes habitual, you can expect not only to reach the goal but also to see a permanent rise in the level of your team’s performance.  The ultimate aim of 4DX is not just to get results, but to create a culture of excellent execution (p. 112).

The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Discipline 1:  Focus on the wildly important (Getting clear)

I plan to collaborate with my PBL team and campus administration to determine the Wildly Important Goal (WIG).  Department lead teachers and mentor teachers will be a small but influential start in creating a setting for buy-in.  Upon reaching a clearer goal, we may then involve all core content teachers. My WIG (below) follows my innovation proposal and identification of vital behaviors within our organization.  I will present this to my team for discussion, and will be open for communication, critique, and collaboration in this initiative.

75% of the core content teachers at my organization will develop a blended learning environment through project-based learning (PBL) utilizing student ePortfolios by March 2020.

I anticipate setback not only for being new to the campus, but because the daily whirlwind tends to be enough of a reason not to implement change for many teachers, especially if it asks them to change their whirlwind routine.  I plan to work with my team to develop a lag measure so that progress will encourage more buy in to those more reluctant to buy-in. To further encourage this, I propose the lag measure: all teachers trained and versed in PBL adopt 100% PBL units by November 2019.  This will keep our seasoned PBL teachers fresh and focused on PBL units instead of weekly whirlwind of also doing lesson plans.  PBL units will be their guide in not only perfecting their practice, but in guiding those teachers who are new to PBL and reluctant to try it.  

Discipline 2:  Act on the Lead Measures (Launch & Adoption)

First, we must determine the vital behaviors that will influence the lead measures.  This will help the lead measures influence the overall WIG, and keep our team focused and reflective during the crucial process.  We also must determine which behaviors have the greatest leverage. Below are a sample of lead measures I believe will be a great start in helping our team brainstorm, refine, or add to with our WIG in mind:

  • Teachers will design at least one PBL unit per quarter that incorporates online content delivery in connection to students’ ePortfolios.  This will enable teachers to refine learner-centered pedagogy, further impact their comfort level with PBL in a blended learning environment, and enhance their PBL expertise connecting to students’ ePortfolios.
  • Teachers seasoned in PBL will mentor 2-3 other teachers bi-weekly as they adopt PBL practices and provide implementation feedback.  This will hold both new and trained PBL teachers accountable in achieving the WIG. Meetings will focus on these lead measures, open the floor for dialogue, question what isn’t working, or what may need minor tweaking.

Discipline 3:  Keep a Compelling Scoreboard (Optimization)

A scoreboard keeps people engaged and makes the progress tangible.  It allows us to physically see the measures, and provokes a sense of competition to see those measures progress in a positive way.  When playing a game, if there is no chance of winning because there isn’t a scoreboard, often times the players lose interest. It often ends with the question, “who cares?”  A scoreboard provokes care, and allows us to begin rooting for our team or for ourselves.  I grew up in a tiny Texas town that worshipped sports, particularly football.  However, even though I am in a bigger city, sports is still fairly universally known, so I believe it would be a simple yet great representation for teachers to visualize their progress.

My lag measure is for 75% of the core content teachers at my organization will develop a blended learning environment through project-based learning (PBL) utilizing student ePortfolios by March 2020.  The scoreboard would be posted in the library where conferences and meetings are held. I plan to also brainstorm with my team which online platform would create the best digital scoreboard to keep PBL teachers current with the measures.  The goal is for the football to travel for a touchdown. Weekly updates of PBL units will be represented on the scoreboard. Teachers will have a visual of where they are in comparison to each other on the field, and further encourage engagement and perhaps a healthy dose of competition.  This opens the dialogue for communication, an opportunity to ask for help, and the chance to hold each other accountable. Team bonding would naturally happen as the scoreboard began reflecting success and progress.  

Discipline 4:  Create a Cadence for Accountability (Habits)

Holding each other accountable in a respectful manner fosters community and integrity among each other.  When we hold each other accountable, we are essentially saying “I care about you and your growth, and I care about the organization where you and I spend most of our time.”  Accountability is key. We must maintain consistency and honor every stage/discipline of the 4DX or it could fail in the final stage. The first three disciplines help engage us in a plan for change, but the 4th discipline fosters a new culture.  It is as much of a practiced process as an organic process. When we feel like our work matters, and we witness when other people do too, it creates a sense of agency for accountability. When we honor one another’s ideas and develop goals together, it creates a culture where every voice feels heard.  A culture of accountability sets the stage for the 4DX to organically thrive.  

4DX and Influencer

Influencer represents the theory behind how to influence the behavior of others to provoke innovative change.  The 4DX model represents the practical approach. The vital behaviors in the Influencer model directly reflect in the lead measures in the 4DX.  The goal in the Influencer model directly reflects in the Wildly Important Goal of the 4DX. Both models complement one another, one is theory, one is practical application of that theory.  In reflecting on both models, it has helped me look closer at vital behaviors not just within my professional organization, but in my daily life.


Grenny, J., Patterson, K., Maxfield, D., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A.. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

McChesney, C., Covey, S., Huling, J., (2012). The 4 disciplines of execution. New York, NY: Free Press.