In these turbulent times, many accounting firms (and consultants to those firms) continue to pay too much attention to performing SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) analyses and developing grand strategies in light of those analyses, only to discover that little of the grand strategy actually gets implemented.

At The Growth Partnership, we firmly believe that a mediocre plan with full execution is much better than a great plan with mediocre or no execution. As certified facilitators of the Franklin Covey workshop "The Four Disciplines of Execution," TGP is helping CPA firms implement their strategic plans with measurable results.

In this article, we share some of the highlights of "The Four Disciplines of Execution."

While the disciplines of execution are not about strategic planning, they are closely aligned. When we ask managing partners about their firms' strategies, they can usually tell us what they want to accomplish. What they lack, however, is the fundamental ability to execute those strategies.

Partners, departments and work groups need to understand the firm's vision (i.e., what the firm wants to do or where it wants to go). They also need to understand their role in making that vision a reality. Not only is it important for firms to have goals, it is equally important for all the people in the firm to know what they are. As part of the workshop, we ask the following questions:

* How many people know the firm's most important goals?

* How many people know how the firm is doing on those goals?

* How many people know exactly what they are supposed to do to help the firm achieve the goals?

* Do departments or teams plan together to achieve these goals?

Ask the above questions at your firm; you may be surprised by the answers.

Discipline 1: Focus on 'wildly important goals'

In the past, firm leaders often thought they could effectively accomplish six, eight or more goals at once. One managing partner, in fact, told us, "I can do it all." Well, he could, but not very well. While you may be able to accomplish many things, the likelihood of accomplishing them with excellence increases if you focus on one goal at a time. According to Franklin Covey's 2004 xQ Survey of over 1,200 U.S. workers, less than 15 percent even know what their organization's goals are.

A focus on wildly important goals can make all the difference, and failure to achieve your WIGs renders any of your other achievements inconsequential. To identify WIGs, we screen all goals by using several different filters. All goals are given a score, and those that are most important are the goals on which we work first. In the absence of clearly defined goals, staff members become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.

Discipline 2: Create a compelling scoreboard

People play differently when they keep score. When you play any game and keep score, you tend to be more focused and serious. Using measures or performance indexes helps to make a goal clear to everyone and takes the guesswork out of whether you're winning or losing. Because employees want to remain informed about both progress and results, progress toward the goals needs to be broadcast widely and often through the use of a scoreboard or dashboard.

As with any sporting event, scoreboards need to be visible and need to display all the key measures, so that changes in a course of action can be made in real time. Think about the last time you saw a scoreboard at a baseball game: It showed a variety of key measures, including runs, hits, errors, outs, strikes and balls. You will want to create a scoreboard just as dynamic for your firm.

Discipline 3: Translate lofty goals into specific actions

Simply defining goals and building a scorecard, however, is not enough. To achieve goals you have never achieved before, you need to start doing things you've never done before. Albert Einstein wrote, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Making goals a reality is all about doing something, but also doing it better and differently than before.

Many firms take a long-term view when striving to accomplish their goals. One secret to getting things done is to identify those things that you can actually accomplish in the span of a week. A week represents an ideal "chunk" of time in which to break down the work into bite-sized, do-able pieces. A week is long enough to be meaningful, but short enough to be actionable.

When performing weekly action planning, first ask yourself: "What are the things I can do this week to move the firm's goal forward?

Then, take each of the items generated by that question, and ask yourself the following questions: What are the three most significant things I can do to move the goal forward this week? And what would it be worth if everyone on the team actually did the three most important things they could do to move the goal forward this week? Or next week?

Discipline 4: Hold everyone accountable - all the time

Simply telling staff or sending out a memo about the goals almost never works. It is a leader's job to seek and maintain everyone's commitment and accountability and to recognize that not everyone in the firm will have the same level of commitment to the goals.

When team members engage each other in commitment to the goals, however, they also hold each other accountable on a consistent basis - people feel accountable to each other in addition to their leaders.

In "The Four Disciplines" workshop, we gauge each team member's commitment. After the measurement is taken, we debrief them by asking the following types of questions:

* How many team members scored themselves higher than they scored the team?

* What is the implication of low scores?

Again, maintaining strong accountability requires reporting on progress as well as re-engaging team members on a regular basis and re-committing them to the cause.

Implementing the disciplines

Strategies are generally not implemented when the ideas come only from the leaders. They are usually successfully implemented when everyone is involved in the design and, therefore, is committed.

A long-held principle suggests, "No involvement, no commitment." The best ideas come from interaction between leaders and their people - usually those on the front line. Buy-in is key to execution. The following are things you and your team need to do:

* Schedule and hold a goal-clarity work session to define the team's WIGs and measures.

* Allow sufficient time for the development and reworking of the goals.

* Work with your team to create a compelling scoreboard for their WIGs.

* Recruit internal champions to help gain momentum.

* Hold regular WIG meetings. (These are not your typical staff meetings.)

In summary, we invite you to think differently about your next partner retreat, strategic planning session or team meeting. Next time, create a great plan, but an even better strategy for executing the plan.

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