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Goals (OKRs & KPIs)
February 28, 2018

OKR vs. 4DX (The 4 Disciplines of Execution)

Henrik-Jan van der Pol
Henrik-Jan van der Pol
CEO, Perdoo
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OKR vs. 4DX (The 4 Disciplines of Execution)

This is the third of a five-part series examining how OKR compares with other management frameworks. In this post, we look at how OKR compares to 4DX.

  1. OKR vs EFQM
  2. OKRs vs. SMART Goals
  3. OKR vs 4DX
  4. OKR vs Balanced Scorecard
  5. OKR vs KPIs

An overview of 4DX

4DX is a strategy execution framework developed by Stephen R. Covey and Chris McChesney, presented in their book The 4 Disciplines of Execution. The concept covers 4 key areas that, when combined, help leaders and teams execute business strategy.

The 4 disciplines of 4DX cover:

  1. Focus
  2. Leverage
  3. Engagement
  4. Accountability

4DX proposes that most organizations exist within a complex whirlwind of activities, priorities, to-do’s, and other work that makes up “the day job.” 4DX aims to help leaders and employees cut through this whirlwind and focus on achieving goals. Key to the 4DX framework are these 4 principles that help set expectations and frame goal setting within an organizational context.

The principles of 4DX

Focus on the Wildly Important Goals

The first principle of 4DX covers how to create goals and ensure focus. Like OKR, 4DX states that the more goals a person or team has to achieve, the less focus they have. Many organizations simply have too many competing priorities or initiatives to be truly effective and 4DX forces teams to focus on one or two WIGs (Wildly Important Goals).

Similar to OKRs, WIGs have a clearly defined structure “from x to y by when” giving each goal a scope and a deadline. Additionally, the process of choosing WIGs has 4 rules.

Rule #1: No team focuses on more than two WIGs at the same time.

This rule ensures focus.

Rule #2: The battles you choose must win the war.

This rule ensures alignment in that the WIGs teams work on should contribute to achieving the overall goals of the organization.

Rule #3: Senior leaders can veto, but not dictate.

This rule ensures goals are set from the bottom up.

Rule #4: All WIGs must have a finish line in the form of “X to Y by when.”

This rule ensures clear scope for each goal.

Act on the Lead Measures

While principle 1 describes how to choose what to focus on and how to structure a goal, principle two is concerned with what to measure. 4DX gives special focus to the difference between lead and lag measures and how one drives the other.

Lag measures are results you are trying to achieve. Things like revenue, sales numbers, website visits, are all lag measures as by the time you measure them you can’t influence the result anymore. 4DX proposes that most organization focus on lag measures since they’re usually the easiest to track.

Lead measures, in comparison, are measures of activity taken to influence a lag measure, and it’s these metrics that 4DX places most focus on. A good example would be weight loss. Where the lag measure is weight, lead measures would be hours of exercise per week and calories consumed. By increasing exercise and reducing calories you can be pretty confident the lag measure, weight, will move.

Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

With goals and their measures in place, principle 3 covers how to keep score. The key to this principle is to keep scorecards simple. Gone are the complicated spreadsheets and formulas often associated with strategic plans. 4DX replaces them with scorecards for each WIG that track a maximum of 6 lead or lag measures.

4DX recommends that these scorecards are designed by the teams themselves and points to the importance of keeping score in driving engagement. When teams know if they’re winning or losing, they are more likely to focus on performing.

Create a Cadence of Accountability

The final principle of 4DX covers accountability or, more specifically, accounting for the past and planning for the future. This happens in weekly WIG meetings. 4DX suggests this as the ideal cadence since longer time spans make it harder for people to stay engaged with their goals. WIG meetings follow a 3-part structure of account, review, plan, where teams review previous commitments and the scoreboard and agree upon next actions.

To prepare for the meeting, each team member thinks about the same question: “What are the one or two most important things I can do this week to impact the lead measures?” The focus on lead measures is important since the outcome of WIG meetings should always be agreement on actions to influence lead measures.

OKR vs. 4DX: How do they compare?

OKR and 4DX are similar in many ways. Both help managers and teams set goals and execute strategy, both help achieve focus, alignment, and engagement, and both are lightweight and relatively easy for most people to grasp. The difference is how OKR and 4DX structure the process of strategy execution.

OKR can be thought of both a goal structure and a strategy execution framework. An OKR on its own is an Objective and one or more Key Results. At Perdoo, we recommend to also create Initiatives for each OKR to draw a clear line between how you measure success (Key Results) and what you do to drive progress (Initiatives). OKR as a framework describes a goal setting process within a defined cadence, hierarchy, and process.

In 4DX the first 3 principles describe the structure, creation, and measurement of goals while the 4th principle describes a weekly cadence of review, with each review having a clear structure and time limit. This differs from OKR in that cadences in OKR are built to reflect the organizational heartbeat; yearly closing and creation of Company OKRs, quarterly closing and creation of Group OKRs, and regular check-ins in the meantime.

Unlike OKR, 4DX doesn’t distinguish between strategic and tactical goals but instead focuses heavily on 2 types of measures. Neither does 4DX suggest specific timeframes in which to set goals.

Overall, as a framework 4DX fits in somewhere between OKR and SMART. 4DX focuses on goal setting, measurement, and engagement without the clearly defined tactical and strategic levels of OKR, but meeting all the criteria of SMART.


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