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Friday 2nd Feb 2024

Why disciplined execution is key to success

You can spend an eternity creating the best strategy in the world, and on paper, you should be a phenomenal business; however, because you fail on disciplined execution, you'll never reach your full potential. The power of consistency and discipline should not be underestimated.

The Power of Consistency and Discipline in Business

Consistency of ACTION and consistency over TIME create discipline—the critical difference between high-performing and mediocre organisations and individuals.

I’ve seen many businesses achieve accelerated growth, but delivering sustained growth requires a whole new set of leadership skills. It demands focus, rigour, boundless energy, commitment, and resilience.

But most of all, it requires consistency and discipline. This consistency reinforces your discipline, creating a positive feedback loop to help you become more effective and achieve your goals.

How good are you and your business in consistency and discipline?

Yes, I advocate allocating time for creative thinking and strategy creation – I’ve written a blog post on this very topic why failing to plan really does mean planning to fail. But, if you fail to execute, to implement, to get things done, what was the purpose of planning in the first place? To show you the road you should take but never actually take.

Consistency in action breeds disciplined execution.

Have a plan and be flawless in its execution.

Frequently revisit and refine your plan based on empirical validation. Analyse what is working (keep doing it) and what isn’t (change it or stop). Test small before going BIG. Have the measures that matter, interpret the insight, and act accordingly.

But take action. Consistent action.

Consistent action over time leads to disciplined execution.

Have a defining question which keeps you focused and on track.

Will it make the boat go faster?

It was a simple defining question that propelled the British Olympic rowing team to world champions at the end of the 1990s – will it make the boat go faster?

The British rowing team had been in the wilderness for decades, typically coming 6th, 7th, or 8th in races and written off as genuine contenders. When Ben Hunt-Davis joined the team in 1991, very little changed. For the next seven years, in fact, to 1998, the results remained the same: 6th, 7th, or 8th at World Championships, Regattas, and Olympics.

Finally, after another 7th place at the 1998 Cologne Regatta, the team was utterly fed up. They realised they would have to do things differently if they wanted different results.

They started to test every decision by asking a straightforward question: ‘Will it make the boat go faster?‘ and action only the things that would.

In 1999, things began to change.

The team took 2nd place in four races. In 2000, the team was placed 2nd in its first race of the year and 1st in the next three. On Sunday, 24 September 2000, at 10h30, the team rowed to victory at the Sydney Olympics, winning the gold medal.

Making the boat go faster was all that mattered if they were to achieve their vision and purpose of 5 minutes and 18 seconds over 2,000m.

With a clear understanding of their goal, they had a defining question to test all their decisions: ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’ They were focused, disciplined, and avoided distractions, activities, or blind alleyways, which took them off course from realising their goals, dreams, and ambitions.

Here are three key ideas to help you master the art of disciplined execution:


From a strategic perspective, timing and speed to market is everything.

The challenge with the formula READY-AIM-FIRE is that so many businesses spend an age planning, thinking about the market opportunity, completing the analysis, and trying to create the ‘perfect’ strategy dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. By the time they come to “FIRE’, the opportunity has passed them by, or someone else has stolen the edge.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting planning and analysis don’t have their place. Yes, of course it does. But what I’m talking about here is that the formula should be more like READY-FIRE–AIM rather than READY-AIM-FIRE.

why disciplined execution is key to success

Yes, undertake the planning and critical thinking at the front end, the READY part. But the reality is that despite all your best efforts, there will be adjustments to make as you implement and go to market. So why wait? Make the adjustments and learn as you go.

One of my global clients follows a philosophy that if the strategy and critical thinking are 80% there, then they go, and the final 20% they’ll figure out along the way! Why? Because the last 20% will always be a moving part, let’s tackle it while we’re moving! There is a great lesson here for all businesses.

#2 Discipline of Dashboards – the numbers don’t lie

To break records, you have to keep records.

Being disciplined in execution means having benchmarks in place for your business –  sales, customers, people, operations, and finance – which you measure regularly.

why disciplined execution is key to success

Dashboards provide you with insight as to how you’re executing your plans. On track or off track? As expected or way off the mark? Moving the business dials the right way or the wrong way?

Having this level of discipline in your business will allow you to make empirically validated decisions, be more structured and systematic in your thinking and support you in the delivery and execution of your goals.

#3 Hunt out the marginal gains

One of the key benefits of being disciplined in execution is achieving marginal gains. Each time you execute and deliver on something, these small wins, when multiplied together, benefit from their compound effect.

This results in forward momentum, cadence and rhythm. We all know the powerful force of momentum; it becomes like a tidal wave that can’t stop.

why disciplined execution is key to success

Other topics in this series are five surefire methods for building a high-performing organisation’:

#1 A Vision / Purpose to infuse work with purpose and meaning

#2 A set of Values & Behaviours to propel you towards your goal

#3 A clear Strategic Plan laying out your goals, priorities and direction of travel

#4 Being disciplined in the execution of the plan

#5 A performance culture at the heart of the organisation

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