Do You Play to Win or to Avoid Losing?

Change your game plan and practice these four disciplines.

August 28, 2013

Now’s the time when many of us review our annual marketing plans and wonder how we’ve only accomplished one-third of what we set out to achieve.

It’s not that we don’t have a solid, strategic plan. We do. It’s not that we haven’t set well-aligned tactics and a deliberate timeline. We have. It’s also not because we don’t have the infrastructure to support our implementation. We do.

In fact, we’re busier than ever and yet didn’t accomplish all of our key initiatives. So, what happened? If you can relate, it might be that you’re a leader stuck in a “whirlwind,” coaching your team to “not lose” rather than to win.

I read the book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling. It changed the way I lead. And the way we work at my credit union.

The marketing and business development teams I have the privilege of leading have always been cohesive units that set their sights high and soar. But even this high achieving group has stepped up its game since reading the book.

We prioritize, communicate, and execute with a renewed focus, greater engagement, stronger commitment, and an enhanced sense of purpose. The real enemy of executing our priorities, the authors say, is our day jobs—the “whirlwind” of activities we do to keep things running day-to-day.

Oft en this “whirlwind” zaps our energies and devours our time, making it difficult to execute anything new or focus on our most important strategic priorities.

One senior executive interviewed in the book described the “whirlwind” like this: “We don’t have dragons swooping down and knocking us off our priorities. What we have are gnats. Every day we have gnats getting in our eyes and when we look back over the last six months, we haven’t accomplished any of the things we said we were going to do.”

So, how did we break free from the “whirlwind” and rid ourselves of the “pesky gnats,” at least for a portion of our day?

We had to change our game plan from doing what was needed to “not lose,” to doing what was needed to win.

We practiced four disciplines:

  1. Establish a wildly important goal (WIG). Our WIG had to support one of the credit union’s strategic goals and be driven by the performance of the team (not just one or two individuals). And we had to control 80% of achieving its success. Creating a team WIG fostered focus and propelled us forward.
  2. Implement lead measurements. Our team selected personal action steps that had the highest impact and would predict the likelihood of us reaching our WIG. They drove our success.
  3. Keep score. Performance improves when the players know, quickly and easily, where the goal is, how far they have to go to get there, and how much time they have to do it. We established a scoreboard to track progress of our lead measures to our overall goal. This allowed us to clearly see, at any moment, if we were winning or losing.
  4. Hold everyone accountable. We created individual weekly commitments (lead measurements) and participated in team huddles to report on our previous week’s commitments. Individuals answered the question: “What are the most important things I can do in the next week (outside of the whirlwind) that will have the biggest impact on our scoreboard?” This created a greater level of engagement and accountability.

What will you achieve in 2013? Will you lead your marketing and business development teams to a banner year? Ordinary coaches think merely of how not to lose. Extraordinary coaches plan and play to win. Which are you?

MICHELLE HUNTER is senior vice president, marketing & development for Credit Union of Southern California, Brea, and chair of the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council. For more information on the Councils, visit