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The Six Disciplines Blog


Friday, February 23, 2018

How the Olympics Relate To The Six Disciplines

With the Winter Olympics in full swing, you’ve no doubt noticed references to the term “disciplines” in relation to the various sports represented in the Olympics.

So, what’s the definition of Olympic “disciplines”? 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) establishes a hierarchy of sports, disciplines, and events. According to this hierarchy, the Olympic sports can be subdivided into multiple disciplines, which are often assumed to be distinct sports. Examples include swimming and water polo, which are disciplines of aquatics, or figure skating and speed skating, which are disciplines of skating. In turn, disciplines can be subdivided into events, for which medals are actually awarded. A sport or discipline is included in the Olympic program if the IOC determines it is widely practiced around the world, that is, the number of countries that compete in a given sport is the indicator of the sport’s prevalence. 

So what’s the connection between the Olympic disciplines and our Six Disciplines? (For some, it might be a stretch, but stay with me while I explain.)

Six Disciplines is a management system for purpose-driven leaders determined to engage people in shared purpose – unlocking potential, increasing fulfillment and improving performance. The foundation of the system is the Six Disciplines Methodology — six proven processes for aligning strategy, operations and individuals around shared purpose. The Six Disciplines also promote transparency, sustainability, and continuous learning by integrating on-going coaching, leadership development and easy-to-use cloud apps into a complete management system.

Discipline I: Strategic Vision (the discipline of strategic planning)

‘What will we be great at?” This is the question that the first discipline challenges the leadership team to answer. In most organizations we work with the members of the leadership team start with a different vision of what the organization should ‘have’, ‘do’ and ‘be’. By collaborating to answer a series of important questions, the leadership team develops a shared vision that articulates clearly what the organization’s purpose is and what it is going to excel at over the long term.

Discipline II: Strategic Change Management (the discipline of change management)

The second big question the leadership team explores is “how will we guide our organization to reach our vision?” “What needs to change and how quickly?” In this discipline the strategy team works to develop a broad framework that helps the rest of the organization translate the strategic vision into near term actions. Leaders build a roadmap of proposed important goal targets and a list of vital change projects. The result is a shared clarity that is used to engage the rest of the organization in figuring out how to do what is being proposed or how to change what is being proposed.

Discipline III: Operational Alignment (the discipline of operations management)

The third big question to be addressed by the rest of the organization is “how do we allocate resources over the next year so that we can continue to “run the organization” on a day to day basis AND at the same time begin to invest to change the organization in pursuit of its long-term vision?” The strategy team has been thinking in a perfect world what we would like to become. The people on the front lines however, have to address the real world of what it takes to deliver products or services and sell and support customers each day. A strategy for balancing short term and long-term priorities can only be answered by supporting the people who do the work to understand the vision and by providing all possible assistance to help them figure out the best way to get there. The end result of this discipline is a roadmap of operating plans and change initiative plans to guide the next year.

Discipline IV: Teamwork Driven Execution (the discipline of employee engagement)

The fourth discipline is where vision meets reality on a minute by minute basis. Plans are never “right” because of changing conditions and better information. In this discipline teams form the habits that allow them to do their individual work and communicate the latest info about what in their plans is changing to help others adjust. Because everyone has more to do than can be done, people are encouraged through coaching and software to decide on a regular basis what actions they are going to take next on their vital few priorities. Using these best practices and regular team alignment meetings people are able to displace lower items of lesser importance with the most important. Building and maintaining teamwork is the key to this discipline.

Discipline V: Continuous Improvement (the discipline of quality management)

Establishing this discipline encourages everyone in the organization to be constantly looking for opportunities for improvement. People on the front lines see everyday consequences of policy and procedure issues that create quality and inefficiency issues. When opportunities are identified they are prioritized and a thorough analysis of the root cause of the issue is conducted before implementation. Measurement and control are used to verify that the issue has been solved and stays “solved”.

Discipline VI: Organizational Development (the discipline of organizational development)

In this last discipline, organizations are called to examine themselves “what capabilities do we need to grow and develop to meet our future?” Leaders work together to conduct a thorough self-examination of external factors over which the organization has no control including trends related to regulations, the economy, technology and competitors. Internally the group evaluates gaps between current and best practices. They also consider how well the current strategy is being executed and separately whether the current strategy is a good one. Added to this is an evaluation of the strength of people in the organization. The end result of all this analysis is a strategic agenda addressing what organizational issues need to be addressed in the upcoming planning cycle.

A sport or discipline is included in the Olympic program if it is widely practiced around the world.  The Six Disciplines described above are also widely practiced around the world.  In fact each of the Six Disciplines represents an entire industry in and of itself (i.e., strategic planning, change management, operations management, employee engagement, quality management, organizational development).

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To simplify life for leaders, we integrate proven solutions from these disparate industries that are often implemented separately.  Our management system includes an excellence framework, leader development, ongoing, onsite coaching and cloud-based software in one integrated management system.

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Since 2005, the Six Disciplines blog offers posts about performance excellence, strategy execution, business coaching, leadership development, innovation, and business process improvement. This blog has received prestigious awards for leadership and management and has been syndicated by several major media sources.