I’ve noticed that people often use discipline and willpower interchangeably. They say something like, “She’s incredibly disciplined,” but what they mean is, “She’s strong willed enough to keep on track with her goals.”

This false equivalent is an issue because willpower is an expensive resource that quickly erodes as time passes.

Discipline, on the other hand, concerns consistently meeting your commitments. You could do it through willpower, but that’s only one option and not one you can rely on.

Discipline matters in a business because it affects the quality of your execution. You can have a brilliant strategy and a great culture, but if there isn’t discipline in execution, the business doesn’t progress.

Just like in your personal life, you could attempt to maintain discipline in execution through force of will, but the chaos of your environment will naturally break it apart.

The commitments you make to improve things are just the beginning of executing well. Once you’ve decided on a change, you have to devise a plan to integrate it into the existing flow of the business.

For example, debriefs or retrospectives, can provide intelligence to learn and grow. But if you just say to your team, “We’re going to institute regular debriefs after projects,” then you should expect debriefs will occur a handful of times before being washed away by a stream of competing priorities.

Instead, after that announcement, you need to create a plan to integrate debriefs into the existing systems.

You might consider:

  • What will debriefs replace? What’s the opportunity cost?
  • If you don’t have time to do debriefs today, what’s going to be different tomorrow?
  • What would be a forcing mechanism that would ensure it occurs no-matter-what?
  • How could you make them easy and natural?
  • How could you ensure they provide value and that the lessons are put to use?
  • What would make them habitual?
  • How could you build them into an existing and common workflow?

You set the stage for disciplined execution when you consider how you’re going to deliver on a commitment and form a plan. This protects objectives against the chaos of the environment and helps you transition from good intentions to actually realizing change.