Jim Burkett: Seven disciplines that can mean the difference between success and failure Featured

11:54pm EDT November 21, 2013
Jim Burkett, columnist Jim Burkett, columnist

Why do more than 38,000 U.S. businesses go bankrupt each year? Obviously filing for bankruptcy wasn’t management’s aim.

Management in these companies simply allowed the “wrong things” to happen. These wrong things represent problems that have been allowed to fester, persist and multiply. As the problems went unrecognized and unresolved, they compromised carrying out essential activities, increased expenses and eroded profits. Eventually these unaddressed problems caused the business to go bankrupt.

Understand the problems

But why can’t management effectively solve problems? Ironically, in most cases, actually solving problems is not the issue. Instead, the challenge for management is to recognize the problems and understand what they are. Once problems are identified and understood, management is in a position to solve them. As George Washington often liked to say: “Errors once discovered are more than half amended.”

So what is it that makes identifying and understanding problems challenging? Management either lacks or fails to use the fundamental managing disciplines that would allow it to do so. These disciplines make effective managing possible. If practicing these management disciplines is so essential why aren’t they universally practiced?

To answer this question, consider a 19th century military theorist named Carl Von Clausewitz who observed, “Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”

The same is true of management. Although simple disciplines make up the practice of management, actually carrying out these disciplines is difficult. This is because difficulties arise and accumulate, producing a kind of friction or inertia that cause the disciplines not to be practiced. When this happens, managers and their organization stumble along in frustration and failure as problems go unidentified and unresolved.

Consider the why factors

There are three main reasons for the disciplines not to be practiced. The first reason is that many managers do not know that there are seven learned disciplines of management that, through practice, are essential to their effectiveness and success. Therefore the disciplines are neglected.

The second reason is the seven learned disciplines of management are not practically understood — management does not know how to use them. Consequently the disciplines are misused.

The third reason is that management does not practice the management disciplines systematically. As a result, the disciplines are not practiced constantly and consistently.

The seven fundamental management disciplines include planning, organizing, measuring performance, executing, following-up, real-time reporting and problem-solving. Each discipline is impactful, and all are indispensable. Their practice is the best way to understand what effective management does.

How can I be so certain these management disciplines are the secret to management’s success? Because I use them in my work as a turnaround specialist — I’ve helped turn around 28 underperforming and troubled companies (from large Fortune 500 companies to smaller public and private organizations).

When these disciplines were deployed an amazing change took place. The same managers who had wallowed in mediocrity and failure now formed the nucleus of a successful turnaround as they used the management disciplines to make the right things happen.

Fortunately, each of these seven management disciplines can be learned and can empower your management effectiveness.


Jim Burkett is president of Corporate Turnaround Consulting Inc. and author of “The Learned Disciplines of Management: How to Make the
Right Things Happen.” Contact him at