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NACS Show Preview: A Chat With Chris McChesney


LAS VEGAS — As global execution practice leader at FranklinCovey Co., Chris McChesney travels the country speaking and teaching executives how to motivate their teams to meet objectives. He is also the author of a national bestseller, “The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals.”

On the weekends, McChesney enjoys water skiing, sports cars and coaching flag football. Married for 25 years, he also likes to spend one-on-one quality time with each of his seven kids — “although I don’t get [to] all of them every weekend, maybe half,” he said.

Even with 3.5 kids per weekend, McChesney looks anything but stressed. While he describes himself as “undisciplined, scattered and having ADHD,” his expertise regarding efficiency apparently stretches well beyond his speeches and seminars.

McChesney is a disciple of the late Stephen Covey, founder of consulting and training company FranklinCovey and author of the bestselling 1989 book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Building on Covey’s concepts, McChesney’s own book and teachings focus on four disciplines designed to drive results, morale and engagement among leaders and team members:

  • Focus on the wildly important. The more you try to do, the less you accomplish.
  • Leverage. Act on lead measurements that predict behavioral change, not lagging ones, such as revenue, profits and market share.
  • Visual engagement. Keep a visual scoreboard so simple that everyone knows whether the team is winning or losing.
  • Accountability. Create a “cadence of accountability” with regular, short meetings where team members can hand out kudos and hold one another’s feet to the fire.

McChesney believes successful execution is all about the journey. But too often, people focus primarily on the destination. “If you’re losing weight, the output matrix is the scale. The input is how many calories I’ve consumed,” he said. “But too often, people focus on the output matrix.”

He teaches clients how to approach change while facing the inevitable barriers that team efforts involve. “If I engage with other humans, what are the dos and, conversely, what are the don’ts,” said McChesney. “The disciplines are important when a company wants to redefine some aspect of business, which goes hand in hand with changing human behavior.

“This can come into play when an organization wants to change to become more competitive pricewise. Or they want to engage customers with a new service. Or they may be a mom-and-pop looking to grow,” he continued. “They bring in new people, then run into a barrier of a new culture and a different way of doing things.”


McChesney’s own journey started more than two decades ago. As a junior in college, he read Covey’s book and the man quickly became his idol. “I was like a groupie. I went out and found this guy and worked for him for free for four months. While they didn’t have an internship, I kept showing up. Finally, they said, ‘by law, we have to pay you something.’”

Soon, the company needed McChesney. A week after its publicist was fired, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” hit the New York Times bestseller list. McChesney stepped in. “I was calling radio and TV stations. I had no idea what I was doing.”

In this new role, McChesney gained a bird’s-eye view of how Covey approached his subject. “I had the chance to watch how he built a business based on a bestselling book. He got me started on a path. But the learning came from clients. All the good stuff comes from trial and error.”

Both Covey’s and McChesney’s strategies focus on human effectiveness. Covey’s are comparatively broad in scope and revolve around individual behavior; McChesney’s “4 Disciplines” are pinpointed and focus on the corporate group and how it interacts from a human relations standpoint.

In teaching these disciplines, McChesney does not issue mandates. Rather, he helps people identify what needs to be addressed. This makes both management and employees part of the process and solution.

“People play differently when they’re keeping score. It has to be their idea. If the organization mandates something, you get resistance. But if they pick the critical objective, you get involvement, which is the best way around resistance,” he explained.

Case in point: Payless ShoeSource. The 4,500-store footwear retailer wanted to increase sales volume. Company managers who had been trained in the 4 Disciplines asked their associates to pick areas they believed could be changed or improved. Areas chosen included speed at greeting customers, speed at checkout, appropriateness of footwear sizes and styles offered, and how often employees measured children’s feet.

The winners were the stores who offered to measure kids’ feet. When the practice became commonplace chainwide, Payless tripled its goals during the first year.

“If you stepped back, you saw them pick a focus. All the issues they picked were leading indicators, like product mix and measuring feet. We found that the same four disciplines that drive results also drive morale and engagement. If there isn’t a critical goal employees are part of, they’re just putting in their hours.”

The importance of measuring kids’ feet is that it creates a personal interaction with the customer. But getting employees to do it involves tracking results and making the associates part of the process. “It’s not enough to know it. You have to track it like a diet and put it into some kind of scoreboard so there’s a way to see the data. If you can’t see the data, you lose the game.”

The next step for Payless was accountability. On a weekly basis, the store team “huddles” and makes a commitment around driving results, according to McChesney.


McChesney has applied his 4 Disciplines across a wide range of companies and industries. Clients have included everything from hospitals to newspapers, including well-known corporations like The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., The Kroger Co., The Coca-Cola Co., Frito-Lay, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Gaylord Entertainment.

Unlike some of these industries, though, the convenience store industry is extremely diverse, with players ranging from single-store mom and pops to chains with hundreds of stores. Business structure also varies, with some companies franchising locations while others have only company-run stores. Then, there are the service and merchandise variables, such as who has a car wash or makes giant heroes and who does not.

“The structure is all over the place,” McChesney acknowledged.

Yet none of this really matters when it comes to building morale and engagement. People are people. And people have relationship problems regardless of an organization’s size, type or structure.

Taking this into account, McChesney plans to ask 2015 NACS Show attendees to divide their brain in half. Types of products sold are on the left. On the right side are things the person would like to accomplish within the organization.

“I’m asking them to think about a cultural change they’d like to address. I’ll give them examples and ask them to think about how they would work through the change. How would they show it visually? How would they establish accountability?”

When it comes to healthy cultures and convenience stores, Convenience Store News had one more thing to ask McChesney: What’s the best place to take seven kids who are all clamoring for a chocolate shake?

“QuikTrip,” he responded. “They’re amazing. You’re standing with your change in hand before you know what hit you. They’ve developed a process. Every time you come into the store, three employees are saying ‘hello.’ It’s baked into the culture and behavior.”

The 2015 NACS Show takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center Oct. 11-14. 

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