One concept I use frequently with clients is that of the“The 20 Mile March” which Jim discusses in his 2011 book Great by Choice. I often work with a lot of fast growth companies that sometimes experience erratic growth patterns. Managing this growth can be very difficult from a priority, cash and people standpoint. The concept of the 20 Mile March provide some insights into how to manage growth more effectively.
The “20 Mile March” is an analogy used to describe the difference in strategy between the explorers Amundsen and Scott in their efforts to lead their teams to be the first to the South Pole in October 1911. One team (Amundsen’s) made it to their destination on time and as planned while the other team (Scott’s) met death along the way. The difference in the approach was that the Amundsen team had prepared very carefully for the trip and approached the journey at a steady pace averaging twenty mile treks each day. While the Scott team traveled 40 miles some days and held camp on others, they were underprepared and erratic in their journey approach.
Some of the insights Jim Collin’s provides:
The 20 Mile March is a differentiating factor between great companies and average ones. To quote “The 20-Mile March is more than a philosophy. It’s about having concrete, clear, intelligent and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that you keep on track.”
A good 20 Mile March has seven key characteristics:
1. Clear performance targets
2. Self-imposed constraints
3. Appropriate to specific enterprise
4. Largely within the team or company’s control to achieve
5. A proper timeframe – long enough to manage, yet short enough to have teeth
6. Imposed by the company or team on itself, not by external forces
7. Achieved with high consistency
20 Mile Marching requires hitting specified performance targets with great consistency over a long period of time. It requires two distinct types of discomfort: delivering high performance in difficult times and holding back to avoid over extension in good times.
20 Mile Marching builds your confidence in adverse circumstances and reduces the likelihood of disaster when facing disruption. aThe seven companies Jim. Collins studied achieved 10X results over industry averages during a difficult economy when they applied a well-planned, steady strategy for execution. These companies used their 20 Mile Marches as a way to exert self control, even when afraid or tempted by opportunity. Having a clear 20 Mile March focuses the mind with everyone on the team knowing their targets and their importance, they can stay on track.