By Denise Harrison

Strategic Planning Expert
Denise Harrison

Disciplined action is the key to your success – Jim Collins highlighted its importance in a recent speech.  How can you use this concept to ratchet up your team’s performance?

A twenty-mile march – what is it?

The concept of a twenty-mile march is to set a goal to reach consistently over a set timeframe, say for 15 to 30 years – in other words, a no-excuses goal.  The team must meet this goal, both in good times and during market turbulence.  For example, two teams set out to reach the South Pole:

  1. Team one reaches the South Pole first and then returns to their base camp.
  2. Team two reaches the South Pole after the team one, but then they died eleven miles away from their final depot.

What caused the difference in performance?  One significant difference –  team one set out to cover 15-20 miles every day, no matter what the weather.  The other team rested on days with storms, and looked to make up time during days when the weather was not as inclement.  Team one, by making progress each day, and not over extending on days where the weather was better, was able to set a pace for achievement and did not exhaust their resources on any one day.  The second team over extended and had tragic results.

Why does this matter to you?

Based on research, Jim Collins found that teams/companies that set goals like the twenty-mile march and consistently hit their targets, were much more successful than those who chose to take advantage of industry upturns while also being significantly impacted when downturns occurred. By lowering the amplitude of the business cycle swings, teams were better prepared to weather the downturns, but did not over invest for industry upturns, allowing for consistent achievement and overall better performance (and sometimes survival), compared to those that chose to be buffeted by industry turbulence.

So, what is your twenty-mile march?

In speaking with CEOs who employed this concept, I found a variety of metrics made up a “twenty-mile march”:

  1. Increasing company value by 10% per year.
  2. Having zero safety incidents.
  3. Increasing productivity by 8% per year.
  4. Introduction of two new products and one product extension every year.

Take some time to develop a twenty-mile march target for your team.  This is a target that is achievable, but must be met in good times, as well as during market turbulence.  Additionally, look at the upside – what is the highest amount we want to hit, limiting the upside and lowering the amplitude of your business cycles.  This target will force your team to become more disciplined and this discipline will better enable you to achieve long-term success.

For questions about the twenty-mile concept, or other strategic planning concepts please call or email Denise Harrison, 910-264-1350 or

What is your twenty-mile march?  Attend the Simplified Strategic Planning Seminar for more instruction on how to develop achievable targets as well as all other aspects of Simplified Strategic Planning.

Denise Harrison is a senior consultant for the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  She can be reached at

© Copyright 2017 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.

1 Jim Collins, Morten T. Hansen, Great by Choice, 2011.

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