I am a big fan of Jim Collins and have used his book “Good to Great” as a business tool for many years. I was recently introduced to the concept of “The 20 Mile March” which Mr. Collins discusses in his 2011 book “Great by Choice.”   At Rhythm Systems, we 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 may give us some insight into how to manage growth more effectively. 

The 20 Mile March is an analogy used to describe the difference in strategy between the explorers Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon 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 execution.

Some of the key points Mr. Collins makes are:

The 20 Mile March is a distinguishing factor to an overwhelming degree between great companies and average ones.

Mr. Collins states, “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 markers.

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 markers 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 overextension in good times.

20 Mile Marching builds your confidence in adverse circumstances, reduces the likelihood of disaster when facing disruption and helps to exert control in an out of control environment.

The seven companies Mr. Collins studied achieved 10X results over industry averages during a difficult economy when they applied a well-planned, steady strategy for execution.   

The 10X 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; because everyone on the team knows their markers and their importance, they can stay on track.

Take some time and think about what your 20 Mile March looks like and ask yourself if your team is aligned with you.

We have all heard it said many times: show up, push through, even when it is difficult, and never, ever give up.  Good luck on your 20 Mile March!

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Looking for some more information on BHAG to help get you started? Check out our additional Big Hairy Audacious Goal resources:

How To Create Your BHAG: 3 Steps to Discovering, Creating and Putting Your BHAG to Work

What Drives Your Financial Engine? Profit/X Examples

Do You Have a Personal BHAG?

Does Your Company's BHAG Connect to Your Hedgehog?

Why Having a BHAG Matters

How to Reach Your BHAG (Infographic)



Alan Gehringer


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