Productivity Tip | 4 Ground Rules to Make Sure You Reach the Summit

Break the impasse. Reach the Summit.

Too often we set these BHAGs (“Big Hairy Audacious Goals”) but don’t create the milestones and timelines that give us a chance of achieving them. Put these 4 Ground Rules into action to make sure you reach the summit. 

Set up Base Camps to Reach your Goal

Today is one of those occasions when I’m not sure what this article is about … so I’m going to let you decide.

“Thankfully, perseverance is a good substitute for talent.” — Steve Martin

Is it about resolve, our ability to persevere, to vigorously pursue an idea, uncover its value to our business and set out to relentlessly apply it?

Or, is it about execution, our ability to follow proven processes to implement sustainable change in our business?

Didn’t Mom teach us to take small steps?

It was probably our moms who first taught us to break down a big task … like cleaning our room … into smaller steps, like “hang up your jacket, put your shoes in the closet,” so that we would ultimately accomplish the bigger goal.

Did we need that coaching because we hadn’t resolved to do it in the first place and mom was on to us?

Or were we so overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that we didn’t know how or where to start?

Why aren’t I getting anything done?

The other day I listened to a CEO recount the litany of overdue projects and incomplete initiatives that have frustrated him over the last year.

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His most important initiatives had barely moved, and he had made only middling progress on his number one goal for the year.

In essence, he saw his major goals and objectives as inspiring images of unscalable proportions with no toehold in sight from which to start the climb.  He couldn’t resolve to take the first step because he couldn’t imagine how he’d ever traverse 1,000 miles.

Where to start?

Here are 4 Critical Ground Rules to help you achieve those elusive “bigger” goals with a bolt of resolve and a boatload of execution. (You might refer to Creating Goals that Have Meaning to brush up on the importance of goal setting.)

1. Establish realistically achievable milestones

We’ve all heard the Chinese proverb that every journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step … so where do we place that first footprint?

Aim for the first base camp. Then the second. And continue through a series of interim milestones that are realistically achievable and are consistent with the completion schedule.

The GTD methodology, for example, identifies milestones as the “next physical action” required to complete a project.

Don’t worry about whether there are three milestones or 50

It’s important that the milestones are objective, understandable chunks of work that have clear boundaries and bright lines around them so everyone knows when they’re done and when to move to the next encampment.

By creating tangible milestones, you’ll do the advance planning required to achieve your goals and set your organization on the path to success.

2. Bring along adequate resources

Make sure you identify and acquire sufficient resources to get the job done.

They will vary, of course, depending on which milestone you’re seeking, e.g., you’ll probably require more oxygen and warmer clothing as you get closer to the summit.

Be realistic about the required resources and be prepared to adjust those requirements to meet the demands of each successive stage.

3. Set realistic timeframes

It is critical to establish a dependable timeline.

Mom and Dad have taught us a lot of valuable lessons, haven’t they. My Dad’s sense of humor pervaded many of his lessons. Mom has a lot to teach us, too, if we’re paying attention.

In an extreme case, you can modify the goal deadline, but resist the temptation to continually extend the deadline simply because you’re falling short of the milestones.

Accelerating between interim steps creates positive energy to accomplish the original goal on time and on budget and sets clear performance expectations that the team needs to be successful.

4. Conduct regular After Action Reviews

Following the After Action Review process we described in a previous column, make sure that you thoroughly, objectively and realistically assess your performance every step of the way, and apply those lessons to the next steps without blame or hesitation.

At every base camp, revisit the future milestones and what you learned from the last trek.

You collect a lot of data along the way and gain new insights that inform your course, so adjust your plan accordingly.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to reassess your resources and never hesitate to change your plans to meet new conditions and circumstances.

Let’s summarize the 4 Critical Ground Rules

After you set a clear and realistic goal,

1. Build base camps along the way to meet milestones.

2. Apply adequate resources at every stage.

3. Establish a firm but flexible timeline for each milestone.

4. Be rigorous about regular and timely After Action Reviews.


Question: What is the most effective tool you have used to ensure that you achieve your goals?

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