How Disciplined Is Your 20-Mile March?

How Disciplined Is Your 20-Mile March?

A Jim Collins’ Great by Choice Concept


It’s challenging enough to run and build a great company in good times. But with external issues like inflation, supply chain challenges, rising interest rates, remote work, and general uncertainty, it’s much harder to manage and stay focused on continual growth.

Jim Collins’ research found that the companies that continue to endure are disciplined in what he calls a 20-Mile March – a self-imposed, rigorous performance target that a team intends to hit, with great consistency. Like steadily marching across a country, 20 miles each and every day, in good weather and bad.

No sudden sprints – just consistent, incremental progress despite uncertainty, confusion and chaos, quarter on quarter, year on year.

As an example, Collins talks about the different approaches taken by South Pole expedition leaders Scott and Amundsen. For several reasons, both had different outcomes of making it home alive, including one who took the 20-Mile March approach while the other sprinted.

To achieve long-term success, you need:

  • Self-control. While tempting to sprint during exciting periods of growth, it’s hard to sustain that momentum and then (metaphorically) you die.
  • Teams gain this greater confidence and engage more when they consistently win, time and time again.

And organizations tend to be stronger with a more stable and predictable system.


Exceptions & Rules

This summer, I did a road trip from Kelowna BC to San Diego CA and back. Our 20-Mile March plan was to consistently drive about five hours every day. We wanted to enjoy the road trip without the temptation of driving two hours one day and then 12, the next.

And, one day, we were happy to drive just over 10 hours. Sometimes, circumstances call for a sprint and, for a short period of time, that’s OK – if it’s the exception, not the rule. Remember, the goal is enduring success.



To keep on a steady, forwarding moving path, you need guardrails to guide your decisions.

These can be as varied as the companies who use them. Some may decide that a minimum level of growth, every year, is enough. Others may need to make sure that they don’t grow too quickly or inconsistently to avoid havoc in the company.

When we do strategic planning with clients, we always look at our projected revenues, three-to-five years in the future, to determine guardrails of their 20-Mile Marches, with minimum and maximum levels, and what we need to do to stick to our targets.

Here are three examples:

  • Increase our EBITDA margin by .5% every single year.
  • Focus on consistently growing topline revenues, over the next 10 years, with a min/max top- line revenue growth between 10% and 14%, every year
  • Consistently grow the number of successful salespeople by a set percentage, year on year
  • And, at Lawrence & Co., increase the number of advisors each year.


A long-term view

Without growth, you can’t provide an appropriate return to shareholders, nor be as engaging for people who like to feel like they’re on a winning team.

But much growth, although exciting, can be hard on the people and systems of the company, cause expensive mistakes and require heroics to be successful.

Establishing thoughtful, clear and strategic guardrails for your 20-Mile March helps to ensure a long-term view to keeping growth healthy and sustainable.


The Challenge

  • If you found your 20-Mile March and you’re living by it, congratulations!
  • If you haven’t clarified your 20-Mile March or your Min/Max growth drivers, what would they be?
  • How can you bring them to life so that they are leveraged well?

For more details, listen to Episode 120 of The Growth Whisperers.


Additional Podcasts

Why Stretch Targets are Garbage

Profit = Intelligence & Diligence

Why You Can’t Save Your Way to Success


Additional Articles

Seven Business Strategies for an Economic Downturn

Six BHAG Mistakes to Avoid

Strategic Leadership vs. Tactical Decision-Making

Lawrence & Co’s work focuses on sustainable and enhanced growth for you and your business. Our diverse and experienced group of advisors can help your leaders and executive teams stay competitive through the use of various learning tools including workshops, webinars, executive retreats, or one-to-one coaching.

We help high-achieving leaders to have it all – a great business and a rewarding life. Contact us for simple and impactful advice. No BS. No fluff.