Punctuated Equilibrium

I’m pleased to begin sharing content with you from my associates and other guest experts. Here is the first from my associate advisor Dean Ritchey:

Consistent Short-Term Effort = Long-Term Success

I work with numerous leadership teams to help them establish their quarterly and annual goals.  The conversations are robust, interesting and always land on goals that move the business forward.  They are always written with the “SMART” framework – Specific, Measurable, Realistic, Attainable and Timebound – so we truly understand what the finish line looks like. And, as a team, everyone understands their accountability to support the attainment of these goal.

So why do these talented teams sometimes miss the mark in achieving the goals?

The gap that I see, forming between average completion rate and top quartile completion rate, lives within the short-term habits.

Over the years, I’ve continually observed the behaviour of “punctuated equilibrium” unfold – the phenomenon where individuals delay the start of the project until halfway to the end date. It’s proven that individuals don’t realize a sense of urgency until the midway point, which typically coincides with a spike in interest from the various stakeholders, who then start asking for progress updates.

So how do we combat the tendency to delay our efforts towards goal attainment?

Weekly Milestones

Since these are the most important goals to move the business ahead, it makes sense to discuss our progress weekly. So, we ask all our clients to develop very clear, weekly milestones that are reported on during their weekly team huddles. The teams review these weekly milestones with the intent to understand the current status and identify the obstacles preventing the milestones from being achieved.

This process provides the opportunity to celebrate milestone completions and, most importantly, it drives weekly spikes in effort. If your quarterly goal requires 12 weeks to complete, the typical punctuated equilibrium point would be six weeks into the project, but by creating weekly milestones, the average inflection point is three to four days.

Our clients with solid performance in establishing and reviewing weekly milestones provide us with feedback that this process actually speeds up discussions. They’ve learned that when milestones are hit, very little conversation needs to take place as the overall goal is on track. It’s when we lack a detailed mechanism for tracking our performance that the conversations lengthen and lack clarity.

Ultimately, developing a strategy for the health of your business is incredibly important for driving organizational alignment, but it is the ability to execute that strategy, with a sense of consistency, that leads to long-term success.

I would offer that long-term success is a direct product of consistent short-term effort.

The Challenge:

  1. Take your current top five quarterly goals and ensure that, for the remainder of the quarter, you have at least one weekly deliverable for each one
  2. Assign individuals to report performance against that milestone weekly.