The distance from San Francisco to Honolulu, Hawaii is roughly 2,400 Miles. Modern airlines being what they are, this is not a tremendously burdensome or risky journey. Clearly it is a trip undertaken casually by many and with little fear. And yet, if one misses Hawaii by say 10% and keeps flying, there is little likelihood of survival.
For most of us a 10% margin of error is far smaller than we tolerate in our business lives. Many organizations routinely miss objectives by margins much larger, and for most, this is considered du rigor.
In organizations that do not tolerate such margin for error, managers often mitigate risk by avoiding making commitments that stretch them. Essentially, they only promise what they already have “in the bag”.
I am not convinced this is a good thing.
I have found that when managers and their teams commit, truly commit, to producing results beyond what they know how to produce, it is not only possible, but likely, that they will generate extraordinary performance.
The trick is that organizations need to be reliable to produce results. Managers need to make commitments, and then fulfill on them. Teams need to know what they are committed to, and then produce results that actually fulfill on those commitments in order to have the powerful experience of success.
When a path is mapped for an airplane flight from San Francisco to Hawaii there are intervals at which the actual path being travelled can be measured against that which was mapped. With weather and wind and other factors playing their role, it would be predictable that many flights would miss their objective by 10%. However, by charting a course and then periodically measuring actual location and time against what is intended, the plane stays close enough to ‘on course’ that, at the end, Hawaii is a predictable destination. Essentially, the 2,400 mile trip is mapped out into many shorter trips.
For example, break 2,400 miles into twenty segments of equal length. Each segment is now 120 miles. Being off by 10% in any segment of 120 miles, and then adjusting, will keep the plane within 12 miles of a purely straight course for the entire journey. This makes landing at the intended destination, predictable.
Similarly, businesses committed to accomplishing anything out of the ordinary need to consider that mapping a path with sufficient interim points is key to being able to achieve their objectives.
For an overview of how a project is run so that major outcomes are produced and produced reliably, I recommend reading A New Model of Leadership, By Dr.’s Allan Scherr and Michael Jensen.