If you play golf, tennis or softball, you know that follow-through is critical to a great swing. Stop too soon and all momentum fades. The rhythm is interrupted, aim is poor and the results – or lack of them – speaks volumes.
Follow-though is also critical to business success. How many times have you been promised something, only to find that it was never delivered? It’s frustrating when people let you down. It’s even more disappointing when you or your team drop the ball. But it happens all the time.
We all plan to see our project, programs and initiatives through to the end. We anticipate success and start out with lots of energy and enthusiasm. We convince ourselves that everyone is on board and promise the team big rewards for achieving the mission.
Then life and work routines get in the way, chipping away at these big plans. One missed milestone becomes a series of postponed deliverables. Pretty soon, our best intentions litter the office like discarded candy wrappers.
I’ve seen this happen from time to time with consulting clients who are itching to make a change. They invest time and energy to develop a plan that can transform their business. The process is full of promise and keeps their attention until the plan is ready to go. Then, when it comes time to execute, resolve fades or other seemingly urgent activities take precedence. When a project ends up this way, it’s disappointing for everyone.
Disappointment is a part of life, but it doesn’t have to be part of your corporate culture. Developing the discipline to follow-though on business initiatives can be just the tonic an ailing business needs to turn around.
How can you overcome the inevitable interruptions to your corporate rhythm? Here are a few techniques to make staying the course a little easier:
1) Use milestones to stay motivated. Before you tackle a big new initiative, determine what criteria must be met to see it though. Then use these predetermined benchmarks as the project progresses to make decisions about whether to move forward. When you know you have established checkpoints along the way, it’s easier to stay on track in between.
Creating a roadmap with waypoints where you pause to evaluate progress and make conscious choices gives you a reason to keep going until you reach a decision point. Rather than having your projects quickly fade from view, you’re taking ownership of the process and creating accountability by owning the choices.
If you opt not to continue an effort, that should be a real business decision, not a byproduct of lack of attention.
2) Run through the tape. This is an adage I’ve adopted from my mentor and bestselling author Alan Weiss. He points out that many runners pull up before the finish line, slowing as they approach. The winners, on the other hand, run through the tape, targeting a point just past the finish line. They don’t slow down until they have exceeded their goal, and neither should you.
Apply this concept in business by identifying a primary goal AND a post-goal milestone. For example, if you’re launching a new product, the launch date might be you primary goal. It’s certainly one worth celebrating. But that’s really just the beginning. Set a subsequent project milestone of shipping 100 units or hitting $50,000 in revenue. Keep your focus on these objectives to sustain your efforts.
3) Practice your swing. Muscle memory is the term for the physical habit that develops from repeated practice. The pros know that it takes a lot of repetition to get to the point where you can execute flawlessly with hardly a thought.
If you’ve been consistently stopping before completing your swing, you have undoubtedly developed bad habits that need to be broken. As you create more organizational discipline around follow-through, practice building good habits. Make it your mission follow through on projects every time, and soon it will become second nature.
Photo by Charlie Rogers.