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Stop Developing Goals. Instead, Create Obsessions.

Lessons Learned from Two South Pole Explorers

Often times, less is more. Focus this year on an obsession.

In 1919, there were two different explorers who were aiming to be the first explorers to make it to the South Pole. The first team was led by Robert Falcon Scott and the second by Roald Amundsen.

Team Scott was ambitious – they not only wanted to reach the South Pole, but they wanted to focus on science as well. They also were the most heavily resourced, with several tools and methods of transportation to reach their destination.

Team Amundsen, on the other hand, was focused solely on reaching their destination. They also decided to focus solely on the use of dogs to help them reach their destination.

Both teams had similar regimens to prepare for their voyage, with the mindset that they needed to walk 20 miles a day to reach their destination. But each team approached this differently as well.

Explorers finding their way to the South Pole

When there was inclement weather, Team Scott would go shorter that day; when there was better weather, they would go further. On the other hand, Team Amundsen always went 20 miles, no matter the weather.

In the end, Team Amundsen made it to the South Pole. Team Scott perished trying.

The team that obsessed over one thing made it. The team that tried to do it all failed.

Create an ‘Obsession’ Operating Plan

Year after year, like many of you, we gather our teams to put together our plan for the next year – our business operating plan. We whiteboard, strategize and then painfully log the hundreds of initiatives we must complete in order to be successful.

Let's be honest. Even for those who are project management lovers, the process kinda sucks ... Because we know we likely won’t complete all of those initiatives. It may be due to limited resources for the necessary work or that inevitably new things arise, forcing us to change priorities or divert resources.

No one likes business planning, but it's an important aspect of your company.
No one likes business planning, but it's an important aspect of your company.

I personally put a lot of faith in the leaders I surround myself with – they are not the kind of people who do things because it’s tracked on a spreadsheet; they are the kind of leaders who are driven to deliver on their own.

At our planning session last year, I told the story about the South Pole explorers to my team. We decided that instead of talking through a long list of initiatives, each leader would pick an obsession for the year.

There is something so powerful about that word – obsess. It says you will do whatever it takes to meet that business goal. You will talk about it often with your team and others. You will tie nearly everything you do back to it. The team also vetted each obsession to ensure it aligned to our company’s vision and our strategy.

Then, we took our obsessions a step further. We developed a dashboard that tracked leading indicators for each team’s obsession.

One obsession = one leading indicator. It was that simple.

We used these metrics to ensure we had something more tangible than simple “passion” to achieve our obsessions. We also talked openly to our teams about these obsessions.

Obsessions are inherently something you must define in layman’s terms, versus the often fluffy and expansive terms you use to describe goals.

Obsessive Results

You might be wondering ... So, was your obsessing successful? Our year of obsession led us to:

  • Exceeding our financial plan

  • Improving the breadth and depth in which everyone in the organization knew, understood and could relate to our strategy

  • Increasing our employee culture scores more than 15%

  • Empowering our leaders by giving them a strong sense of purpose and focus

I encourage you to not just go through the motions with your annual planning. Talk to your team (and/or your boss) about what ONE thing you must obsess over to succeed ... To knock it out of the park.

Don’t worry, I promise that nobody will freeze to death or die in the process. You will instead find yourself reaching that “pole” of success you’ve been aiming for all along.

What one thing will you obsess over this year?

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