Four Ideas for Creating Small Wins

Skadi wins de 124th Varsity

“Small wins” are modest accomplishments that attracts allies and deters opponents. Small wins are things that create or enhance a virtuous cycle, so they are not the same thing as a quick win.

How Strategic Thinkers Use Small Wins

As I pointed out in Five Rules for Managing Complex Strategic Initiatives, the leader’s goal is to create the conditions for good things to emerge.  Small wins help move the organizational system toward a new trajectories by nudging into new space or by wearing down an impediment.

Idea #1: Don’t let methodology get in the way of letting good things happen

Many organizations have created structured project processes that dictate step-by-step what should be done.

Processes define purposes and work steps; they eliminate ambiguity. They are good in stable business models. But when business models need to change, processes can get in the way.

The problem with these is that they work for routine situations but are ill-suited for non-routine, complex, and strategic situations. The strategic thinking perspective here is,

An opportunistic and experimental mindset attracts success.

Idea #2: Recruit allies

I recall working with a young woman who had great ideas, but few colleagues that she could trust (or trusted her – it was a very masculine environment). Ultimately, she left the organization.

By contrast, another young woman in the same organization was able to be successful. Her small win? She listened and resisted the impulse to argue.

Idea #3: Break down big goals into smaller objectives that are more concrete and short term

Small wins help to create an environment where the big goals become manageable tasks. To generate small wins, the leader seeks “a series of controllable opportunities of modest size that produce visible results.”

I look for opportunities to apply the “de’s and dis:”  De-compose, de-construct, and dis-ambiguate. Consider this technique,

Use the phrase “inch-pebbles” rather than “milestones” in your planning.

There are 160,934.4 centimeters in a mile for those of you that use the Metric system; so there are many places to note accomplishment of a small win.

Idea #4: Be generous with rewards (for yourself and for others).  But don’t overdo it.

Use this rule small wins = small rewards.  Here are some examples:

  • We will exchange high fives.
  • I’ll tell you a joke.
  • I’ll buy lunch.

How have you created small wins? What else can you do when faced with a goal that seems overwhelming?

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About Greg Githens

Vice President of Strategic Initiatives. a.k.a., The Strategic Thinking Coach. I'm a hands-on strategy & execution consultant with experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. I'm available for extended or short-term engagements. For an introduction to pragmatic tools that turns vision into results, attend my popular seminar, "Leading Strategic Initiatives (Program Management)."
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One Response to Four Ideas for Creating Small Wins

  1. Jason Fulton says:

    Thanks for the post Greg. This is a nice essay on applying Agile principles at the Program or Portfolio level, and without the typical software-orientation.

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