The “Short Pass” Approach to Winning in Business

The “Short Pass” Approach to Winning in BusinessThe long bomb is one of the most exciting plays in football. Lofting a well-placed ball into the hands of a receiver streaking down the field can instantly change momentum and turn a losing effort into a dramatic win. But is it the best strategy for reaching the goal line?

In 2012, NFL quarterbacks collectively attempted more than 19,000 passes. Of these, only 175 traveled far enough through the air – 45 yards or more from quarterback to receiver – to be considered a long bomb. Of these, only 48 resulted in completions, for a success rate of less than 30%. (Stats courtesy of

Coaches understand that, when successful, long passes can lead to game-changing outcomes. But they also understand that moving their team down the field with short controlled passes will get them into the end zone much more consistently. Which is why more than 68 percent of all NFL passes target receivers either behind or within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

It’s the same way in business.  If you attempt to go from your own 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line in one fell swoop, it almost never succeeds. But adopting a strategy of short, consistent gains will greatly increase the odds of getting there.

The process I recommend for implementing such a strategy is called “breakthrough modeling.”  It involves setting a transformational goal (the destination) for the organization, one that will add value to your customers in ways that put you in a market leadership position. Then create a framework of measured action steps to get there, mapping out quarter by quarter what it will take to achieve interim destination points along the way.

The process starts with evaluating the gaps between your current reality and the ultimate transformational destination. Then identify what you will do incrementally different to achieve your goals.

• What will happen in the next three months to make progress?

• What operating goals and strategies can you achieve in that timeframe?

• What capabilities must be in place to support getting there?

Consider how much change the organization can productively manage and absorb during this timeframe, and what it will take to increase skills, knowledge or competency levels. If systems or new processes need to be created, what is a realistic timeframe for doing so?

Next, identify what you will do substantially different to achieve your goals.

• What will happen after the first three months and prior to your first nine months of progress?

• What operating goals and strategies can you achieve in that timeframe?

• What capabilities must be in place to support getting there?

Finally, identify what you will do that begins to achieve the transformational goals you set.

• What will happen after the first nine months of progress?

• What operating goals and strategies can you achieve in that timeframe?

• What capabilities must be in place to support getting there?

Keep in mind that most plans look good on paper, but they almost never unfold as expected. So let your plan sit for a day or two. Then revisit it and ask the following questions:

• How often have our plans worked out as intended?

• Does this plan rely on things occurring exactly as we anticipate? If not, what contingency plans do we need to have in place?

• Is the plan created so that we can take advantage of new market developments, including unexpected opportunities?

• Do we have a process in place for monitoring the marketplace so that we can adjust when necessary?

• How will we make regular reality checks of what’s going well and what isn’t?

Even the best-laid plans and goal setting processes won’t make a difference if you fail to act on them. So keep the focus on taking action and holding people accountable for what they need to do at each step along the way.  Check in at least every three months to reassess the next three and modify as necessary.

Finally, I want to make it clear that breakthrough modeling is not about settling for incremental innovation. To the contrary, it’s all about setting audacious, transformational goals that can redefine your industry. All breakthrough modeling does it break the process into short, manageable passes with high completion rates to make it easier to reach the goal line.

There’s a time and a place for incremental innovation. But if you really want to win in today’s markets, you had better aim high – and then use short, controlled passes to get there. In honor of Sunday and Monday Night Football…

Call to action: Dust off your current strategic plan and review the incremental, substantial and transformational steps you need to get there.

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. ( and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.

Holly G Green




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