The Success Cycle

My own approach to planning & leading
organisational, team and personal success


Many successful people make their plans using a "planning loop", a step-by-step approach to getting things done. The most successful leaders use planning loops too - to back up their vision with action. There are a lot of planning loops around. You just have to find one you like.

I developed the Success Cycle after years of using various planning loops. Each other loop was biased towards something like leadership, performance management, training, strategic planning or change management models & tools.

The Success Cycle makes use of the best of the rest - plus one unique feature missing from all others - the concept of balance.

Balance holds the whole cycle together. Every step on the cycle is balanced by an opposite step. Each pair of opposite steps are equally important and must be considered and planned for at the same time.

Joel Barker's saying was the inspiration for this idea of balance.

Vision without action is merely a dream.
Action without vision just passes the time.
Vision with action can change the world.

When I talk of success I mean achieving your vision and goals that you set for yourself or for your enterprise. I have used the Success Cycle for both individual and collective efforts to achieve.

At one level the model is a way of thinking about success. At another the model provides a toolkit of practical techniques that you can use help us to plan and achieve results. Each step in the cycle is essential to the overall integrity of the model and should be followed in sequence.

The model

The Success Cycle

The two orientations

The heavy horizontal dashed line in the Success Cycle diagram divides the two orientations of the Success Cycle.

The upper orientation is about the future. It involves looking ahead. It requires transformational leadership, vision and a desire to influence events.

The lower orientation is about the present. It involves prioritising the use of time and other resources. It requires transactional leadership, management, action and a desire to be effective.

The two orientations provide the first balance relationship, namely between future and present, vision and action, leadership and management, transformational and transactional approaches.

The six stages

Each stage in the Success Cycle is essential to achieving sustainable success. The stages should be followed in sequence.

  1. The vision
  2. The first stage is to create a vision. A vision is an aspirational and imagined future that is some way off. It is over the horizon, not yet touchable. You don’t know how you will achieve it but it is highly desirable and worthy of your best efforts.

    If the vision is for a collective success, rather than an individual one, then the vision must be shared and sold to the others in the collective. This is the first requirement of transformational leadership. Selling a vision requires courage, conviction, a desire for change and a wish to take others with you.

  3. The goals
  4. Goals act as milestones towards your ultimate vision. They define the outcomes and achievements in smaller, more manageable and tangible, chunks than the vision. They are measurable. Goals also require deadlines and resources.

    By touchable I mean within sight, challenging but not easy. By measurable I mean that you will know, without any doubt, when you have got there. Measures may be quantitative results (such as increased productivity), qualitative achievements (such as recognition and feedback) or events (such as winning awards).

    At the time of setting the goals you do not have to yet know how you will achieve the goals. However, it is worth defining the time and resources available.

  5. The plans
  6. Plans define who will do what by when. They outline the methods you will use to achieve the goals and indicate the resources needed to be successful. Plans may be quite logical and structured. However, the best plans are developed after a period of creative thinking, generating and considering lots of alternatives before selecting the option best likely to achieve your goals.

  7. The action
  8. Put simply, action is carrying out the plans. But it is also about managing priorities and resources to focus your energies on your goals and your specific plans. It is doing what is right and what adds value. It may be about deciding not to do things that distract you from your goals or which do not follow your plan. So it is about being focused on your vision and exercising judgement.

    The third principle of success is highly relevant here. Unless people sign up to your vision, and understand your goals and plans, they will not be able to make the best choices when it comes to their use of time.

  9. Monitoring progress
  10. Monitoring progress requires you to collect and process data about your activities and what you deliver. This in turn requires you to have systems and processes established, either for yourself (in the case of an individual vision) or for your people (in the case of a collective vision), and a disciplined approach to using them.

    The secret here is to collect only the data that is necessary to monitor progress against your plan and to measure success. Key Success Indicators (KSI’s), established from the start, will help you to select only the necessary data. Without KSI’s there is a danger of you devoting too much of your time and energy to irrelevant data analysis.

    Monitoring also requires action to correct any deviation from plan. You must put the data to good use and make decisions to adjust the planned activities - or its resources and timescales.

  11. Reviewing achievements
  12. This stage is a higher level than the monitoring of progress. It addresses the fundamental questions of whether you have achieved what you set out to do and whether you have been successful. Your yardstick is your set of goals. The detail of the plans may have changed but the goals can still be met.

    You can involve a wider group of people in your reviews and you can examine the processes and methodologies used to achieve success. This turns the review itself into a continuous improvement process.

    Reviews should also afford you an opportunity to celebrate, the fifth principle of success described below. Celebration marks a moving-on process, is motivational and confidence building.

    After you have reviewed what you have achieved, you can start the cycle again - sharpen the vision, check it is still as desirable and maybe even create a more ambitious desired future.

The three balance relationships

The balance relationships provide the Success Cycle with its integrity, its robustness and its capacity to bring people with different styles, or preferred ways of thinking and working, together.

On the Success Cycle diagram, the lighter dashed lines with the two-way arrows identify the balance relationships.

The first balance relationship is described above and is that between future and present. It reflects the first principle of success.

The second balance relationship is that between your goals and reviewing, or measuring, success. By reviewing your achievements against your goals you can derive pleasure, a sense of satisfaction and a source of motivation. When you don’t take time to review you lose all of these. And you are in danger of not recognising the distance you have travelled from your past and towards your envisioned future.

This balance allows you to recognise (and be recognised for) your success and to build your confidence.

The third balance relationship is that between your plans and monitoring progress. The monitoring process should reflect the planning process. Plans tell you what you will do, with what, by when. Monitors tell you whether you did what you said you would do, with what and when by.

This balance allows you to keep in control, to modify plans and to manage resources.

The five principles of success

  1. Success involves creating a desired future first in your mind and secondly in your actions.
  2. Individual success can only be achieved through taking responsibility for your vision, goals, plans, actions, progress and achievements.
  3. Collective success is best achieved when others share your vision, commit to the goals, know the plan, choose actions appropriately, monitor progress regularly, review achievements and celebrate together.
  4. Success requires a combination of visionary, creative, systematic, practical, decisive and reflective thinking.
  5. When you achieve a measure of success you should pause, celebrate, enjoy and then take stock and move on.

Using the Success Cycle

I have used the Success Cycle to great effect as a facilitator with boards of companies, team building events and with coaching clients. To see some of my testemonials, please see my LinkedIn profile.

To discuss how I could use the Success Cycle to help you, your team or organisation to succeed, please contact me.


Harvey, T. (2006), "The Secret of Success". Training Journal, October 2006, pp 40-46.

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