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Entrepreneurs, Beware of False Summits. Here's How to Identify and Avoid Them With some planning and a good dose of forethought, false summits in business are avoidable.

By Jason Zickerman

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

False summits. They are the bane of so many mountaineers — and the scourge of even more entrepreneurs. Not a rock climber? Let me explain. A false summit is an elevation that, from a distance, appears to be a mountain's peak. As climbers continue their ascent, feeling as if they have achieved their goal of reaching the top, they realize that they were mistaken. Their goal is still out of reach. The deception of the false summit leaves them disheartened by the remaining distance left in conquering that mountain.

False summits are mentally challenging and upsetting for even the best mountain climbers. Nobody likes feeling like they have reached the top only to learn there is a long way to go. Not surprisingly, false summits happen all the time in the business ownership journey.

False summits often occur due to poor strategy, inadequate communications or shifting market factors. The good news is that with some planning and a good dose of forethought, false summits in business are avoidable.

Related: 3 Innate Traits You Need to Survive the Rollercoaster of Entrepreneurship

What a false summit looks like

Let's say your organization is launching a new CRM system. You budgeted the project. You completed all the technical work. You scheduled training for your sales team. And you are delighted with an irrepressible sense of accomplishment. This project is ready to roll out.

Then shortly after the launch, you realize that this initiative is not unfolding according to the plan. Despite all that training, user adoption is poor. Data is either dirty or falling through the cracks. Your sales team is frustrated, and productivity is down. The end goal is out of reach, and all that promise of an enhanced system has devolved into exasperation. This is an example of a false summit. And it would be a heartbreaker and a costly one for just about any entrepreneur out there.

Related: 5 Critical Questions You Must Ask Yourself to Master an Entrepreneurial Mindset

What went wrong

While all your intentions of launching a new CRM in this hypothetical business of yours were admirable, somehow, your contour map didn't quite get you where you wanted to go. So you start to evaluate your process. You attempt to identify what went wrong on this journey and why.

You realize that although the system training had many milestones designated along the way, you didn't identify what success should look like at each benchmark. Were users tested on their efficiency with the software? Also, you purchased the technology, but did you adequately design the customer development and process flow?

So many issues may have you stuck on that false summit. But there is no going back. You still need to make it to the top of that slope — the real summit. Yes, it will probably be expensive, and sure, there will be plenty of scraped knees along the way, but you need that CRM to function properly and for your people to engage with it. Your company depends on it. So, despite the temporary setback, it is time to forge ahead.

Related: 6 Ways to Learn and Pivot From an Entrepreneurial Journey Gone Awry

The view from the top

The pain and stress related to our hypothetical false summit were all due to a lack of planning, which is often the case when projects come up short. False summits in business might also be spurred on by evolving market trends, unrealistic expectations, scope creep and even poor company culture. While it might sound academic, understanding the reason for a false summit truly is the key to avoiding similar outcomes in the future. As the business leader, it allows you to analyze the issue, recalibrate your strategy, and create better alignment to reach this goal and any future peaks.

Next, it is time to plan out the project fully. The more complicated the project, the more intricate the plan. Take your time, hammer out the details, what needs to be done and by whom. Pull people into the process if needed. Consider working backward from your goal to understand the path to success better. Be meticulous. Be visionary. Be comprehensive. Doing so gives you a greater chance of reaching that elusive peak and avoiding another demoralizing false summit.

Setbacks will always be a part of the business ownership journey, and missteps are inevitable from time to time. But if false summits become more routine than rare in your business, you will be lost on that mountain, cold and broke, for a very long time. And no search party is coming to your rescue.

Jason Zickerman

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of The Alternative Board | Business Development and Growth Advisor

Jason Zickerman is the President and CEO of The Alternative Board, an international organization helping business owners and their leadership teams improve business and change lives.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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