Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. You hear those words all the time. Those of us non-millennials practiced this repeatedly in grade school during fire drills. No chaos. When the alarm goes off move in the single file line to the nearest exit.
Why does running your corporation need to be any different? Most days, some sort of fire drill is occurring. Day to day operations for the senior leaders feel more like a work out than a workday.
Need more speed? Slow down. In business, there’s a speed gap; it’s the difference between how important a firm’s leaders say speed is to their competitive strategy and how fast the company actually moves. That gap is significant regardless of region, industry, company size, or strategic emphasis. Organizations that fear losing their competitive advantage spend too much time and resources looking for ways to pick up the pace.
Try slowing down instead. In a study of 343 businesses, conducted by the Harvard Business Review, companies that embraced initiatives and chose to go, go, go to try to gain an edge, ended up with lower sales and operating profits than those that paused at key moments to make sure they were on the right track. What’s more, the firms that “slowed down to speed up” improved their top and bottom lines, averaging 40% higher sales and 52% higher operating profits over a three-year period.
How did they do it? Perhaps they thought differently about what “slower” and “faster” mean. They defied the laws of business physics, taking more time than competitors yet performing better. As CEO’s and COO’s we sometimes confuse operational speed (moving quickly) with strategic speed (reducing the time it takes to deliver value)—and the two concepts are quite different. In professional service organizations, that may simply look like increasing the labor on a project, for example, as one way to try to close the speed gap. But that often leads to decreased value and profit over time, in the form of lower-quality project delivery and service. Likewise, new initiatives that move quickly may not deliver any value if time isn’t taken to identify and adjust the true value proposition.
In the study by HBR, higher-performing companies with strategic speed made “alignment” a priority. They became more open to entrepreneurial thinking. They encouraged innovative thinking. In contrast the fast moving operational firms suffered by moving fast all the time. They focused too much on maximizing efficiency. These firms remained stagnant in their thought process that what they have always done is tried and true. They didn’t foster employee collaboration and were not overly concerned with “alignment”.
Strategically fast company senior leaders are closely aligned and committed to the initiatives success. Team members sometimes switch responsibilities to make things easier for one another. Teams review how their work is going. Groups capture and communicate lessons learned. Success is based on the ability to explore new technologies. Employees create innovative methods, products and services. Management systems work coherently to support overall objectives. Even experienced employees receive training when initiatives are launched.
Ultimately, strategic speed is a function of leadership. Executives that become comfortable taking time to get things right, rather than push forward at full bore, are more successful in meeting their business objectives. So…slow down, take a breath, understand the overall objective, align the team and watch how fast you will go!