The Imperatives of an Organization Built for Speed
June 12, 2013 Editor 0
In Greek mythology, Hydra, an ancient water-serpent had many heads. If one head was cut off, two rapidly grew in its place before another head could be cut off — an energy-sapping disappointment for any opponent trying to overcome it. Regenerative speed made the Hydra formidable. Even Hercules, the legendary Greco-Roman hero, needed his nephew’s assistance to win. To sustain a competitive edge, your company’s new business development engines must similarly fire on all cylinders at supersonic speed.
As a CEO or a leader of a business, how do you build this competency? Measure, motivate and model.
Measure: Measure your company’s “heart rate” and optimize for speed
Every team, business unit and/or company as a whole, has an underlying execution rhythm. At the most basic level this may be an individual’s task completion rate (TCR). Setting a TCR of 2 weeks would mean any task you give to another or take from another needs to be done in 2 weeks. Imagine every employee, putting a red sticky on a company-wide virtual whiteboard, when an assigned task isn’t completed in the allotted two weeks. With an explosion of stickies, you know that either the task allocator (a project manager) is not breaking down the task into a meaningful two-week chunk, or the doer (a low rung employee or a high rung decision maker etc) is not able to complete the task, or perhaps there are other dependencies, etc. While this is a crude example, it illustrates the importance of tracking, doer-allocator transparency and an implicit service level agreement across team members, which encourages “good enough” instead of perfect, thus optimizing for speed.
Just as agile product development methods, such as Scrum, use process and tracking tools to set and track execution rhythm, so must the organization’s leader measure and monitor to ensure useful output. After all, you can’t improve what you can’t measure.
Motivate: Instill the sense of urgency
The best way is to expose employees to “the jungle.” Too often, front-line sales people, but not necessarily the engineer or financial analyst deep in the organization, can “feel” the competition. Simple steps such as sending them to a conference dominated by a competitor, or having them listen to a tough sales/customer service call can get their emotional investment. Some may be motivated by threats, others by solutions and the impact they can have on the world. In case of the latter, define competition as the worsening of a current problem statement. Regardless, one needs to “feel the jungle” to adopt a sense of urgency.
Model: Lead the way
You must role model to lead the way. First, don’t be the bottleneck. Empower and delegate decisions so people aren’t waiting for your decisions or resource allocation requests, any longer than the desired TCR. When the stakes are high and you need to decide, lead, even when in doubt. Innovation by nature is uncertain and your job is to realize what is knowable, what is not, and how to move forward to eliminate critical unknowns. So, stop looking for data that doesn’t add to your decision and stop using the lack of data to procrastinate on hard decisions. Speed must be a factor in your consideration.
Finally, as this I Love Lucy video illustrates very aptly, you can’t speed up the belt forever. When moving faster would result in over-utilization or amplifying skill gaps, find new ways. Can you buy instead of build? Form partnerships and alliances for mutual benefit? Fail-fast to enter a white space with a higher probability of success?
Ultimately, every organization — whether a nimble start-up or a large, established firm — needs to find ways to speed up or be left behind. These three simple rules can help you move faster.
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