“If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.” — Mario Andretti, American race car driver.
“The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow.” — Rupert Murdock, Australian-American media mogul.
“I’ve always found that the speed of the boss is the speed of the team.” — Lee Iacocca, former CEO and Chairman of Chrysler Corporation.
Though we like to think of ourselves as living in the Space Age or the Information Era, future historians may well label this the “Hurry Up Epoch.” For decades now, we’ve scrambled to keep pace with technological change, ramping up our productivity to startling levels, which helps us further advance our technology, leading to greater productivity…and so on in a rising spiral.
Nowadays you have to put the pedal to the metal, or the go-getters will leave you eating their dust, taking big bites off the edges of your market. You can’t compete effectively without an agile internal culture capable of reducing time-to-market and cycle speed for all essential processes.
This begs the question: how do you build and maintain such a culture of speed? Let’s look at some principles.
1. Perfect your systems. Create and document procedures for every type of task handled by your team. Make sure everyone who’s involved learns them and provide them with any training they need. My office manager keeps a “white notebook” with every process she can possibly think of that she touches. If she gets hit by a bus tomorrow, I can hire a temp to step in and take over her job, thanks to these step-by-step instructions. How fast can you be up and running if you lose a key person? Consistently update your procedures to match current reality, so nothing is ever out of date.
2. Establish a broad support base. Do everything possible to establish buy-in from all team personnel. Give target figures each year and update ideally monthly. Motivate your people in every way you can think of. Keep careful track of performance—rewarding fast, effective employees with special rewards when targets are met—while providing benchmarks for everyone to shoot for. Spread the authority, so the workflow process doesn’t break down just because someone’s on vacation, hesitant, or not allowed to make a basic decision. Giving in to the “slowest common denominator” kills team productivity, so try to keep everyone on the same productivity page, and minimize resistance wherever possible. You may need to help some employees other opportunities more suited to their style or personality if they can’t keep up.
3. Eliminate myopia. When working closely with other teams, develop intergroup protocols to smooth the way. For example, a piece of your hiring or training process may be handed off to the HR department. Encouraging speedy implementation may require delicate diplomacy, so strive to build bridges in all directions and on all levels—even as you work to demolish information silos caused by inertia, greed, misunderstandings, or sheer stupidity.
4. Communicate effectively. Every person on your team must fully understand the organization’s values, mission/vision, and strategic priorities, and their place within that framework. Provide feedback immediately when someone requests or requires you to do so. Don’t play word games with anyone: tell your co-workers, subordinates, and even your bosses precisely what you want and when you need it. Patiently let people ask questions when they feel they need to. Similarly, ask as many questions as you think necessary to firmly establish what someone is asking or ordering you to do. Better to annoy them than to do the job wrong.
5. Leverage technology. Use your techno-tools to maximize speed. Don’t let sparkly timewasters like social media suck you in. Upgrade production technology (including software) whenever you can afford to and the benefits warrant it, and become an early-adopter of proven, useful new devices. In addition, look for information silos caused by incompatible technology and take steps to eliminate data clogs, assuming you can do so economically.
In the most effective organizations, everything moves swiftly: decision-making, purchasing, product testing, hiring, rewards, performance evaluation, communications, etc. Innovative organizations that can effectively maximize their velocity will pull ahead in the business race, as others stagnate or falter. The tips I’ve outlined above can help your organization become one of the winners.
If you’re running all out and can’t seem to get anywhere, perhaps something’s wrong with your organizational culture. Take a look at the items I’ve outlined above and think deeply about each point. Remember this: even if it seems everyone else has forgotten, you’re all in this together. Find ways to work with or around everyone—so your team, at least, can keep moving the organization forward.