The Primacy of Pace

Pace - sOne of the most consistent themes I’ve been seeing over the last year has been the need for organisations to find new strategies to deal with the changes that are hitting their sectors. The good news is that with the right support you can find all the ideas you need to step-up efficiency and bring in new revenue.

But that’s the easy part. The biggest challenge is what happens once you’ve got those ideas.

That’s when your ability to move at speed becomes the prime factor in determining your future. It’s the moment when the ability to make fast, robust decisions; align the people who want to be “on the bus” behind them; create clearly owned plans and, above all execute them at pace; becomes of paramount importance.

Unfortunately I think it’s fair to say that delivering rapid change is not a universal strength of the sector. Indeed, “It feels like wading through treacle” is one of the most frequent phrases I hear, there are three key factors that drive it: an inability to create time, an over-emphasis on consensus and a toleration of non-delivery.

Making the time: Can all the members of your exec team free up half a day together with less than two week’s notice? As a simple litmus-test of agility it’s hard to beat. Your execs and your “stars” (those go-to people whenever something big needs picking up) will have to be able to carve out as much as 50% of their time if you’re going to deliver rapid strategic change. That means delegating as much of the mundane as they can, challenging themselves to hand over “control with clarity” to the layer below, and finding more new stars to step into the gaps that they leave. Anyone in the top team that can’t or won’t do this, is part of the treacle.

Making the calls: How often do your leaders hold off on making the big decisions because their team has strong, conflicting views? Often, one of the first things I do in a “stuck” organisation is a fast round of deep interviews followed by an intensive workshop to drive absolute clarity on three things: exactly what decisions need to be made; on what basis specifically we will make them; and what’s the minimum information we need to do it. But there will always be big decisions for which there is no ‘right answer’ and on those, leaders have to be willing to stand up and make the call. Universal engagement is vastly over-rated: your job is not to please everyone; that really is wading through treacle. It’s far better to lay out your stall and lose a couple of the team today, than it is to spin on the spot and lose the whole organisation tomorrow.

Making it happen: How good are your team at delivering on the actions that they take? If key individuals consistently under-deliver and the consequences are not immediately apparent, the precedent is set for everyone else. Deliverers will quickly become disillusioned and under-performance the norm. I can tell within three meetings, simply by the quality of actions and follow-up, whether a turnaround will succeed quickly or whether it will be a slow, painful crawl through enemy territory. And by looking at your own team’s recent track record, so can you.

Bottom line: A strategy is only ever as good as its execution and more often than not, the key determinant of success is the pace at which you can move. For that, you need to get good at three things: making the time, making the calls, and making sure that everyone does what they say they will do. Get that right and instead of wading through treacle, you’ll be walking on air.

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