While it’s true that successful organisations are usually faster and smarter than their competition, it’s false to say they achieve it by only focusing on efficient processes and systems. In fact, it is your people who will accelerate your organisational speed and performance.
Most leaders would agree that speed is required for a successful organisation, but difficult to achieve. Even trickier is strategic speed, which is about implementing strategies not only quickly but well. Forum’s research shows a link between speed and business results but also points to a mistake some leaders make: They pursue speed by only manipulating processes to become more efficient. While this is helpful, focusing on efficiency alone does not create speed. When leaders aim for clarity, unity, and agility, they are more likely to see their organisations prosper.
Senior managers strive to increase the clarity of their strategies. They work with their leadership teams to identify market opportunities, assess competitive threats, size up their organisational capabilities, and determine where to make investments. They write up strategy documents and launch communication campaigns. Yet, though the strategy is often 100 percent clear in the mind of the leader or among the senior leadership team, they’re often frustrated by the lack of clarity throughout the company.
As a leader, clarity means your people can confidently answer the question, “Where are we going, and why?” They should also be able to answer these three questions:
- What are the external conditions we face?
- What are our internal capabilities?
- Based on all these factors, what should we do—and how should we act?
Note that it’s far more important for employees to be able to answer those questions than for the leader to be able to answer them. In the case studies we conducted, we found that effective leaders spent relatively little time seeking clarity on their own and a lot of time working with their employees to develop a clear picture.
Unity can only happen after clarity. Once people are clear on where they’re headed, they agree wholeheartedly on the merits of that direction and the need to work together to move ahead. Unity is perhaps the least-appreciated factor of speed. Executives often understand that if they want plans and strategies executed more quickly, they need to set clear direction, create a sense of urgency, reduce bureaucratic delays, and adapt nimbly to changing conditions. What they often don’t see is the extent to which lack of unity within teams, across the organization, and with external stakeholders tends to undermine everyone’s best efforts to move quickly. In business, collaboration is the main driver of unity.
When leaders foster a culture of collaboration, spell out a common cause, and ensure that everyone is equipped with the necessary technical and soft skills, projects and strategies hold together. If the culture is one of internal competition, mistrust, and turf wars—or just simple unawareness of what other groups are doing—projects and strategies fall apart. Lack of collaboration and a resulting lack of unity is a chief reason for teams and initiatives sinking.
Agility has become a topic of much interest in the business community. In his book Business Agility, Michael Hugos writes, “Most profitable opportunities in the global economy are, by definition, short-term opportunities. Companies need to respond and act quickly on opportunities that arise.” Jumping on opportunities is no doubt important, but our case studies suggest that agility is less a matter of adapting one’s direction continuously and more a matter of being open to different ways to achieve the direction you have set for yourself.
In other words, real agility isn’t about heading north one day and east the next; that’s vacillation. Agility is about heading consistently north, but being willing to use sails one day and the on-board motor the next, as conditions demand. To use another sailing metaphor, some leaders react to an ill wind by saying, “The wind is against us; we’d better change course”(vacillation), when they would do better to say, “The wind is against us, so let’s start tacking so we can keep moving forward”(agility). In other words, we define agility as the willingness to turn and adapt quickly while keeping strategic goals in mind.