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Nov 13, 2013

Second of two parts

Editor’s note: If you missed Part 1, see Fast, Faster, Fastest: How Going Slow Simply Kills Organizations

Once you accept the premise that speed is an essential characteristic in business, it is only logical to begin assessing which elements of an organization need to move significantly faster and precisely how fast each one needs to be.

Organizations are complex, so they have many components and each one of those components must be designed and measured for speed.

The 20 components of speedy organizations

If your organization decides that it needs to increase its organizational speed to match that of its business environment, here are some of the areas that must be fast.

  1. A culture of speed is required — Rather than a piecemeal approach, the most effective strategic solution for increasing speed across the organization is the development of a “culture of speed.” Just like any other type of corporate culture, a speed culture permeates every department and business process including hiring, production, product development, finance, decision-making and logistics. In order to maintain speed in a speed culture, every new program, idea, product, process, etc. must be evaluated for its positive or negative impact on organizational speed.
  2. Organizational speed must be defined, measured, rewarded. Measurement is critical for improvement. The overall speed of an organization can be measured based on how fast (in weeks) after it identifies a major change or problem in the environment that it successfully plans and funds its response. Fast-moving organizations start by closely monitoring their environment and then rapidly responding to any new technologies, actions by their competitors, new laws/regulations, changes in economic factors, and changing customer and market forces. All speed related failures must be analyzed in order to determine and then fix the factors that contributed to the increased reaction time. Obviously employees and managers that move fast and accurately must be both recognized and rewarded.
  3. Innovation is closely related to speed. There has to be a reason for moving fast and one of the primary ones is the need for innovation. Because innovation may have up to 10 times more economic impact than a focus on productivity and efficiency, the rate of innovation as well as the speed of innovation must be monitored and continually improved.
  4. The speed of collaboration is important — Collaboration between employees from different teams is an essential component of innovation. As a result, the frequency and the length of collaboration interactions must be increased.
  5. Fast employees are needed — Some individuals act, react, think, and learn faster than others. Leaders need to vigorously recruit only those who can operate successfully in a fast environment, because unfortunately a single slow employee like “Homer Simpson” in a team can permanently reduce everyone’s speed. Fast employees and the jobs that require a fast employee must be prioritized in the recruiting, retention, and redeployment processes.
  6. Fast managers are also needed – you must be a fast manager in order to manage fast employees. Unfortunately, not all managers and leaders are adept at moving fast and at making fast and accurate decisions. The rare “fast manager” and leader does understand the process for increasing speed, and as a result they are usually familiar with the most effective tools and approaches for increasing speed in their processes and their employees. Clearly managers and leaders need to be selected based on their capability of moving fast.
  7. Firms must be fast in adding and releasing talent capabilities – Organizations must be able to rapidly increase their talent capabilities through fast hiring. And at the same time, they must also be able to rapidly reduce labor costs during slow business times by releasing contingent workers. In addition, the internal movement of employees must be sped up so that talent can be quickly redeployed to areas within the organization where it can produce a higher rate of return.
  8. Rapid but accurate decision-making is critical — Unfortunately few realize the importance of fast decision-making in a fast-moving organization. Decision-makers must be assessed, hired, and trained on their ability to make fast but accurate decisions. Drug maker GSK actually improved decision-making speed by 45 percent merely through the redesign of its office space.
  9. Learning speed is critical – In a fast-moving world, organizations must learn rapidly immediately after new knowledge and information appears. Organizations must develop processes for identifying and then learning about this new information, tools, answers, and solutions. In fact, Google research has identified “learning ability” as the key competency in their hiring.
  10. The speed of sharing is also important — Once an organization’s employees learn about new information or best practices, there must be a process to ensure that their information is rapidly shared throughout the organization. Wikis, forums, and social media platforms can all be used to speed up best practice sharing. The time that it takes for the entire organization to eventually learn about a new practice or solution should be measured to ensure that it is continually getting faster.
  11. Technology is essential for speed – In today’s world, it is almost impossible to be global, low-cost, highly innovative, and fast without the extensive use of technology. Process and program leaders must constantly search for new software and hardware that can enable both faster speed and higher quality. Leaders must also assume when new technology or tools are implemented that each will eventually become obsolete. To avoid a reduction in speed, a process for finding a replacement before the obsolescent date must be included in the implementation plan.
  12. You must identify barriers to speed — Just like PCs, even the best designed processes and approaches tend to slow down over time. As a result, there should be a formal survey tool that allows managers to periodically identify any current “barriers to speed.” In a “culture of speed,” all employees must be educated on the value of speed and each employee should subsequently accept ownership of their role in continually improving speed and innovation.
  13. Processes must be built for speed – All business processes must be continually assessed for speed. Those that fall behind must be redesigned and all new processes must include the essential design components for speed. In a fast-moving world, processes must also have a Just-in-time capability to handle sudden and fast arriving situations.
  14. Processes must be integrated – Interrelated processes that are dependent on each other must be either coordinated or completely integrated if speed goals are to be achieved. This integration is necessary to ensure smooth and fast handoffs between functions and to ensure that roadblocks to speed are quickly identified and eliminated.
  15. You must cut approvals for speed – Requiring excessive approvals not only hampers speed but it also frustrates innovators. Where approvals cannot be eliminated, you must dramatically reduce the time required for getting them.
  16. Anything that is “slow” must be jettisoned – With age and use, many organizational elements will either slow down or they will fail completely in matching the speed of change of the organization. That means that there must be a conscious effort to identify and quickly jettison processes, tools, and programs that slow down the organization’s speed. In the same light, employees who lose their capability for speed must also be rapidly identified and then fixed or released.
  17. You must measure your speed — You can’t improve something that you don’t measure. As a result, there must be metrics for measuring the speed of each important corporate process. Incidentally quality must also be measured, because customers have learned to expect both speed and quality.
  18. Provide benchmark comparison numbers for speed — Decision-makers must be provided with comparison numbers both from within and outside your firm so that they can accurately assess how they rate on speed within your firm and in your industry.
  19. Distributing “speed reports” can help – Widely distributing ranked reports demonstrating the differentials in speed between the different departments, managers, and processes can spur internal competition while also allowing the slowest to learn from the fastest.
  20. Train employees to be fast – Some employees are slow simply because they’ve never been trained on how to act fast. The training and development function must develop courses, educational materials, YouTube instructional videos, and webpages to help employees and managers learn how to think and act faster. For example, most employees do their tasks in a linear way (i.e. one step is completed before the next step is executed). By teaching them how to take simultaneous or parallel actions, employees can do more high quality work in less time.

“Want to achieve extraordinary results? … Set unreasonable timetables!”John Patrick, former IBM strategist.

Final Thoughts

In the business world, speed is everywhere, so products like mobile phones and computer chips now become obsolete in less than 12 months. In the area of people management, leaders are just beginning to realize they can make a major contribution toward increasing organizational speed.

Yet despite the initial progress, there are still naysayers in talent that worry that moving fast will increase errors and mistakes. But it’s equally important to realize that if you can learn rapidly from each of those talent related mistakes, you essentially turn a negative into a positive.

From the competitive standpoint, if you want to be an industry leader and remain highly profitable, your organization must master organizational speed and become a “fast company.”

And as an individual employee you must also realize that, if you want to remain employable throughout your career, you have no choice but to continually work to improve your own capability for speed.