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April 2011

Implementing Strategy @ Speed
Ensuring your company is ready to succeed in turbulent times

article by Dr Graeme Codrington

In a fast-paced world, only organizations that develop and implement strategies at speed should expect to be successful.

Article at a glance

As the world gets more and more complex and turbulent, the success of any organization increasingly depends on their ability to develop and implement strategies - at speed. To do this, organizations need to keep their defining values in tact and steer towards the destination defined by their organization’s vision, while at the same time learning how to constantly develop and implement new and adapted ways of reaching their goals. We don’t have roadmaps with a set of directions anymore, but we can develop a GPS ‘satnav’ ability to ‘recalculate’ our routes to success.

Implementing strategy @ speed is a model developed from the combined findings of significant research projects and the experience of the TomorrowToday strategy consulting team. It helps leaders focus on four key factors and develop the capabilities their organizations need in order to be successful in a fast-paced and turbulent world.

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The Need for Speed

Leaders are right to seek speed. Research consistently shows a hard link between speed and business results. Faster companies have higher sales growth (an average of 40% higher than slow companies), and higher operating profits (an average of 52% higher than the slower companies). They’re also more exciting places to work, and seem to attract the “bright young things” of their industries. So speed leads to positive business outcomes. As long as you’re moving quickly in the right direction. Speed can rip an organization apart – as anyone who has watched the recent crashing-downs of high flying corporates will know.

Strategic speed needs to be supported by a solid organizational structure and clear, unified, agile leadership. The problem is that the next decade is likely to be one of the most turbulent periods of economic history, and these factors are in short supply. In addition, companies cannot simply rely on past successes or existing processes to see them through. Peter Drucker, the management guru said it best: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” The world has changed – and will continue to change at pace – and therefore our strategies, systems, processes and structures need to be adaptable too. The fact that most companies are not doing this is demonstrated by how many strategic initiatives fail, or are implemented too slowly or inadequately.

As Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan insisted in their bestselling 2002 book, “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done” (Random House Business), “businesses don’t fail for lack of good ideas; they fail for lack of ability to implement them.” In a fast moving world, that is even more true. In fact, it’s even worse: in order to gain – and maintain – a competitive advantage in the fast moving world of today it isn’t enough to simply formulate and implement good strategy. This now has to be done at speed, with constant flexibility. Speedy, adaptable and successful execution is required for both large-scale initiatives and day-to-day work projects. And the human capabilities and systems thinking needed for success are required at every level of the organization.

Researching Successful Organizations

Over the past few years, a number of international research projects have focused attention on the characteristics of organizations that have demonstrated success in turbulent times. Two of these research projects in particular seem to have reached the core of what these organizations have done. They have been published as books, one focusing on structural issues and the other on leadership capabilities. Taken together, they provide a superb model for analyzing organizations and building their ability to develop and implement strategies at speed. We’ve used these frameworks, together with a decade of experience as a strategy consultancy, to develop our own model.

The primary basis of our model is found in the book, “Strategic Speed: Mobilize People, Accelerate Execution” by Jocelyn Davis, Henry Frechette and Edwin Boswell (Harvard Business School Press, 2010). The authors are executives at The Forum, an innovation consultancy. Their research was conducted with The Economist Intelligence Unit using surveys and interviews with hundreds of business leaders and in-depth profiles on companies from a variety of different industries.

The second model used in this framework comes from “Results: Keep what’s good, fix what’s wrong, and unlock great performance” by Gary L. Neilson and Bruce A. Pasternack (Capstone, 2005). These two authors are Booz & Co consultants, and their research focused on corporate DNA and culture. They developed a tool called the Org DNA Profiler, and profiled over 30,000 leaders in corporations of all types (you can use the tool for free at

They summarize their message like this: “The right people – imbued with the right values, armed with the right information, and motivated by the right incentives – are the driving force behind a winning organization.”

By combining these two frameworks, and adding insights from change management and systems theory, our Implementing Strategy @ Speed model has the best of both worlds. It looks at the organizational and structural issues that need to be addressed, but also focuses in on very practical leadership considerations, specifically those aimed at mobilizing the people within an organization.

Implementing Strategy @ Speed model

The research shows that in slower companies, the emphasis is on efficiency, keeping up the pace, sticking with the known, staying focused on one’s own work, and not worrying too much about alignment. In the faster companies, the emphasis is on alignment, flexibility, openness, innovative thinking, and taking the time to reflect and learn.

The key to success in a fast-paced world is a combination of: pace (incentives, cutting corners, or touting urgency in an effort to get people to speed up) + process (streamlining workplace processes and installing technologies in an effort to eliminate waste, improve quality, and reduce cycle time) + people (culture, climate, motivators, teams and leadership). In most companies, the missing ingredient is how leaders deliberately include people in their thinking and mobilize people to execute rapidly.

It’s clear that it’s the people factors that are the most powerful accelerator – or brake – for organizations. In other words, if you can mobilize people, you can accelerate execution. As a leader, you can have all the processes and technologies in place, all the charts and graphs drawn up, all the money in hand, and all the angels on your side ... but if the people won’t move, the work won’t move.

Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone, puts it like this: “Every company talks a lot about speed and moving quickly, but if you don’t have trust, people will say, `You ask me to be fast, but at the end of the day, if I make a mistake I’ll be killed.’ When human beings are scared, their tendency is not to press forward but to freeze in place (or to move very, very slowly).”

Colao has put his finger on a main reason why it’s the people element that’s the largest and most critical piece. In order to act quickly and efficiently, people need to have confidence in themselves and in their leaders: they need to know where they’re heading and why; they need to feel they can make judgment calls and course corrections in the moment; and they need to trust that their managers and colleagues are going to back them up, not trip them up.

The model consists of four elements:

  1. Focus on ensuring there is clarity, unity and agility about your vision, goals and objectives.
  2. Develop the leadership capabilities necessary to implement strategic objectives by affirming the strategies and driving initiatives throughout the organization.
  3. Build organizational support for speed by being clear on decision rights, the flow of information, motivators for all stakeholders and the structures of the organization.
  4. Develop the leadership capabilities necessary to build organizational speed by managing climate and cultivating experience throughout the organization.

1. Three Key Factors critical to strategic speed

There are three conditions that effective leaders in fast organizations seek to increase, and that in turn increase strategic speed. Every action or leadership practice should be focused on improving and increasing one or more of these conditions:

1.1. Clarity

Clarity is the shared, clear understanding of your situation and direction. It requires that:

  • Senior leaders are closely aligned and committed
  • Everyone knows who is responsible for what, and how they will be held accountable
  • People find time to review how the work is going, as it going
  • People have the information they need, when they need it
  • Teams capture and communicate lessons learned
  • Employees receive training when new initiatives are launched.

You will know who have clarity when everyone can confidently answer the question, “Where are we going and why?” They should therefore also be able to answer these three questions:

  1. What are the external conditions we face?
  2. What are our internal capabilities?
  3. Based on all these factors, what should we do - and how should we act?

Note that it’s far more important for your employees to be able to answer those questions than for you, the leader, to be able to answer them. And simply repeating yourself over and over again doesn’t ensure they’ve got it. In fact, one of the most consistent barriers to clarity does not have anything to do with communication – the problem is typically corporate culture. Clarity doesn’t come from making one clear announcement, nor does it come from repeating that announcement many times. Rather, clarity is a result of two-way conversations in which people have a chance to ask questions, discuss, and learn.

Clarity isn’t just about having a clear sense of the destination; it’s also about being able to perceive the road you’re on, the potholes in that road, how far you’ve come, and how far you have to go. It’s about seeing clearly throughout the entire journey.

1.2. Unity

Unity is wholehearted agreement on the merits of your chosen direction and the need to work together to move ahead. Intentionally bringing together people from multiple regions and functions when you launch an initiative can increase strategic speed. Despite greater initial cost, time and complexity, this approach pays off in the end, because it creates unity - a bond and a sense of common cause - among the players. Unity must be fostered, not just within a team, nor just within a company, but also beyond a company’s boundaries. Unity within an organization is important to speed, but just as important is unity between the organization and its external stakeholders.

Unity is perhaps the least-appreciated factor of speed. It requires that:

  • Senior leaders are closely aligned and committed
  • Information is freely shared throughout the organization
  • Management systems work coherently to support overall objectives
  • Team members are flexible about switching responsibilities to make things easier for one another
  • Team members are comfortable talking about problems and disagreements
  • There is cross-boundary collaboration, not just collaboration with teammates
  • External stakeholders also understand and agree with the direction of the company.

1.3. Agility

Agility is the willingness to adjust and adapt quickly while keeping strategic goals in mind. Agility is not about changing your direction continuously, or chasing new opportunities all the time. 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 onboard motor the next, as conditions demand. It’s about finding ways to keep moving towards your objectives, even when obstacles are thrown in your way. It has a lot, therefore, to do with resilience.

In short, agility must be built on a foundation of unity and clarity - especially clarity regarding the standards and values on which you won’t compromise. Agility is about turning and adjusting as appropriate while remaining true to the core principles you’ve established.

NOTE: the order in which you address these three factors matters. Clarity must come first. Unity is built on a foundation of clarity. And true agility is impossible without clarity and unity.

2. Leadership Practices that build speed for projects

There are two sets of two key leadership capabilities each outlined in “Strategic Speed”. The first set relates to building strategic speed in specific initiatives and projects. They help reduce the time to value of the initiative and increase the value it contributes to the organization over time. Each of the leadership capabilities contains lists of leadership competencies and practices that you can measure and improve.

2.1. Affirm strategies

Before you can drive speed you must ensure that your people know where they’re going and are motivated to go there. This involves affirming the strategies of your organization and positioning any initiatives and projects within the overall strategy. An affirmed strategy is one that is complete, clear, well communicated and well understood by all stakeholders.

It also exists within an external context (everyone should know what is happening in the industry and marketplaces around your organization) and an internal one (each component part of the whole strategy is interlinked and interdependent, but many companies build silos between ‘divisions’ and develop projects in vacuums with no context). Especially important is an understanding of the organization’s internal capabilities. You will only ever implement the strategies you’re capable of implementing.

This leadership practice increases clarity by ensuring people understand the strategic direction and their role in it; increases unity by emphasizing the importance of each person’s buy-in and contributions; and increases agility by increasing people’s awareness of external and internal conditions and their implications for decisions.

Leaders must understand the components of a complete strategy. The strategy needs to tell a compelling story in a way that clarifies what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how it will be executed. People must become clear on the organization’s direction and how their jobs contribute to success. A complete strategy will leave you clear on the who, what, when, where, and how of that story. Equally important is that they should also know why.

Strategy affirmation is not a once off event. Successful companies all seem to have senior leaders that are unanimous and vigorous in their support of strategies – and do not have turf battles. The research is clear: affirmed strategy is always the achievement of a team, not an individual. And it’s the task of leadership to ensure that there is buy-in for the strategies throughout the organization. A strategy without real buy-in will never truly get off the ground. Equally, when front line managers see what needs to be done, they need to ensure that senior leaders are made aware of this and are enabled to make the right strategic decisions for the whole organization. Buy-in goes in all directions.

Both “Strategic Speed” and “Results” have a number of case studies to illustrate the points being made. Here is one from “Strategic Speed” to show how you can go about gaining buy-in if it does not yet exist.

Holiday Inn – getting buy in from above

In the 1980s, Holiday Inn had lost market share to competitors, and by the late 1990s, it saw overall service quality diminish in its market category. In April 2002, Lynne Zappone, vice president of talent development and learning, collaborated with Dan Sweiger, the director of brand management to turn things around. Zappone slowly won Sweiger over – insisting on a broad approach to solving the problems in Holiday Inn. But they had no idea if they could get buy-in from Holiday Inn executives or if the program would work-let alone be implemented quickly enough to show results.

They began by building a case for change (the authors call this the “interventionist approach”). With reports on market share, customer satisfaction, and revenue per occupancy, they illustrated to the VP of marketing, and then other executives, why upgrading their guest experience would help bring back the storied Holiday Inn brand. Sweiger and Zappone spent two months gathering support by meeting informally with members of the executive team. They showed them data from hotels that had great customer service, and how those properties consistently outperformed others, despite locations and amenities that were sometimes not as good. The senior management team ultimately gave their approval, along with significantly more resources to meet the challenge of improving the guest experience dramatically.

The interventionist approach readies the organization for action by making the reason for action crystal clear. As a result, people think about the situation differently from how they did before. They take action not just because the boss told them to do it, but because they understand why the actions are desirable.

Specific leadership practices that will ensure strategies are affirmed include:

Facilitate strategic conversations among all your staff, with the intent of ensuring that everyone understands the strategic landscape you’re operating in. Ensure everyone knows current market conditions, potential disruptors and future trends, the competition and your relative positions in your industry and the capabilities required to deal with threats and take advantage of opportunities.

Develop strategies that are complete, clear, accepted and fully understood. Make it every leader’s responsibility to ensure that their team understands, accepts and supports the strategies.

Communicate your strategy to all stakeholders.

Ensure unanimity and strong support amongst the leadership team.

Team members need to become flexible about switching responsibilities to make things easier for one another. Members of effective strategy teams don’t hesitate to assist each other even if doing so isn’t part of their official role. They have a genuine appreciation for others’ perspectives and situations, and they are willing to help each other out as needed. Underlying this flexibility is a shared understanding of what it is they’re creating together.

Actively seek out innovative and different ideas on achieving the vision. Although your end destination might be very clear, be open to pursuing many different routes to get there.

Use these leadership capabilities firstly as an ‘audit’ tool to rate your current leadership team – and your entire organization as a whole. Which of these areas would be considered strengths? Which would be weaknesses?

Then, select both the strongest strength and weakest weakness as your first two priorities. Aim to capitalize on your existing strength by building even greater capabilities in this area (this is an approach based on appreciative enquiry, and the work of especially Markus Buckingham on strengths-based development). Building on your existing strengths will help you build momentum that can be channeled into change in other areas. Only then start to work on your weaknesses. This is true for individuals, teams and initiatives alike.

2.2. Drive initiatives

Senior leaders need to do more than just “sponsor” initiatives; they need to get behind the wheel and drive. This is about execution. Without execution, any strategy will slow and eventually die. Many of the skills that support this leadership practice are project management skills: unfamiliar territory for many executives, but territory they need to master. Though we don’t advocate turning senior leaders into project managers, any initiative – no matter how big - can be treated as a project.

Driving initiatives increases clarity by defining specific objectives, roles, and plans for everyone throughout the organization; increases unity by helping each person see exactly how his or her behaviors and outputs contribute to the whole; and increases agility by keeping leaders’ hands “on the steering wheel” so that course corrections can be made.

Specific leadership practices that will ensure initiatives are driven include:

Identify and structure the specific initiatives that will drive the strategy forward. Too many senior leaders feel their job is done once they’ve come up with the vision statement and broad outline of the strategy. The research shows clearly that those organizations that are successful in turbulent times focus their energies on providing detailed initiatives or projects that support the strategy, bringing it to life and moving it forward. When an organization is trying to execute a strategy, there needs to be an “initiative hierarchy”. This hierarchy consists of the strategic initiatives that support the strategy; the projects that make up the strategic initiatives; and the streams of work that make up the projects.

Broad strategic statements issued by management teams are seldom translated down to what they mean for the work of individual employees, who are left wondering, “What does this strategy statement have to do with my job?” It seems obvious, but if you want anything to happen in an organization - if you want to implement a strategy - it has to take hold in people’s work, behaviors, and attitudes.

To ensure that the key stakeholders are fully involved in new initiatives, Nick Pudar, director of planning and strategic initiatives at General Motors, employs an innovative approach to consensus building. Prior to making major decisions about a new initiative, he says, "I meet individually with each group involved and ask three questions:
  1. 'What specific results will your organization deliver toward our goals?'
  2. 'What actions will you take to make it happen?'
  3. 'What do you expect other groups will contribute?'

I then convene the group leaders and tell them all what they told me. The greatest differences are always their expectations of what other groups will do. While there has never been perfect alignment this process enables us to rapidly identify and address the inconsistencies."

Manage the initiative like a project with goals, plans, budgets and metrics. If you want to execute speedily on a new strategy, treat it like a project. If you want to increase the overall speed of your organization, teach project management skills and insist on project management disciplines. If it’s difficult to think of your job as project management, or if that term doesn’t feel right, call it execution management. This is definitely something that should be on senior leaders’ agendas – and they should be measured and held accountable for it. Senior leaders shouldn’t spend their days managing small projects, but nevertheless, execution is a CEO’s job just as much as it is a middle manager’s job. Top leadership and senior sponsors must be visibly, actively and continuously involved in and supportive of the initiatives.

Identify and remove barriers to execution and provide the necessary resources. Under the guise of “efficiency savings” many organizations have stripped away too many support functions and resources, and are not able to provide the necessary level of support needed to ensure the successful implementation of the initiatives required by their strategies. These areas should be identified and resolved as a matter of urgency. Clear lines of communication are needed to achieve this.

Give them enough time to do the job well. One of the most important resources that is often overlooked is the issue of time. It is impossible to get a new initiative started without a significant investment of time. Fast moving successful companies ensure that their best people, and those who are responsible for driving initiatives have the time they need to do the best job possible.

It’s essential to equip team members to do the job well by giving them the resources they need and then to allow them enough time to do the job right. The research suggests that, on average, you need to ensure that execution teams can spend half of their time on the work of the team. If that allowance seems unrealistically high, ask yourself: What will happen if you try to save time by making people do this work around the edges of their existing commitments, and as a result the initiative never gets above the noise-value line? How much noise will be created by people tinkering with the initiative in their spare time? Which is preferable: a project that was accomplished in record time because you focused a capable team on it, or a project that never went anywhere because you - and everyone else - treated it as something to be done only as time allowed?

Make better use of technology (especially the latest social media, enterprise systems and communication tools). New technologies, especially those related to networking and how we process information, communicate and collaborate are dramatically enhancing our ability to work more effectively, efficiently and in smarter ways than ever before. Instead of being scared of these new technologies, companies need to embrace them and use them beneficially.

Zappos, the online shoe company acquired by Amazon, have made it their goal to ensure that all internal communication is clear and concise. To do this they use a social media platform similar to Twitter for all internal communications, forcing people to use 140 characters or less when sending messages. If you have a longer message, you’re encouraged to get up and go and speak to your colleague face to face, or to pick up the phone. Staff members report that this system has created much more meaningful interactions. It might not be for everyone, but at least Zappos is thinking about: (1) how to manage the flow of information (see below), and (2) how to use technology to aid this process.

Social media tools are not just teenage toys. They provide significant new ways of managing information. They should be embraced.

Staff key initiatives with capable, dedicated teams and the right people. You need to (1) hire the right people for the job, (2) equip them to do the job, and (3) give them the time to do the job. You should take as much time to put together the right execution teams as you do to make new hires. Get experts to help you if you need to. Profiling and assessment tools, including skills assessments, team composition analyses and individual profiling should be considered.

Actively support and coach the execution team(s), holding them accountable, and assessing and mitigating risks. Leaders must understand both the extent of the organization affected by the strategy and the strategy’s consistency with the existing culture. Be practical about the magnitude of change that the organization can handle. Ideally, introduce changes in stages. People should know what is expected of them, be empowered to deliver on it, be measured for doing so, and experience the consequences of both success and failure as it happens.

Behavior change is the one of the most critical execution success factors that leaders tend to overlook or misunderstand most often. Lack of attention to this success factor is a huge barrier to speed in many firms. Visions need to be translated into the practical, specific changes that would need to take hold in people’s jobs and behaviors in order to facilitate the actions required to successfully deliver on the requirements of each initiative. Senior leaders sometimes think behavior change is not what they should be worrying about. They assume that it’s “HR’s job” or “the frontline managers’ job” to coach their employees in specific behaviors that will bring the strategy to life. While skills training may indeed fall under HR’s purview, and while daily coaching may indeed be the job of the frontline manager, it is nevertheless up to senior leaders to foster the following changes: (a) Articulate a vision that includes some specifics on what people in key roles up and down the organization need to be doing differently. (b) Put a process in place that gets everyone in the organization thinking and planning about what the strategy means for them in their daily work. (c) Insist that managers hold people accountable for those behavior changes. These are not activities that can be left to chance or delegated entirely to HR. In fact, the organization’s top team needs to be the one making sure these changes occur.

Most importantly, senior leaders need to drive the initiatives actively rather than merely being a “sponsor.” In short, leaders must get involved and stay involved.

3. Organizational Issues that enhance readiness for speed

It’s one thing to be able to design and implement a few initiatives and projects at speed. It’s another thing altogether to ensure that this sort of speed is both maintained over a long period and is supported by the whole organization. Invariably in slower companies, there are parts of the business that move at tremendous pace and other parts of the business that constantly lag and put blocks on that speed and responsiveness.

The following four organizational considerations will assist you in establishing the necessary conditions to ensure that speed is both endemic and healthy throughout your organization. They are the foundation on which a fast moving organization can be built.

3.1. Decision rights – who gets to decide what

In order to move at speed, with confidence, it is vital to know who is responsible for what. Decision rights refer to the authority and responsibility to make decisions and take actions. This should be clearly allocated, widely known and agreed, and the gap between responsibility and authority as small as possible (it is the most constant complaint of front line managers that they have responsibilities in fast moving markets to respond to client changes, but do not have the necessary level of authority to do so).

Getting decision rights right increases clarity by ensuring that decision making processes are streamlined and areas of authority do not unnecessarily overlap; increases unity by increasing trust, as people learn to rely on each other and not second guess, circumvent or “work around” each other; and increases agility by ensuring that everyone knows precisely where blockages are occurring, and who is responsible for each part of strategic process.

Assigning clear decision rights is about knowing what the decision-making processes are, who has authority and how it is used, and about identifying where authority areas overlap or leave gaps. It’s also about doing all you can to narrow the gap between responsibility and authority. It’s about understanding – and agreeing – who does what, how and why. Decision rights determine who is responsible for what choices.

To ensure that these decision rights are properly set up and adhered to, you should ensure that decision rights are routinely reviewed and updated. Because organizations, what they do, and the environment in which they operate continually change, decision-rights updates must become routine. A review should examine carefully where in the organization various types of decisions are being made and whether those particular points are still the most efficient. In allocating decision rights, you should also avoid the two extremes of too much centralization and too much democracy. You should especially avoid bringing too many people into the decision process, which can grind things to a halt. But be sure to involve all the key stakeholders.

Decision rights should be assigned unequivocally. Ambiguity about who has decision rights is a common problem. Misunderstandings about which individuals or groups have the right to make which decisions frequently carries a high cost for the organization, whether through duplicated or counterproductive efforts, or through the failure of the parties to act. Although this is often diagnosed as a communication breakdown, it's really a decision-rights assignment problem. Occasionally, managers forget entirely to inform those to whom they have given decision authority.

The experts agree that redistributing decision authority in any organization is a difficult task fraught with controversy and organizational politics. Yet, it is also one in which organizations must routinely engage to maintain a competitive edge and maximize shareholder value. (Source: Harvard Business School Working Knowledge Paper: “Decision Rights: Who Gives the Green Light?” by Peter Jacobs, August, 2005.)

Good questions to ask: Who decides what? How many people are involved in the decision making process? Where does one person’s decision-making authority end and another’s begin? Do decision makers have the appropriate authority levels? Are they held accountable for their decisions?

3.2. Information – what we need to know

It is essential to identify critical information required to make correct decisions, and then ensure that it is in the hands of the appropriate decision makers when they need it. Information is all the data, metrics, knowledge, and co-ordinating mechanisms resident in various corners of the organization. There is a danger of both too little and too much information, as well as issues related to timing and authority.

This organizational issue increases clarity by ensuring that everyone has just the information they need at just the time they need it; increases unity by ensuring that there is transparency and openness throughout the organization; and increases agility by removing the noise and clutter often associated with corporate reporting systems, meaningless meetings and death by drowning in data.

The leaders’ task is to ensure that people have the right information, when and where they need it. Sometimes people have too little information. Sometimes, though, they have too much. Mostly, they have the wrong information in unusable formats. Leaders need to ensure that the flow of information supports the projects and initiatives that are necessary for success. Leaders must also concern themselves with the efficacy with which the team collects and reviews information about the initiative and makes course corrections to enhance strategy execution.

Fisher Healthcare – clear the clutter by reducing reports

A two-day-long intervention was attended by a cross-section of the organization, including executives, sales leaders, marketing staff, and the head of HR. Kirk Kimler, head of marketing, kicked off the event, briefly reiterating the strategic plan. Then - instead of more explanation of the plan via a slew of presentations - the session proceeded with “spring cleaning.”

Managers had been asked to bring in a copy of every type of report they touched, filled out, or read. They produced seventy-three. The mentality was, “I’m in charge of chemical reagents; I want you to fill out my Chemical Reagent Call Report, because even though nobody else uses it, it’s what I use to do my work.” The reports said little about the desired outcomes of anyone’s work, nor did they match with how the sales process worked from initial prospecting to close. At the end of two days, the group had discarded all but twenty reports. As the initiative went forward, Kimler further streamlined the sales process and reduced paperwork.

Nothing was ever more important than clarifying priorities and streamlining the work. In his management meetings, he would regularly ask leaders to prioritize the ten most important things they needed to do and get rid of everything else. Kimler refers to this as “lowering the water in the system so they’re able to see the rocks.”

Good questions to ask: How is performance measured? What is measured, and what effect does this have on activities? How are activities co-ordinated and knowledge transferred? How do people with information or ideas make these known? How are expectations and progress communicated? Who knows what? Who needs to know what? How does information get from the people who have it to the people who know it?

3.3. Motivators – how we get ahead around here

Motivators are more than money – they are all the objectives, incentives, perks, recognition and opportunities that prompt people to care and achieve. They should motivate employees to align their goals with that of the organization, and must support the organization’s objectives.

This organizational issue increases clarity by ensuring that everyone knows precisely what is expected of them and how they will be recognized and rewarded for their contributions; increases unity by promoting rewards for contribution so that everyone feels they have been fairly treated; and increases agility by providing a number of additional levers to incentivize actions and changes of behaviour.

It’s important to communicate “line of sight” so employees know what’s in it for them. It is essential to understand the motivators that will influence each individual in the team to put in the effort and energy required to fulfill their part of the strategy. No two individuals are alike, and everyone works for you for a different reason. Make sure you know why each person is working for you, and take the time to learn his or her motivational triggers.

When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does. Our current business operating system – which is built around external, carrot-and-stick motivators – doesn’t work and often does harm. We need an upgrade. And the science shows the way. This new approach has three essential elements: 1. Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives. 2. Mastery— the urge to get better and better at something that matters. 3. Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. The best resource on this issue is Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” (Canongate Books, 2010). See a 15 minute TED video by the author at:

Good questions to ask: What objectives, incentives, and career alternatives do people have? How are they rewarded – financially and non-financially – for what they achieve? What are they encouraged to care about, by whatever means, explicit or implicit? Are their goals aligned with the organization’s goals?

3.4. Structure – where I (we) fit in

Structure is the most obvious element of the building blocks of organizational DNA, and is therefore often dealt with first. This would be a mistake. Structure should be the logical outcome of the choices made regarding the other three building blocks. Structure, in principle, should follow strategy. Structure refers to the organogram and hierarchy of the organization: who reports to whom, and who relates to whom. Who gives instructions and who takes them. But more importantly, structure identifies the linkages between different parts of the strategy, and shows dependencies that exist between projects and initiatives.

This organizational issue increases clarity by ensuring that everyone knows their role and function within the organization; increases unity by fostering understanding of the linkages between different parts of the strategy; and increases agility by showing exactly who has responsibility for which parts of the strategy.

Good questions to ask: What does the organizational hierarchy look like? How are the lines and boxes in the organizational chart connected? How many are in the hierarchy, and how many direct reports does each layer have? How does the structure support the strategy? When last was the structure changed and what response did this get from the organization? Are people prepared to change positions and structures in order to help achieve the strategy (this helps you assess whether people are more connected to their position or to the strategy)?

NOTE: These four organizational issues are best dealt with in the order in which they have been presented. Until decision rights have been assigned, it will be difficult to manage the flow of information. Once you have the systems in place to do those two things, you’ll then also have the right people in the right places doing the right things from an organization perspective, and can then look to motivate them in appropriate ways. The final piece of the puzzle is the structure. Too often companies do this first, and then make the other three factors fit (e.g. remuneration is paid in bands related to position in the organization hierarchy and length of service, or information is given to people based on their position rather than their needs, or decision rights are allocated to job titles and not to the most appropriate people to actually make them). Organizational structures in fast moving companies are seen as servants of the organization, and not the other way around. These four elements are not independent and work together in a systemic way.

4. Leadership Practices that build organizational speed

The second set of leadership capabilities focus on organizational issues, and not specific projects or initiatives. These are more about the longer-term issues of building the type of corporate culture that can maintain the momentum of a fast moving company, and help increase speed not only when you’re dealing with a specific strategic initiative or large project, but also when you want to increase the speed of an organization’s or team’s daily work.

They’re often considered the “soft issues” and are delegated to HR. That is a recipe for disaster – not because of what HR might or might not do, but simply because these two leadership capabilities should be the responsibility of all leaders throughout the organization, and specifically of senior leaders across all business functions.

4.1. Manage climate

Climate is what it feels like to work in a place. Climate is not culture – the two are often confused. An organization’s culture is rooted in the values and assumptions that the organization’s founders embed in it from the beginning. Culture is one of the ways in which an organization preserves its identity and distinguishes itself from others. Conservative by nature, culture is slow-moving and hard to change. Climate, in contrast, is a more immediate and fluid phenomenon – it is what it feels like to be working in the organization at this time. Because climate is more malleable, it can be changed in weeks or even days. What makes climate so powerful is that it is both manageable and linked to performance. Managers can change climate fairly easily, and the resulting changes influence how motivated people feel and how well they perform. But perhaps the best news about climate is that it’s a relatively low-cost way to achieve big improvements in organizational performance - and to do so quickly.

Managing climate increases clarity by giving people opportunities for dialogue about goals and objectives; increases unity by setting the stage for collaboration and teamwork; and increases agility by encouraging flexibility and confidence in making decisions and pursuing goals.

The benefits of improving climate can be profound. A study by Daniel Goleman found that climate accounted for 33% of the difference among company business units in their financial performance. For example, a leading insurance company found that 71% of its work units with the best climate had above-average sales results, while only 18% of those with the worst climate had above-average results. A luxury hotel implemented leadership training and coaching that resulted in a 20% improvement in organizational climate. The climate improvement correlated with a 19.6% drop in employee turnover, a 23% increase in market share, and an 8.2% improvement in guest satisfaction score.

Climate is a critical part not just of the employee experience, but of the customer experience as well. Customers tend to sense climate quite quickly-often in the course of a fifteen-minute visit to a shop, organization, or work group. And their perceptions of climate match employee perceptions closely. The climate that customers perceive makes a strong impact on their experience, their satisfaction, and their desire to work with you (and possibly for you in the future).

In order to manage climate effectively, leaders need to consider the following leadership actions:

Actively measure and manage the climate in your organization. This involves dealing with six factors that leaders should attempt to influence. You will notice that these six factors all integrate with other issues addressed by this model, reinforcing the focus points that managers should deal with on a daily basis (that’s the point of ‘managing climate’ – it is done deliberately, consciously and daily). (1) Clarity - the degree to which employees understand the organization’s goals and policies and the requirements of their jobs. (2) Standards - the emphasis that management places on high performance standards and the amount of pressure that leaders exert on teams to improve their performance. (3) Commitment - the degree to which people are dedicated to achieving goals and contributing to the organization’s success. (4) Responsibility - the extent to which people feel personally responsible for their work and accountable for solving problems and making decisions. (This is strongly linked to the issue of decision rights, discussed in the previous section). (5) Recognition - if recognition is high, people feel that they’re rewarded and recognized for doing good work and that rewards are clearly related to performance excellence (as opposed to seniority, politics, or other factors). The rewards don’t necessarily have to be financial; in fact, money may even be counterproductive. (6) Teamwork - the feeling of belonging to an organization characterized by cohesion, mutual support, trust, and pride.

There are three steps for identifying and measuring corporate-climate related issues and managing climate at both the organizational and team levels:

  1. Conduct a climate survey to understand where you are and where you want to be. Each manager in the organization should receive a report on three issues: (a) Employees’ perceptions of their team climate in terms of the six climate dimensions; (b) Employees’ perceptions of their manager’s use of a set of management practices that support climate; (c) Employees’ ratings of team motivation, performance, and speed of execution (the outcomes of climate).
  2. Managers must each construct an action plan to improve climate in their work unit.
  3. Measure the impact of the improvements and seek further improvements. Often measurement takes the form of regular reassessments of climate and of the results metrics that have been determined up front.

Understand the unwritten ground rules of ‘How things are done around here’ and people’s perceptions of the work environment. A recent study titled “Bad Behaviours, Toxic Cultures”, undertaken by Australian based Keystone Management Services (Steve Simpson, 2009), reveals that many senior managers don’t realise the culture prevalent in their organizations. The study found consistent and strong differences about how senior, middle and non-managers viewed their workplace culture. More than 40% of employees surveyed said that negative behaviour was rife in their workplace, yet only 20% of senior managers felt this behaviour was commonplace. In contrast 72% of senior managers said staff often displayed positive, solutions-oriented mindsets, while only 50% of non-managers felt this behaviour was commonly showed. Deliberate work must be done to identify and “name” workplace culture and climate. This can be done through regular surveys and ongoing dialog.

Encourage teamwork, trust and collaboration. We have already seen that fast companies have the most chance of success when senior leadership exhibit unanimity and do not have turf battles. The same is true for all levels of staff throughout the organization. Teams should be rewarded and not just individuals. Care should be taken to ensure that incentives do not promote selfish or self-seeking behaviour.

Model appropriate behaviour with key stakeholders. People in your organization will follow more closely what you do than what you say.

I was recently at a client (one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting and consulting firms), speaking at the launch of a new drive to improve the workplace culture of the firm. The partner in charge of people development outlined a simple but powerful programme to ensure that the firm had a clear policy about how people should be treated and motivated. Immediately following this presentation, a senior partner of the firm returned to his office and proceeded to contravene almost every one of the pillars of the framework that had just been launched. Outraged staff members in his team sent emails to the HR director to complain. The HR director was powerless to impose any forms of sanctions on this senior leader, and the entire programme was pretty much stillborn that day. People understood that no-one would be held accountable for their actions, and the programme was largely ignored.

Fast paced organizations understand that treating people badly may have short-term benefits, but is always detrimental to organizational health, resilience and longevity. They hold their leaders to account for how people are treated, and see people related issues as deal breakers for senior leadership. No matter how much a senior leader contributes to a project or to the revenue of the organization, if their actions and attitudes consistently have a negative effect on the climate of the organization, they should be removed from any positions where they can influence the climate. This may mean removing them from the organization completely. These are tough, but necessary, steps to take if you are genuinely committed to building an organization that can implement strategies at speed over a sustained period.

Demand and reward high standards of performance with appropriate motivators and hold people accountable for their results

CEO of Tata Sky, Vikram Kaushik believes climate has tremendous power to foster strategic speed: “I think what matters is the sense of personal responsibility, the sense of involvement, the importance given to motivation, the importance given to a pretty rigorous appraisal system in the company,” he states. “We’ve been very generous with people ... And yet everybody knows if they don’t perform, then they don’t get the rewards. So we’ve tried to make sure that we don’t lose track of the really hard-nosed professional measurements which are necessary to run an effective company. But equally, the face of our normal day-to-day interactions is very open and very relaxed. We don’t create unnecessary hysteria or insecurities. There is a school of thought that people must be made insecure for them to perform well. I’ve never believed in it.”

A positive climate doesn’t mean a completely relaxed one. High, clear standards for performance are motivating to leaders and employees alike.

In “Strategic Speed”, the authors argue: “if there is such a thing as a magic wand to create strategic speed in everyday execution, climate is it. No other concept is so simple - so apparently ‘soft’ - and yet has such a powerful effect on teams’ and organizations’ ability to execute, and execute fast. What makes climate so powerful is that leaders can change it fairly easily, and the resulting changes have a strong impact on people’s level of motivation and performance. Climate is a true lever for increasing speed in organizations.”

4.2. Cultivate experience

Cultivating experience means capturing the collective intelligence, skills and know-how of experienced employees and transforming this tacit knowledge into powerful learning and performance-improvement vehicles for the team. Experience is only helpful to strategic speed if it is cultivated. By this, we mean that experience is brought into view, made significant, shared, encouraged to endure and harnessed so that it contributes power to organizational endeavours. Companies that can successfully move at speed have leaders who learn and improve from experience continuously. This learning should happen at three distinct levels: in individual leaders themselves, in their colleagues and employees, and in teams and the organization as a whole.

Cultivating experience increases clarity by providing learnings of both success and failure from every part of the organization; increases unity by giving opportunities for people to work together to learn from each other; and increases agility by quickly learning lessons and constantly encouraging fast feedback loops.

Most leaders know that smart, skilled, experienced employees are necessary to the success of an organization and that more experienced employees and teams can move faster than those less experienced. Many leaders, however, don’t know how to cultivate the experience of their many employees and colleagues - how to capture it, make it visible, refine it, and harness it so that it becomes a powerful driver of results.

Though formal training certainly has its place, some leaders are starting to recognize the enormous untapped potential that exists in the experience that “floats around” their organizations all day long. They need to harness that experience and use it to increase knowledge, skill, and speed, and ensure that the insight people gain from experience endures, grows and gets applied to the work.

Leaders need to become cultivators of this type of shared experience. Cultivators don’t only teach and don’t only facilitate; they take the experience, knowledge and insights that are latent in individuals and teams and actively draw them out, making them more productive and powerful.

Cultivating experience requires the following leadership practices:

Capture the knowledge and wisdom that exists throughout the organization. Work with teams to put processes and practices in place that develop their collective knowledge, skills, judgment and insight. In the “Strategic Speed” study of what leaders do in order to capture experience in their organizations and put it to work, four themes or competencies emerged: (a) Conscious practice, (b) Openness, (c) Reflection in action, and (d) Experimentation. To increase strategic speed, leaders should develop these “CORE” competencies in themselves, in their individual employees and colleagues, and in teams.

Evaluate progress at known intervals and course correct as needed. Evaluation of progress should happen throughout a project or initiative, and not only at the end. When people know when they will be evaluated and what they will evaluated against, it becomes a self correcting and self managing system.

Institute practices such as after action reviews, or post-mortems. Besides the obvious benefits, after-action reviews also yield benefits before they are conducted: When people know that an after-action review is planned, it heightens their awareness and attention during the planning and alignment phases as well as during the project. When people know they’ll have to explain what worked and what didn’t, they ask leaders to state goals and intent very clearly in the beginning, to eliminate as much ambiguity as possible.

Provide continuous feedback to the team and to the rest of the organization.

Encourage continuous learning and ongoing development. Help individual employees and colleagues cultivate their knowledge, skills, judgment and insight - both in formal coaching conversations and informally. Think of your best teachers, coaches, or mentors from the past - those who really helped you grow. Did they leave it up to you to direct your learning? Did they merely “create a space” for learning, give you some tools, and let you decide what you felt like learning that day? Did they let you evaluate your own work? Or, did they make it perfectly clear that (a) you could do better, and (b) you really could do better - that they believed completely in your ability to reach a higher standard and were committed to helping you get there? Learning should not be left up to chance or personal choice – it should become part of the daily routine of a fast paced organization.

Model continuous learning in your own life – formally and informally. Be a good cultivator of your own experience. Model the attitudes and behaviors for others. In his 1972 book, “After Shock” (Bantam), legendary futurist, Alvin Toffler predicted that: “The illiterate of the 21st century would not be those that could not read or write, but those that cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” What do you need to learn, unlearn and relearn in the next twelve months?

Experiment constantly and have a “laboratory mindset”. Another strong theme uncovered by the “Strategic Speed” research is the ability to keep an open mind. A leader with an open mind encourages people to put unfinished or imperfect ideas forward so they can be built upon by others, to bring bad news forward early so it can be addressed, and to suggest big ideas not just incremental improvements. Another type of openness is the ability to observe everything around you, piece together new patterns, and take action based on those patterns. Constant experimentation must be encouraged, and support given when the inevitable failures occur.

In an environment that worships innovation, too few companies have the guts to really do what it takes to generate new ideas. Unless a company is pushing the boundaries back, it won’t be innovating. In order to have innovation, you must have experimentation. If you’re experimenting, then by definition, you should be having some failures. If your experiments don’t result in some failures, you’re not experimenting enough. As you look at your company or organization, ask yourself: “How often are we failing in our pursuit of being better than world class?” This is a critical performance indicator in your desire to be better than the best. But it’s a scary one, too. And takes a lot of courage.

Provide a balance of challenge and support

Vodafone – creating supported challenge

In an interview with HBR, Ed Boswell gave a further example of how Vodafone’s CEO, Vittorio Colao, manages his executives. The size of Vodafone and its extensive businesses could be recipe for slowness and bureaucracy, yet they have a reputation for speed. One of the key reasons is the way in which the CEO handles accountability. When giving a project to a key leader, he will say, “I want you to go and create this business. It’s important.” Typically, in other organizations this might result in the executive being cautious and taking things slowly, being careful not to make a mistake, and saying, “I don’t want to screw this up.”

Colao, though, specifically instructs his executives to work at speed. But he provides them with a cast iron safety net. He says to them, “I know you’ll make mistakes. I won’t fire you for making those mistakes (if you make the same mistake over and over again, you’ll be fired). But trust me, I’ll cover your back. If you ruffle a few feathers in the organization while trying to achieve this initiative at pace, just get people to phone me, and I’ll sort it out for you. With all of this support, if you don’t succeed by the end of the year, you will be fired.”

He sees it as a combination of absolute support, being crystal clear about the objectives and outcomes, being clear on the timeframe and accountability, and making sure that the person feels supported and knows that their back is covered.


These leadership capabilities focus on creating an environment conducive to fast execution of projects and achievement of objectives large and small: an organizational environment that supports speed, every day.

The complete model can therefore be represented like this:

The task of a leader is to ensure that all aspects of the model are constantly engaged, and that no one element dominates over the other.

Improving strategy execution – both speed and quality – is one of the hardest tasks any leader faces. It seems clear that the key to success lies in people and how they are mobilized, supported, held accountable and engaged in the strategies of the organization, and how much they learn and develop from each activity and experience they have. Speed is not just about moving faster – it is about ensuring that our organization is properly equipped to maintain that speed over a long period of time. And it’s about ensuring that the speed actually generates value for the organization and its stakeholders.

This is the challenge for leaders in the turbulent world we now find ourselves. Success lies in your hands and the hands of your colleagues as you work together and apply, adjust and implement this model with its associated tools and practices.

This model was developed by Dr Graeme Codrington, co-founder and international director of TomorrowToday. He is a futurist, strategy consultant, author, speaker, facilitator and expert on the new world of work. Working from bases in London, Johannesburg and Toronto, Graeme travels the world working with clients across all industries and sectors, helping them to understand the disruptive forces shaping the world right now, and showing them how to build organizations that are capable of surviving and thriving in these turbulent times. He can be contacted at More details about his work can be found at

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