Large companies have amazing brands. They have global armies of salespeople, service teams and staff. Their balance sheets are flush with cash. But despite their largess, they lack speed. The rise of certain startups is exposing this issue. Employee engagement surveys also point out this weakness.
The problem is structural to some degree. Multiple layers, different functional teams and matrix reporting structures necessitate several discussions before decisions are taken. Email chains bounce back and forth between regional teams before any global initiative is rolled out. Anybody working in a large corporation has experienced this.
Whereas startups run forward taking great risks, the corporation is held back by speed bumps which appear in the guise of risk management, team collaboration, update presentations and check-in calls. In some unfortunate cases, this bad cholesterol of internal processes and procedures has clogged the ability of companies to compete effectively, leading to their demise.
Corporations sometimes feel they have an advantage against smaller players. Leaders believe they have more time to analyze and plan. They assume that their larger presence will afford them a slightly more relaxed pace. But this is no longer true. In physics, force equals mass multiplied by acceleration. The advantages of digital marketing channels, data analytics and cloud based software create an equal playing field. In other words, mass is equal among all competitors. It is velocity that defines who wins in the marketplace. Good talent is always an asset. Strong brands can amplify. And yes, strategy matters. But without fast execution, the race is lost.
So how can good ideas survive the scrutiny of corporate checklists? Can large companies transform their working methods to get from the “back of the napkin” to the shipping dock faster? Can clever marketing campaigns make it out the door before they go stale?
For one thing, speed needs to be recognized by the top leaders as an essential factor in today’s playing field. When the C-suite makes decisions faster, removes obstacles and begins to accelerate their projects, everything below will follow suit. If for no other reason, companies need to realize that the customer experience is tied to employee experience. They are two sides of the same coin. Friction and indecision internally will ultimately show up externally. Here are five ways companies can remove friction and increase their operational speed.
Limit the analysis. Middle managers are especially guilty of demanding multiple slide presentations and excel models for every new idea. Companies should set guidelines for short business case documents. Outline what questions need to be answered and which key metrics should be measured. Five to ten pages should be the max.
Make meetings count. Meeting leaders should start and end meetings on time, rather than twisting everyone’s schedule around latecomers. Decisions should be made in the meeting rather than taking things “offline.” Meetings should start with a run down of tasks that are due and end with delegated next steps. Create a meeting rhythm and style that sets the tone of efficiency and getting things done.
Progress over perfection. In most sectors, perfection is not a reasonable or necessary goal. Plans and products are defined, but are expected to evolve over time. The key thing is to measure progress and measure it frequently. Annual goals create a state of inaction as everyone assumes the goal is due at the end of the year, forgetting the steps it will take to get there. Business leaders need to expect progress in the next 30, 60 and 90 days, creating a faster pace and urgency in day-to-day activity.
Teams vs. individuals. Managers need to carefully think about who should be on a project team and whether there needs to be a team at all. Collaboration and consensus building on every single project will grind operations to a halt. Teams can be useful when multiple functions need to be involved on a product launch or M&A deal. But for certain tasks like a marketing campaign or account plan, a single individual might be faster and more efficient in getting the job done.
Reward good examples. When fast and efficient projects are completed managers need to recognize these efforts and showcase them inside the company. Reinforcing these behaviors is a powerful motivator for those doing and watching. This is how a speed becomes part of the culture.