Expert Resources

Going Slow To Go Fast

All too often building speed requires us to slow down and prioritise time to build alignment and agility.

Carol Yang

“Go fast enough to get there but slow enough to see.”– Jimmy Buffet

Earlier this week I attended a workshop that saw a group of business leaders spending the afternoon playing with Lego. Whilst this may all sound like an incredible luxury of time or a rather whimsical activity to engage in, the ensuing conversations, depth of engagement and ideas borne was both insightful and high impact. The Lego Serious Play program is a very ‘serious’ tool used to help enhance innovation and business performance. It is also one that requires us to come to the table with an open mind; a willingness to play and explore possibility; and time – time to slow down and actively engage.

Interestingly at various points of the afternoon and in between the ‘play’ the facilitator made the comment that sometimes we just need to slow down to go faster. In a world that seems to be shouting at us to move faster, quicker and higher – all the time – this concept can sound almost counter intuitive. However if we are to build greater speed, agility and nimbleness in our own careers and businesses, is it possible we may just need to ask ourselves: Do we need to slow down to become faster?  Not stop, but slow down.

In their article ‘Need Speed? Slow Down’ Jocelyn Davis and Tom Atkinson conducted a study on high performing organisations and found that they thought differently about what ‘faster’ and ‘slower’ actually meant.  As they noted, many companies confused operational speed (moving quickly) with strategic speed (reducing the time it takes to deliver value). So much so that those who chose to ‘go, go, go’ were outperformed by those that ‘slowed down to speed up’ by 40% in sales and 52% in operating profits.

Higher performing companies with strategic speed made alignment their key priority. They became more open to ideas and discussion. They actively encouraged innovative thinking and they allowed time to reflect and learn. By contrast those that moved fast all the time and weren’t overly concerned by alignment saw performance suffer. They focused too much time on maximizing efficiency, stuck to tried and true methods and didn’t foster innovation or collaboration.

How often have we or our teams felt caught up in what feels like a snowstorm of ever increasing demands, change processes and scatter gun approaches that we don’t understand the purpose of? Not only do we feel like we are doing circle work but we lose clarity, momentum and belief in what we are doing – both in our own careers and in our business mandates. Learning to slow down with the intent of building clarity, agility and speed is critical if we are to successfully navigate today’s business landscape.

So how do we slow down to build speed? I would encourage you to consider how you could create a moment to consider the following 5 tips:

  1. Get clear on the ‘Why’: Getting clear on our why and aligning it to what we do needs to be more than an after thought. We can have the greatest strategic or career plan but if it is not truly aligned to why we want it we are most likely going to end up of course and in positions we don’t want to be in.
  2. Share it: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! Taking time to meaningfully engage about what and why we do things, to share ideas, explore and to reflect and learn means we need to create a safe space for everyone to have a voice. It means creating time to communicate through a range of mediums and in an ongoing and purposeful manner.
  3. Prioritise time AND schedule it: To slow down we actively need to change our operating rhythm. It means we need to make it a priority and carve out time in our diaries in order to give it the space it needs.
  4. Reflect & evaluate: Creating time to reflect and evaluate is critical if we are to stay on course and build momentum. Doing this ‘on route’ and not just merely on final outcomes is what will help us operate with greater clarity, confidence and speed.
  5. Learn to pivot: Real nimbleness and agility often comes through our ability to pivot rather and not always in changing directions. All too often we become distracted by the ‘bright shiny stuff’ that sees us on different paths when the most effective thing to building speed is in the small adjustments and ways we problem solve on route.

To build strategic speed we need to invest in taking the time to get it right. Not perfect but right. Leaders and teams who build in time to slow down and avoid the temptation to dive in or operate at full bore are not only more successful in achieving greater speed but also in achieving their business and career objectives.

As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

Margot Andersen – The Career Diplomat

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