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When Speed Is The Single Thread That Ties It Together

November 20, 2012

As a culture, we are focused on velocity. So as I read an article on the founder of a start-up named Aaron Levie, a 27 year old whose m.o. was all about speed, one quote jumped out at me from Inc magazine.

a speed skater pulls ahead, to get things done
A speed skater knows that a small advantage in velocity translates to a big win.

“We’ve focused the culture on velocity and how much we can get done in as little time as possible. People are held accountable for the goals they set, and we set very high goals for everything we do. When you are doubling revenue every year, the amount people have to be able to do–and succeed at doing–is critical…”

Do you feel this way? Do you find time maddeningly compacted and your need to get things done pressing you into an execution-oriented rush? Do you ever get to the point where you think to yourself, “I’ve got to fail fast .. so I can correct my mistakes quickly and get back on track.”

If you are truly devoted to your work, then the answer is likely “yes”, you feel the stress towards speed. While that won’t go away–you won’t become a clone of Deepak Chopra just by reading this post–here are three lessons so you don’t get bogged down while seeking to outpace your competition.

Lesson #1: Burnout is not a supernatural phenomenon, nor is 100% perfect an achievable goal when you need to get things done

I have worked with colleagues who never leave the office, or at least, they seem to always be in their seat. By contrast, I have also worked with folks who have full stops in their day; they take a break regardless of what may come at them. The hard-charging executive comes in many forms, both youthful and gray-haired. But more than anything, it seems that the mindset to be hard charging even to the point of burnout, is a function of the time that one allots to a set of activities or reaching a goal.

If you decide that “getting it 95% right but getting it launched” is the right balance, then you may actually complete the work in the right time frame. However, if you fiddle with the edges, it may take longer and longer. In the end, upon looking back honestly, it is not always apparent that the last 5% was worth the time invested.

Lesson #2: Gather changes and tweaks earlier in the development lifecycle in order to get things done

I have seen executives mired in stagnation with endless iterations of new product features, endless rewrites of website pages, and endless discussion over how to tweak a business process. None of that helps you move fast. But all of it may seem crucial in the moment.

The most important thing about moving fast is that changes in the middle or at the end of the development lifecycle are far more costly than tweaks contemplated in the design stage. Test the puzzle pieces to see what works, but set a line in the sand that prohibits endless changes late in the process. Gather all the objections and concerns of your stakeholders earlier in the process, and then go full speed ahead.

Lesson #3: To get things done, keep the number of sign-offs to a minimum

A culture that requires multiple levels of sign off and approval is going to be slow in making decisions, and even slower in getting to goal. Do not give in to the temptation that everyone who may be interested to know something, needs to actually agree to it. Instead of consensus on everything, delegate. Vest some decision-making authority in those around you, expect that they will rise to the challenge, and then let them loose.

When someone micromanages every process or paper that crosses their desk, it comes from an egotistical sense that they themselves know best. Thinking that everyone else is disadvantaged in brain power or experience is a non-starter. If that were the case, then why were they hired? And if it is not the case, then “decision by all” may start to feel like death by a thousand cuts.

Keep nimble, keep focused, keep delegating, eliminating and automating, and then keep pace.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons 2.0, BWJones.

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