When the coronavirus pandemic erupted, companies had to change. Many business-as-usual approaches to serving customers, working with suppliers, and collaborating with colleagues—or just getting anything done—would have failed. They had to increase the speed of decision making, while improving productivity, using technology and data in new ways and accelerating the scope and scale of innovation. The initial results are showing that it worked. Organisations in a wide range of sectors have accomplished difficult tasks and achieved positive results in record time.
At the heart of all this change is speed—getting things done fast and WELL. Organisations have removed boundaries and have broken down silos in ways no one thought was possible. They have streamlined decisions and processes, empowered frontline leaders and suspended slow-moving hierarchies and bureaucracies. An organisation designed for speed will see powerful outcomes, including greater customer responsiveness, enhanced capabilities and better performance, in terms of cost efficiency, revenues and return on capital. The speedy company might also find it has a higher sense of purpose and improved organisational health. These outcomes are possible, but not inevitable. Organizational successes forged during the crisis need to be hardwired into the new operating model and business leaders must ensure their organisations do not revert to old behaviours and processes. That requires making permanent structural changes that can sustain speed in ways that will inspire and engage employees.
Here are some pointers in order to achieve sustainable speed in your organisation:-
Speed up and delegate decision making. The pandemic has shown that it is possible to make decisions faster without breaking the business. What this means in practice is fewer meetings and fewer decision makers in each meeting. There is also less detailed preparation for each meeting, with one- to two-page documents or spreadsheets replacing lengthy PowerPoint decks. Moreover, with all the turbulence and uncertainty around, holding just-in-time, fit-for-purpose planning and resource allocation on a quarterly instead of annual basis is not only faster but also makes the organisation more flexible. Finally, non-mission-critical decisions can be delegated, so that top leaders focus on fewer, more important decisions. That means tolerating mistakes that don’t put the business at risk; a slow decision can often be worse than an imperfect one. The principle is simple: organisations that want to move faster must motivate their employees to be willing to act.
Step up execution excellence. Just because these are difficult times does not mean that leaders need to tighten control and micromanage execution. Rather the opposite. Because conditions are so difficult, frontline employees need to take on more responsibility for execution, action and collaboration. But this isn’t always easy and requires that organisations focus on building execution muscle throughout the workforce. Leaders must assign responsibility to the line, and drive direct accountability. That is, everyone working on a team must be clear about what needs to get done by whom, when and why. Employees must also be equipped with the right skills and mindsets to solve problems, instead of waiting to be told what to do, whilst also being disciplined to follow-up to make sure actions were taken and the desired results achieved. This mas seem like an insurmountable task for CEOs or Managing Directors whose natural instinct is to micro manage. But what I tell you is the following – if you are serious about execution excellence you are are investing in helping your workforce up their execution game—through targeted training programs, realigning incentives and directing rewards and recognition to teams or persons that execute with speed and excellence. Building execution excellence does not have to come at the expense of innovation. It is the best way you can assure a solid future for your business, that I can think of.
Flatten the structure. A speedy organisation has more people taking action and fewer people feeding the beast of bureaucracy—briefing each other, reporting, seeking approvals, sitting in unproductive meetings (and then huddling up in the meeting after the meeting to have the real conversation). Rigid hierarchies must give way to leaner, flatter structures that allow the system to respond quickly to emerging challenges and opportunities. There are fewer middle managers and more doers and deciders. Creating this new organism requires reimagining structure not as a hierarchy of bosses, per the traditional organisational charts, but rather as a dynamic network of teams.
Unleash nimble, empowered teams. The pandemic has seen the large-scale deployment of fast, agile teams—small, focused cross-functional teams working together towards a common set of objectives that are tracked and measured. Leaders have made this work by charging each team with a specific mission: an outcome that matters for customers or employees, empowering each team to find its own approach and then getting out of the way. Having one fast, agile team is helpful, but having many of them across an enterprise and enabling them with the right structures, processes, and culture, makes it possible for the entire system to move faster. Research is pointing towards more and more evidence that companies that had launched agile transformations pre-COVID-19 performed better and moved faster post-COVID-19 than those that had not. Agile organisations had an edge because they already had processes and structures available to them, such as cross-functional teams, quarterly business reviews, empowered frontline teams and clear data on outputs and outcomes that proved critical to adapting to the COVID-19 crisis. They adjusted faster and with less employee turmoil.
Make hybrid work, work. The next normal will see significantly more people working in a hybrid way—sometimes in person with colleagues on-site, sometimes working remotely. This model can unlock significant value, including more satisfied employees and lower office related costs. There are other benefits to a hybrid working model, including access to a broader range of talent, greater flexibility and improved productivity. However, to achieve these gains, employers need to ensure that the basics are in place to digitally enable remote working and collaboration, while taking care to create working norms that foster social cohesion. They should precisely define the optimal approach for each role and employee segment. That requires understanding when on-site work is better compared with remote interaction or independent work. Perhaps more important, hybrid organisations must adopt new ways of working that help build a strong culture, cohesion and trust even when many employees are working remotely.
Field tomorrow’s leaders today. One of the unexpected consequences of the pandemic is that CEOs or Business Owners have had to really see who their future leaders are. They have seen who can make decisions and execute rapidly, who is able to take on new challenges and lead in the face of uncertainty and who has the grit to persevere. In many cases leaders have found emerging talent in unexpected roles or places, people who rose to the occasion and helped lead crisis-response and plan-ahead strategies. In other cases, they have found that some leaders have become too comfortable with the slower-moving bureaucracy of the past.
Learn how to learn. Learning and adaptability has been on the agenda of Business Leaders for some time but even more so during the pandemic. In the last few months, some of the best leadership teams have been on a steep learning curve: learning how to lead in a time of crisis, learning to manage rapidly forming agile teams, making decisions at a much faster pace and learning to adapt. Forward-thinking companies are now accelerating their capability-building efforts by developing leadership and critical thinking skills at different levels of the organisation and increasing their employees’ capacity to engage with technology and use advanced analytics, digital marketing and sales. These companies recognize that the pace and scale of learning must keep up with that of innovation and changes in technology. Skills can and do expire. Organizations need people who can continually learn and adapt. In many cases, companies will need to re-skill large portions of the workforce. Skills can and do expire. Organisations need people who can continually learn and adapt and thus need to be trained accordingly.
Rethink the role of CEOs, Managing Directors and Business Leaders. COVID-19 has brought a fundamental change in leadership in many organisations. The leaders that stand out have shifted from directing a command-and-control crisis response to building and unleashing winning teams. They also over invest in communicating clearly and regularly to build trust and constantly link their actions to the purpose of the institution. To maintain the speed the COVID-19 crisis has unleashed, organisations need more of this kind of leadership. The future requires leaders to act as visionaries instead of commanders—focused on inspiring their organisations with a clear vision of the future, and then empowering others to realise the vision. It will require leaders who build winning teams; they coach their players but let them make the decisions and execute. These leaders will need to bring energy and passion to catalyse innovation, change and growth.
The coronavirus pandemic is the challenge of our times. The time for organisations to build for speed is now. This will be a long process and leaders must leap into the arena and recognise that many of their familiar organisation constructs will need to change. Many companies, at least initially, thought of the post-pandemic return as an event; they would turn the lights on and go back to work just as they has done before. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that for many, returning to work will be a process that could take a year or more and that they cannot go back to the way they were. Instead, companies should be looking at seizing the moment to re-imagine and re-invent the future, building new muscle and capabilities to come back strong. Even well-run companies may find that they need to reinvent themselves more than once. Fortune will favour the bold—and the speedy.
P.S. As a Ferrari supporter please make sure to build the speed in your organisations in a completely different way that Ferrari are doing in theirs. Ferrari is likely to be a case study whereby the lack of speed in their F1 cars is directly linked with the lack of proper leadership, structures and empowerment in the whole organisational setup.