“Strategic Speed: Mobilize People, Accelerate Execution,” is a leadership book not a strategy book. Through research, illustration, and application, the authors clearly explain that leaders create fast organizations that reduce time-to-value by focusing on three key people factors.
Passionate, misdirected leaders, on the other hand, create slowness and slowness is costly. Research shows that 50% to 70% of all strategic initiatives fail because they aren’t completed in a timely manner. At best, an organization has a 50/50 chance of successfully completing a strategic initiative.
Historically, efforts at reducing time-to-value focused on processes, lean principles, or automation. During times of abundance process improvement and technological solutions create competitive advantage. However, today’s business climate requires more.
The authors of “Strategic Speed” believe focusing on people makes the difference.
Great organizations are made of great people. For example, an efficient process is a thing of beauty but it’s useless until a person breathes life into it.
Surprisingly, fast organizations don’t focus on speed. They aren’t pressuring people to pick up the pace. However, leaders in fast organizations increase three people-focused speed factors. In other words, speed is a by-product of increasing three conditions.
The three most important strategic speed factors:
Clarity: Shared, clear understanding of your situation and direction
Unity: Wholehearted agreement on the merits of that direction and the need to work together to move ahead
Agility: Willingness to turn and adapt quickly while keeping strategic goals in mind
All three factors are people factors.
In addition, all three speed factors are sequential. Clarity first, unity second, and agility completes the trio.
As a result of reading “Strategic Speed,” I’m asking myself and my organization one important question. What has to change about us, not our programs, in order for us to move forward faster?
Which of the three speed factors do you find most challenging? Why?
How can leaders create clarity, enhance unity, and nurture agility?
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Clarity is very tricky. Often people think they understand the bigger picture and the organization’s agenda, meanwhile they are actually driving based on their own personal agenda. I am not talking about the egotistical selfish types but people who genuinely listened to what they were thinking rather than what was said. If you’re lucky, you move in the same direction but often it goes pear shaped because of that little misunderstanding
Well said. I’ve found that perceptions are tricky. I can be convinced about a causal relationship only to find there were other contributing factors. Perhaps gathering information from new sources, establishing evaluation processes helps.
Thanks for adding value to the conversation.
Good morning Dan, what a great way to start my day. “An efficient process is a thing of beauty but useless until a person breathes life into it.” WOW! Talk about sending the message home. Another great book that has to be added to my list. I think you and the authors are right on the money with the three key speed factors and yes I fully agree they have to be sequential and any change in order will lead to poor execution. Without full clarity one can not achieve transformational unity and in fact it has been said that more often than not resistance and a lack of consensus and union is most often due to lack of clarity. Without cohesion and solidarity being present there can be no true “responsive and timely” agility. In today’s dynamic environment with globalization surrounding us it behooves us all to stay continually alert and ready to make the necessary adjustments as ambiguity and disruptive innovations engulf us. The unknown can only be met with full deployment of the aggregate strengths of a fully engaged, motivated, determined, and united organization. Even the slightest “drag” can weigh down the team making it less nimble and unable to skirt inevitable barriers. Before departure all excess “baggage” must be removed or at the very least identified so appropriate actions can be taken when the moment calls for them. As we speak we are in the process of doing just that with our organization to make us ready for the significant changes which will occur in healthcare in the next 3-5 years. Undoubtedly we will lose some folks but better to find out now how many team players we can count on than running to the dugout in the last inning. Thanks for bringing “clarity” to my day and helping me stay on course. Have a great day Dan.
Good morning Al and thanks for an eloquent comment. Your drag/baggage statements are vivid.
Reading your comment made me think about the importance of understanding where we are (Clarity). In health care, I’m not sure you know where you are. What a challenge!
I’m thankful for you and your insights.
Best to you,
Al is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. Read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/al-diaz
Thank you Dan. You are absolutely right with regards to health care and the lack of clarity. It is most certainly a moving target but we have to inch forward and be as vigilant as we can and yes there are risks involved but we feel the greater danger is stasis as has been commented here before. Not sure whether I shared this one with you but it is priceless in my mind and extremely apropos for our situation and our risks: “Behold the turtle: He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.” (James Bryant Conant). I hope there is nothing too sharp hanging over us as we mosey on forward. 🙂 Al
Sounds like a good book – I’ll have to add it to the ever growing list 🙂
In my experience, clarity tends to be overlooked – people jump to trying to unify people and encourage agility before they’ve ever clarified what is most important.
This often leads to an organization that is unified around different things, and getting tired of having to be agile to adapt to what appears to be flavor of the month initiatives.
I sometimes hear phrases like “oh, that should be intuitive,” or “they should know that already,” or “we’re still in the process of determining…”
The above statements can be true in some cases, but they don’t negate the need to proactively and purposefully clarify purpose and mission, and its relation to day-to-day activities. Without this, a unified a agile workforce becomes a cynical and frustrated workforce!
I’m thankful you stopped in to share your perspective.
I see your point. If the first step of a journey is the most important because it determines direction then we better have a some clarity about where we are and where we want to go.
All the best,
My thanks to the author for explaining in a book what I’ve known and used for quite some time – people are not the problem – they are the answer. They don’t need to have a degree, experience or any other pre-requesite for doing a job, save one. The desire to do it.
Nicely said! People are the answer.
Gary Vee says, Passion (desire) trumps everything.
Thanks for stopping in.
Alan is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. Read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/alan
Dan, I would have to say CLARITY is the most challenging AND rewarding of the 3 factors. It’s tremendously tempting for a leader to grab onto the next best thing at the expense of what is screaming to be done (as always, good is the enemy of better). But when Clarity is present, Unity and Agility are possible.
I’ve had the privilege of coming in contact with 2 influential leaders who deal directly with the clarity factor regarding churches:
One is Kerry Bural of The Resonate Group
The other is Will Mancini, author or Church Unique
I’m with you on the rewarding part of clarity. Personally, I coming to clarity on some important aspects of life and it feels really good.
I think organizations without clarity naturally flounder, have higher levels of conflict, and experience more power struggles.
Clarity not only directs it informs the nature of organizational interactions.
Best to you,
I wholeheartedly agree with this general direction. That said, I’d wordsmith. “Alignment” is more on target than “Unity.” Unity suggests a fascist rigidity. In strong organizations, there are always conflicts and disagreements, which are healthy – the challenge is to ensure that once the decision is made, everyone aligns and supports, whatever their original position.
I also like “resilience” more than “agility.” Resilience includes agility, plus the healthy ability to balance complex conflicting demands and to build connections/alliances. (see my recent blog on the ABCs of Resilience: fastgrowth.biz/blog)
Mostly that’s just wordsmithing, but it ends up spells CAR which is more on-theme than CUA. Anagrams speed learning!
Your comment is both entertaining to read and insightful. “CAR” = nice.
I get your point on alignment. Unity may suggest agreement where as alignment doesn’t unnecessarily restrict personal opinions.
Have a great day and thanks for sharing your insights.
Mark is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. YOu can read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/mark-friedman
An interesting post emphasizing the role of people to ensure strategic speed. Leaders face the real problems to bring agility amongst the operational team members after ensuring the required clarity and unity to achieve the set goals.
Things will move smoothly on when people have necessary good faith in their leader and are willing to change their work style with the desired efforts. Progressive feedback and adequate controls can be 2 new factors to complete the process of strategic success.
Dear Dr. Asher,
Thank you for adding value. Your “good faith” comment opens the door to the Speed of Trust. One more key component to organizational speed.
I wish you well.
Dr. Asher is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. You can read his bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/dr-asher
It’s interesting that in everything we keep coming back to a fundamental requirement to know where you are going. As discussed here, John Spence emphasizes in Awesomely Simple the importance of creating and communicating a vision.
Whether it is a personal or an organizational goal, that vision has to be understood by the everyone so they can align to it. It’s nice to know what you have to do but if you do it without regard to the destination it will often result in wasted effort. Clarity is key.
I think one people factor missing, at least from the review, is perseverance. Every goal/initiative will hit a rough patch of road. So the question becomes – are you determined to achieve that vision?
Which of the three speed factors do you find most challenging? Why?
How can leaders create clarity, enhance unity, and nurture agility?
Let’s see, we can only pick one of the three factors as “most challenging?” A challenging directive in itself! I suppose at my workplace, a private not for profit that has to report to many “state” agencies and has very specific “guidance” because we receive a lot of federal funding, unity is the biggest issue. The federal and multi-agency stuff definitely presents agility challenges, but I honestly feel if we could achieve greater inter-staff unity, the clarity and then the agility would be more likely to fall into place. We do have a fledgling strategic planning process (a step in the right direction) but its development was done by upper management with our board’s approval and then “dictated” to the other staff. I think that makes it harder to gain unity, personally.
As far as how leaders can create clarity, enhance unity, and nurture agility, I as an employee would rather have one honest-to-God, candid conversation with my leader in which they and I can exchange some ideas about our workplace than a hundred “feel good” campaigns or artificially created “bonding opportunities.” Boils down to: keep it honest (then let’s all get together and socialize).
Great post and topic – really interesting. “Go slow to go fast” has been on my mind for awhile since I first heard someone talk about it in a workshop, but it is easier to chant than achieve sometimes. It seems like “unity” is a big stall out in nonprofit organizations I have worked with. I would love to have a magic formula for the critical mass of people you need to have on board with you to move forward purposefully and positively, since it seems there are always a few holdouts. Or maybe it is a matter of who is involved in the decision making process – nonprofits are notorious for including EVERYONE in committees. Or perhaps it has been a failure on my part or leaders’ parts to truly reach clarity before getting to unity. Hm. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.
“Agility” surely is a key factor. Keeping an open, agile mind is the key to be part of a successful team, at least in my experience. The other two speed factors are of course equally important, but Agility is what stuck to me as soon as I read this post. I have so many examples of candidates I interviewed and tried out for a certain period who failed ’cause of lack of an agile mind.
Good post, Dan. Everyone has added some nice perspective. I particularly like MP’s “alignment” and “resilience”. My experience shows me that clarity is hardest to achieve for many leaders and organizations. I would add that “clarity” is not just about the top person, but about “robust dialog” in many instances that creates a shared clarity. I also see that they build on one another. Better clarity makes alignment/unity easier, which makes moving with greater agility/resilience.
Dan, I love your question at the end about what has to change with the people. I often ask individuals/teams, “What can YOU do that will get you, the team, organization closer to what you are seeking?” We are often about other people’s change when the only change we have control over is our own.
Wow — so many great comments. I wish when we were writing this book I’d had the chance to interview all of you — there are some excellent questions and quotes here! Two quick thoughts:
Alan: You summed it up. When it comes to speed, people are not the problem; they’re the answer. I and my co-authors have found it fascinating that so many leaders are perfectly willing to tout clarity, engagement, alignment, learning, etc … up to a point! — but when it’s time to “get it done” or “go fast,” they tend to drop all the “people stuff” thinking it’s too time-consuming. What our research shows is that it’s the “people stuff” that is, in fact, the key to execution.
Bobby: Excellent point about perseverance. We actually found that perseverance needs to be included in the concept of Agility; it’s what makes the difference between true agility and mere vacillation. There are a couple of interesting examples (I think) of real agility and perseverance in Chapter 2.
Jocelyn, RE Bobby’s comment on perseverence, I believe leaders (especially entrepreneurs) tend to get bored with the strategy (Alignment) after the big push of Clarity. They are off to the next hill to conquer.
If they’re not careful, lack of perseverence can grow from a weakness to a character flaw that really needs attention. If it remains merely a weakness, the leader needs a good team around them to compensate.
Thanks for the followup Jocelyn. I look forward to reading your book.
Great posts all…I see unity or alignment or engagement or investment as pivotal and challenging because we all bring our own baggage with us as Al noted.
One can still have a clarity of vision and be resilient (to a degree), yet without everyone on board, we all push the car from all four sides and it goes nowhere.
How to enhance unity…very frank discussion with coupled with elements of accountability on multiple levels with trust being an overlay. Without trust, no unity.
Our belief towards program execution has to change to move forward. When program is made, we should fully execute it in time. Our committment, loyalty and passion towards program should be aligned. Then only we can move forward. Any missing factor can derail the project execution in time. Here time is crucial factor. Exectution after time is useless. Execution before or in time is useful. Among three factors of strategic speed ie clarity, unity and agility, I believe all the factors are interconnected and lead to other. However, Agility seems to be more challenging. People are blinded by the continuous success or failure. In case of continuous success, they do not want to try to adapt to different situation. Similarly, in case of continuous failure, people are fearful about one more failure. Agility always has risk dimension because when you want to adapt to new situation, you also need to be ready for its potential drawback and advantages. Adpating and following new situation always might not be productive and useful. Unity also poses challenge when goal is set by only certain people and other people are not taken into confidence and account. So, when every one is aware and own the clairty, then it becomes to adapt to new situations when needed. Collectively people can make big and difficult change.
Leaders create clarity, enhance unity, and nurture agility by creating dreams and shaping them with passionate desire to make it real.
I’ve just started doing some strategic plan consulting using a new tool by eBOARDsolutions that helps organizations manage, monitor, track and communicate their plans (and the intiatives and actions steps within). Its quite thorough but the training I’ve been involved in is more a question of who does what by when. For those who never intend to monitor and track the plan, it is useless and seems like a lot of work though. (This tool was built for school districts but personally, I could see it being used by almost any organization. It also helps with alignment of work. Here’s the link if you are interested: http://bit.ly/grU8dy
Thanks for sharing a tool that may enhance strategic speed.