In almost every industry speed of innovation or production is key to success. When all else is equal, producing widgets faster than the competition usually puts you at an advantage. That’s true also for bringing a product or service to market. In the fast paced digital world of share trading, tech start-ups and even the media. There’s the quick and the dead.
Speed is vital for other business as well. Ask anyone to name fast, agile businesses and it’s a safe bet that they will name small businesses or companies whilst asking their opinion of companies they think are slow will generally elicit a host of large corporations.
On the surface this may seem self-evident. However, peer a little deeper and some very large companies have learnt to harness the power of decision speed and are not stagnated by committees and meetings. Google and Amazon are but two sizable companies that most would consider agile despite their considerable size.
This hasn’t escaped the attention of Nobel economics laureate and psychologist Daniel Kahneman — considered the father of behavioral economics, who said of his consulting experience that he had “expected to be awed” by the quality of the decision-making in organisations in order to survive in such a competitive world.
In a talk at the Wharton People Analytics Conference, he revealed that he was underwhelmed.
“You look at large organisations that are supposed to be optimal, rational. And the amount of folly in the way these places are run, the stupid procedures that they have, the really, really poor thinking you see all around you, is actually fairly troubling,” he said.
So what could we consider as an anabolic steroid for business? If you boil most business down to its core it’s making decisions and then taking action on that decision - executing is a common term. Time and time again successful organisations do both of these, not with haste but certainly with speed.
100% done today is better than 100% perfect sometime in the future. That doesn’t mean that an average decision or plan is set in stone never to change. Making decisions, taking action and adjusting as more information becomes available is what successful organisations do.
Nobody gets everything 100% correct first time every time. Google changes its algorithms, Apple updates and upgrades its software yearly and Microsoft invented the Zune (You remember a Zune right?). So a speedy yet informed and considered decision get us out of the gate and into the race.
This isn’t to say all decisions should be made quickly. Some decisions are more complex or critical than others. On occasions it may be prudent to delay a decision pending further information. However, the decision to wait must or should be the conscious decision regarding the issue. Waiting as a result of indecision is essentially avoiding the decision and action and that causes lack of agility.
Companies’ worldwide waste an incredible amount of time with meetings that don’t derive an outcome – no decision was made. I’m sure we’ve all been in meetings where debate has raged and then, when the meeting concludes, nothing has been concluded and if it was, action items haven’t had due dates set.
Here’s one of the fundamentals of speed. When a decision is made is much more important than what decision is made.
Right from the beginning, deciding on when a decision will be made is an insightful yet formidable change that will grease the ‘decision wheels’ for speed.
Have you ever attended a meeting where the convener has thrown out the challenge to the group that we need a decision by the end of the meeting or within a certain amount of time? Try it when you next convene a meeting to resolve an issue. Nothing focuses our minds like a deadline.
In the next part of The Need for Speed we'll examine more decision speed techniques to truly get agile.