In a couple of month’s time my new book, First and Fast, will be published. My aim with the book is to provide busy executives with practical tools to increase the speed and pace at which their organisations can grow, change and develop.

The book includes chapters on strategy, implementation management, customer relationships, innovation and organisation. But, what I really found as I researched the book is that pace is, at its heart, a leadership issue.

Newton’s first law of motion declares that all objects in motion will remain in that state unless an external force is applied to it. Leadership provides the external force necessary to accelerate organisational pace. Better processes, structures and strategies can all help, but without the commitment and direct involvement of the organisation’s leader, they will not deliver change required.

One of the leaders I spoke with as I wrote my book was Richard Baker, the chairman of Whitbread plc and the ex-CEO of Boots the Chemists. I was working at Boots when Richard first arrived from Asda, and his impact was almost instant. From an organisation where decisions took forever and accountabilities were as clear as a 1950s London smog, things actually started to happen and, as a result, the retailer returned to growth.

From my conversation with Richard, I identified four factors that made the difference:

  1. Strategic focus. As Baker puts it, “You can’t spray and sprint!” From an organisation that dabbled in many different initiatives, Baker refocused the business on its core activities of pharmacy and health and beauty retailing.
  2. Higher expectations. On his first day Baker shared his expectations with his new executive team. His memo covered several factors, including integrity, but its main focus was the need to work at pace and for the executive team to set the standard for the rest of the organisation.
  3. Lean organisation. One of the first initiatives in Baker’s tenure was to reduce the head office organisation – by 1,000! Despite some nervousness and objection from members of his leadership team, when Baker announced the change to the head office workers there was a round of applause. People knew what was needed to make the company great again, and allow managers the elbow room to take action, even if it might make their own lives more uncomfortable.
  4. Continuous communication. Baker’s personal ‘balcony briefings’ became a regular feature of his time at Boots. By regularly providing an update on progress, he demonstrated his commitment to action and pace.

Richard Baker’s time at Boots was not plain sailing, but it did enable the business to return to growth and to dramatically improve its ability to act quickly. As a leader of your business, what steps could you take to drive the pace of your organisation?

© Stuart Cross 2016. All rights reserved.