Aesop has a lot to answer for. His fable of how the tortoise beat the hare has persuaded generations of children and business leaders alike that ‘slow and steady’ wins the race.

It doesn’t. In 99 cases out of 100, it is the fast and nimble that win the race. Aesop’s fable only became famous because it was the 1 in 100 chance where the tortoise got to the line first.

The business world is not littered with examples of slow, lumbering organizations that lead their markets by steadily plodding along. It is littered, however, with examples of once-fast companies becoming arrogant, fat and bloated and overtaken by new, more agile and fitter competitors.

Think, for instance, of Nokia and Blackberry in the smart phone market as two very recent examples.

So, what does this mean for developing and sustaining a successful business? In short, it means that pace is the critical ingredient. Many business leaders have bright, innovative ideas. But it is only those that win the race to be the first to fully develop, deliver and exploit them that succeed.

Here are seven ways that you can increase your organization’s pace and transform your company’s fortunes:

  1. Don’t confuse pace with being busy. To continue the leporine metaphor, and as the Japanese saying goes, you can’t chase two hares. Yes, you can be busy chasing two hares, but you will never catch either of them. You must decide, you must choose, and you must focus before you can move at pace. It is about how quickly you achieve your goals; not about how many hours you work each week!
  2. Lead or get out of the way. It’s the executive at the top of the organization that really sets the pace of the enterprise. You can create whatever structures you want and talk about pace until your blue in the face, but your business will only follow your lead if they see that you are acting accordingly. What are your behaviours communicating to your business about the importance of pace?
  3. Welcome, don’t avoid risk. The flipside of risk is opportunity, and it’s your ability to be the first player to seize and capture an opportunity that determines your company’s success. How are you positively seeking out and managing the risk of opportunity?
  4. When you’re 80% ready move. Excessive planning is, in my experience, one of the biggest drags on business growth, particularly for established, successful companies. Your ability to take action, learn and improve is far more important than your ability to plan. Are you perfecting your plan when your rivals are out there selling and delivering?
  5. Embed autonomy and accountability. If everyone is waiting for your approval you will never be able to accelerate and grow.  You must clarify your objectives and goals, let your managers work out the best and quickest route to achieving them, and then have a clear way of systematically holding them to account.
  6. Err on the side of simplicity. Complexity is the enemy of pace and this means that you need a simple, fit-for-purpose organization. What does this mean in practice? Well, it means that decision rights are clear and managers aren’t stepping on each others toes trying to get things done; it means that management layers are kept to a minimum; it means that your customer proposition is clear and that your business is not weighed down with too many unproductive products and services; and it means that the voice of your customer is heard directly and continuously throughout the organization.
  7. Remember that nothing fails like success. I once visited a GE site that had a picture of cheetahs hung on the wall. When I asked the manager what it was about, he replied that on the savannah it didn’t matter if you were a big cat or a gazelle, when the sun came up you’d better start running if you wanted to survive. The problem with Nokia was that, ten years ago, management believed that they were invincible and couldn’t be toppled – so they stopped running. Sometimes success can be your biggest weakness.

Which of these seven steps can help your business to increase pace, get ahead of your competitors and become a hare rather than a tortoise?

© Stuart Cross 2013. All rights reserved.