The Need for Speed: Nine actions that help companies operate faster.

Hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed their doors in 2020. Yet many companies have survived and even thrived during this past year. So what can we learn from these businesses? 

Organizations that have continued to be successful during these times have boldly taken action--pivoted in their operations, reinvented their brand, challenged the way they do business, and recreated their marketing efforts. 

Much of what they did can be summed up in one word: Agility. 

Business agility refers to the qualities and environment that allow organizations to respond and adapt at a rapid pace without losing momentum or vision. As Sherri Suski put it in, “Agility is based on a culture of learning, renewal, risk taking and re-inventing.” 

2020 has shown us that the need for speed and agility have never been greater. 

So how does an organization create an agile business environment? An environment in which things get done fast, and well?  

An article written by McKinsey & Company reminds us that “gone are the days of waiting around for best practices to emerge.” And yet, businesses must shift from an adrenaline-based speed during COVID-19, to a speed designed for long-term sustainability. From their research, here are nine recommended ways for organizations to act with sustainable speed.

Nine actions that help companies unleash sustainable speed. 

1. Speed up and delegate decision making. This may look like fewer meetings or fewer decision makers in a meeting. It also means companies must be willing to empower their employees to act--and be more tolerant of mistakes. 

2. Step up execution excellence. Equip every employee with the right skills and mindset to take action, instead of waiting to be told what to do. It’s on leadership to communicate the purpose of the action, and assign responsibility and drive accountability. 

3. Cultivate extraordinary partnerships. As the world becomes more connected and the rate of innovation increases, traditional barriers are being broken allowing for organizations to work together like never before. These partnerships must be built on deep trust that allows both parties to integrate their systems and processes, enabling decisions to be made quickly and solutions executed efficiently. 

4. Flatten the structure. Having an organization that is able to respond quickly to emerging challenges and opportunities looks less like the traditional hierarchy of bosses and more like a dynamic network of teams. Bringing the right people together with real-time collaboration can help speed up innovation and boost output. 

5. Unleash nimble, empowered teams. Research by McKinsey and the Harvard Business School found that agile organizations--with small, focused cross-functional teams working together toward a specific mission--performed better and moved faster than companies who hadn’t launched agile transformations prior to COVID-19. 

6. Make hybrid work, work. There is significant value in the “new normal” of people working both on-site and remotely. It increases employee satisfaction, reduces real-estate costs, increases accessibility to a broader range of talent, and improves productivity. A successful hybrid model will require organizations and leadership to adopt new ways of working that help keep good talent by building a strong culture, cohesion, and trust.

7. Field tomorrow’s leaders today. This pandemic has shown CEOs who the emerging leaders are in their organization--those who step up to a new challenge, and can make decisions and execute quickly--and the importance of redeploying the right talent on the most important jobs. Organizations that do both of these things will be able to move faster. 

8. Learn how to learn. Such rapid change during the pandemic has shown how important it is for leadership teams to be able to adapt and learn quickly. In order to keep up with the continued rate of innovation and changes in technology, organizations may need to reskill large portions of their workforce and will need people who can learn and adapt quickly. 

9. Rethink the role of CEOs and leaders. Moving forward, leadership will continue to look less like commanding and more like empowering, energizing and “unblocking” leadership teams. Future leaders will need to be visionaries who bring energy and passion to catalyze innovation, change, and growth.

The time for speed is now. 

With an uncertain future still ahead, there is a lot we do not know. But what we can say with certainty is that we cannot go back to the way we were. Change will continue to happen at a rapid pace. In order to sustain the speed that will be required of organizations, now is the time for them to reimagine and reinvent their future.

It is a time to step up, take bold action, and prepare for the next normal.