By John Zenger and Joseph Folkman
McGraw-Hill, 208 pages, $35.95
Much has been written about the “need for speed” these days but when John Zenger and Joseph Folkman pen a book on that topic it merits attention. The two leadership development consultants usually write about the many interrelated capabilities such as judgment and communications that come together to allow an executive to be successful, basing it on 360-degree feedback results.
However, analyzing their recent data, they noted a new factor consistently emerging: Speed.
“It was not speed as an end goal, but the speed that created real value in a rapid time. It showed up repeatedly and appeared to be a powerful predictor of a leader’s effectiveness as well as the organization’s success,” they write in Speed.
Start by evaluating your personal preference about pace. They have an assessment available on their corporate website that asks questions such as whether you prefer to make decisions quickly and move on or take the time to weigh the pros and cons of decisions and consider alternatives. Neither is wrong, but the former option indicates a fast-paced mentality.
Beyond that, imagine a matrix illustrating two factors: Pace and quality. The former ranges from patience to impatience and the latter from quality to quantity. That yields four types of work performers: Sloth (slow, boring, poor execution); tortoise (patient, quality focus, good execution); hare (frantic, annoying, easily distracted, mixed execution) and cheetah (high speed and great execution). You want to be a cheetah.
And while Aesop had the tortoise beating the hare, in the authors’ modern version they put in a good word for hares because speed is so vital: “Having a naturally fast pace can put people in a good position to be successful if they can learn to execute well.”
If you’re arguing that the world needs slow, steady, quality-minded souls, they counter that their data shows the best leaders have a fairly quick pace and excellent execution. Some organizations believe certain functions, such as those where safety is critical, need to work at a slower pace with the focus on improving execution. The consultants still feel that can be done while improving pace.
When they gave people the statement, “If I were able to move faster, I would be much more effective,” they were surprised that 63 per cent agreed – an unusually high result because normally people don’t like to make negative interpretations of their current performance. Top executives were only somewhat higher than subordinates in that assessment. So the belief that speed is important runs throughout organizations.
While your day speeds up, it’s even more important that your relationships be strong. They recommend:
- Setting the pace when you initiate a conversation. If you drop by somebody’s office, remain standing and, after exchanging a couple of remarks, note some of the efforts the person has put into his or her work. The conversation can be short but help build a strong relationship. They suggest asking, “Tell me something you think I don’t know and maybe don’t want to hear.”
- Softly guide others’ conversations: When others settle into your office for a laid-back chat, don’t be afraid to stand up, signalling you are short on time, or even inform them you have a time constraint. More generally, “Help others get to the heart of the matter and let them know you respect their time and you want them to respect yours.”
- Set expectations with your work force: If somebody drops by your office with an issue, make your first question something like: “What do you think? What have you considered? What strikes you as the best way to go?” That avoids a long drawn-out analysis and hastens the pace.
- Use very short scheduled meetings: Meetings expand to fill the time assigned to them, so keep it tight. They point to a pharmaceutical executive who scheduled three- to five-minute meetings with subordinates.
Their book extends into other areas such as keeping focus on high-performance goals, setting stretch goals, communicating powerfully, and making sure you have a balanced enough life that you don’t become disconnected from the joy of watching sunrises or sunsets. It’s wide-ranging, data-driven and a thoughtful exploration of an important emerging aspect of management.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an onlinecolumn, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter.