The Need For Speed
Recently, when analyzing Zenger Folkman’s 360-degree feedback data for several clients, searching for clues about what distinguished their stronger leaders from those who were less effective, we noticed a new factor consistently emerging: Speed. The better leaders moved at a quicker pace. They more rapidly saw trends. They were quick to identify and solve problems.
However, to be more precise, my colleague Joe Folkman and I determined that what made these leaders so effective was not merely that they acted quickly. Instead, it was the combination of operating at a fast tempo and simultaneously producing work of high quality. Their creation of greater value came from a quicker pace that didn’t compromise quality.
I was surprised at how frequently this showed up as a power predictor, not only for a leader’s effectiveness but also for the entire organization’s success. With so many leaders feeling the pressure of “too much to do and not enough time,” could speed be the answer? It is even possible for people to consciously increase their speed?
We’ve studied 51,137 leaders on two dimensions: the leaders’ ability to do things fast, and to do things right. Leaders who were effective at doing things fast (above the 75th percentile), but not highly effective at doing things right (below the 75th percentile), had a 2% probability of being one of their organization’s leader in the top 10 percent in overall effectiveness.
On the other hand, those leaders who were rated highly at doing things right (above 75th percentile), but not doing things fast (below 75th percentile), had only a 3% probability of being in that top decile category.
But now for the unexpected kicker: Leaders who were rated highly at doing things fast) and right(top quartile on both) had a 96% probability of being an extraordinary leader.
Speed alone is of little advantage. Work must be accurate. It was this combination of doing things fast and right that created the magic.
How Speed And Quality Differ
Speed and quality are both important, but they are different. We are emphasizing the importance of speed and spending less time talking about quality. Why? Because we see quality as akin to an “on and off” switch. You either have it or you don’t. If you have the required quality to satisfy a customer’s requirements and expectations, then doing a lot more often doesn’t create more value.
Speed, on the other hand, is a rheostat. It can be turned up to a higher and higher level and so long as quality is not compromised, it continues to produce ever increasing value for the firm. We think increasing speed is something the huge majority can do.
If you want to truly understand how to increase pace without comprising quality, then you need to learn from those leaders who do it best. The research from Zenger Folkman’s database on more than 75,000 leaders shows many different successful approaches to improving leadership speed. Here are some tactics every leader can use:
1. Accelerate interactions. Life in organizations involves one-on-one interactions with colleagues. In fact, many of those interactions take longer than needed. Without being obnoxious or rude, you can move those along to a good conclusion. It is estimated that 15% of the typical employees work-week is spent in meetings. But does every meeting need to take an hour.
2. When projects and responsibilities are properly delegated, both parties usually win. The recipient’s job in enlarged. The leader’s time is freed up to do work that is hopefully more strategic or innovative.
3. Increase the tempo. Organizations take on a cadence or rhythm. Walk into some, and it feels like “la-la land.” Others are characterized by a crispness, efficiency and focus on things getting done promptly. Two well-known business leaders made nearly identical observations. Both Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, and Lee Iacocca who had a storied career in the automotive world wrote: “The speed of the leader is the speed of the team.” (May Kay Ash happened to say “gang.” It is your example that increases the pace of your organization.
Improving your speed can greatly influence many aspects of your life. For those who are always feeling behind there are proven methods for catching up. However, as you increase your speed, never comprise quality. Out-of-the-ballpark improvement happens only when speed and quality work together in a balanced and cooperative way.
Information about Jack Zenger’s new book, “Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution” is available here.