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Leadership and Organizational Speed

by Tim Allard


One dimension of leadership is about moving the organization from here to there as rapidly as possible. Over the years we have worked with a lot of different industries, operating models and executives. Every organization wants to operate at the fastest rate possible, but many struggle to increase operational and market speed because of self-limiting leadership behavior. So we thought we would share some observations on this topic.

Operational speed is more often than not governed by leadership style and by the level of control and creativity people at all levels of the organization have to exercise over their work.

We believe the leader is the greatest determining factor in determining the operational tempo. If the leader has not created a clear, functioning operating model and supporting responsibilities, the organization slows from chaos and dysfunctional internal competition.

When a leader has been properly empowered, they are ultimately responsible for everything that happens within the team. The leader then has to trust and hold the team accountable to drive and achieve the stated objectives. The team can’t outrun a bottleneck leader, so the leader has to empower and push decision making down if the team is going to have an opportunity to reach its potential. We call this a “distributed leadership model” and it should be adopted at all levels of the organization

With a distributed leadership model, the senior leader distributes tasks, control and decision making to the lowest logical level of the organization. A distributed leadership model facilitates a high operational tempo and business scalability, because talent at all levels is fully leveraged and the leader is never an impediment to daily operational progress. It also encourages competent and motivated professionals to exercise a high level of entrepreneurial accountability, control and creativity over their work. It gives development opportunities to people at all levels of the organization; resulting in broader and deeper staff experience and capability. Motivating and getting the best out of highly skilled professionals is difficult unless those professionals:

· Are invested in the team’s success and future

· Can voice and are empowered to exercise an appropriate level of creativity and control over their work
· Believe they are valued and respected for their contributions
· Trust in the leader’s intentions and believe in their abilities

Having a distributed leadership model means involving your team in the decision making process. It means the selective sharing of power and control to optimize decision-making, speed and performance. Whether by delegating key decisions or simply soliciting ideas, sharing power and control with mature, competent and trustworthy people builds community, increases accountability, deepens commitment and demonstrates respect.

There is no better way to make people feel valued and respected than to ask them, genuinely, for their input and/or letting them make a key decision. You can pat people on the back and recognize their efforts, but such gestures are no substitute for involving them in important decisions. What’s more, people who are able to provide input to key decisions feel more invested in making it happen.

If you want to operate faster and increase performance consider the following five questions:

1. Are leaders pushing authority, decision-making and accountability down to the lowest logical level?

2. Do you have an operating model that makes sense for your business and that everyone understands? Specifically are information flows and transactions between functional teams happening efficiently and effectively?
3. Do your incentive systems work to support or work against the intent of the operating model?
4. Are roles well designed and expectations clearly communicated for demonstrable impact?
5. Do you have the right metrics to measure the cycle time/quality on all primary organizational functions?

Organizational speed and flexibility is critical for staying competitive, innovating and adopting new approaches and strategies. I hope you will challenge yourself to find ways to move your organization more quickly toward its objectives.

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