x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Slowing down to speed up

The Life: Since the new year is just days away, this is a good time to slow down to speed up.

In 2005, when Caterpillar was flying high, its leaders spent time reflecting on what improvements they could make. Chris Ratcliffe/ Bloomberg News
In 2005, when Caterpillar was flying high, its leaders spent time reflecting on what improvements they could make. Chris Ratcliffe/ Bloomberg News

Since the new year is just days away, this is a good time to slow down to speed up. Next year is poised to be another on the autobahn of business in the UAE with GDP and other indicators signalling full speed ahead.

Research from the Forum Corporation reveals the obvious - speed matters. Ninety per cent of respondents agreed that speed of strategy execution is critical to the business.

Organisations that described themselves as "faster" or "much faster" had 40 per cent higher sales growth and 52 per cent higher operating profit then their slower peer companies.

Competing in the emerging markets requires a higher rate of speed just to keep pace with the market dynamics. Being a hub in the trade corridor, regional businesses benefit from the velocity of the dual-speed trade projected for next year.

Contrary to instinct, the speediest businesses are not the ones that sprint all out without any breaks. Teams operate differently in companies that execute with speed by taking the time to capture lessons learnt at the end of a project rather than moving on to the next project without a debrief. Pausing to reflect is necessary to going fast.

To help business speed up, I often ask during strategy review sessions: "If you could go back to January 1, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?"

This simple question opens up a dialogue that reveals performance problems, hurdles and areas of improvement. From there the conversation focuses on solutions that can be used to speed up in the future.

Caterpillar, the maker of large dirt-moving machines, provides an example of slowing down to speed up. During the boom in 2005 when they were at full speed, their chief executive directed them to pause and spend time reflecting back to see what improvements could be made for the future.

Each business unit was forced to build out a "trough" strategy that modelled the worst furrow in their history and offered a solution to maintain profitability. When the recession hit, the company simply pulled out its trough plans and put them into action. Each business unit went into crisis mode, which resulted in record speed and unparallelled growth.

The result was that when other businesses were creeping along because they were not prepared, Caterpillar maintained its speed and was the best-performing stock of the 30 companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2010.

Teams achieve greater speed and effectiveness by slowing down to make sure that everyone is clear and aligned for the future.

Slowing down to speed up is like the driver who takes time to maintain his car, knows his route and removes the debris from the road. None of those functions happen while behind the wheel, but they are necessary to make the improvements to speed up.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center