Disrupting Acquisition Blog

Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution

by | Nov 6, 2019 | Accelerate, Book Reviews

Leaders and employees who operate at a faster pace are vastly more successful, profitable, and impactful.

The Speed authors conducted extensive research on speed in business. Their key findings include:

  • They define leadership speed as “reducing time to value.”
  • Faster leaders were rated substantially higher in leadership qualities
  • Almost all of the top 10% of leaders had the combination of Doing Things Fast (speed) and Doing Things Right (accuracy)
  • Higher-performing companies with strategic speed make alignment a priority, while pausing on occasion to ensure you’re speeding in the right direction
  • Speed increases engagement, retention, and discretionary effort
  • Leaders with high speed rating make a greater contribution to the organization
  • Top innovation leaders:
    • Push Harder: Set deadlines, hold individuals accountable, regularly follow-up, push people hard to deliver
    • Pull Harder: Generate excitement, energize colleagues, celebrate success
  • Leaders in the top quartile of high push and high pull were rated at the 85% on innovation
    • Younger workers react better to higher pull, whereas older workers prefer higher push

What’s your pace? The authors have a Speed Assessment quiz that readers can take to understand their pace score. The assessment calculates the extent to which you prefer a faster or slower pace. The 50th percentile is 2.0 on a -5 to +5 range. I scored a 3.7 pace score (with a +5 on quantity and +3 on patience). Growing up in NYC, life moves at a fast pace there, which I suspect has shaped my personal pace, even as I moved away 25 years ago. I encourage you and your teammates to take the free assessment and compare results. The book publishes average scores by age group, gender, position, location, and business function.

Many firms in the past believed that they could create a dominant position in the market and then defend that position for a protracted period of time. Today that is much harder to do because as Rita Gunther McGrath comments, “Competitors and customers have become too unpredictable, and industries too amorphous… [because of such factors as] the digital revolution, a ‘flat’ world, fewer barriers to entry, and globalization.”

The pace of change is rapid in national defense too. As the National Defense Strategy opens with:

“Today, we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy, aware that our competitive military advantage has been eroding. We are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order—creating a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory. This increasingly complex security environment is defined by rapid technological change, challenges from adversaries in every operating domain, and the impact on current readiness from the longest continuous stretch of armed conflict in our Nation’s historyDoD must deliver performance at the speed of relevance.”

The most effective teams resolved problems quickly before they became a crisis. They keep busywork to a minimum and keep focused on the process of the team meeting and quick pace. In positive cultures, meetings are where decisions get made. No meeting is productive when a necessary decision is not made or is left dangling. The key is to clarify who in the room is responsible for the decision.

The authors highlight the need for a positive team environment. One where every team member was encouraged to innovate and try new approaches. There was a high level of empowerment in the team. Team members felt they could take action and make decisions when necessary to achieve objectives. Mistakes were viewed as learning experiences and there was an atmosphere of continual improvement. There was excellent two-way communication between team members and also with the management of the organization.

Leadership Speed

Eight Companion Behaviors for Leadership Speed

  1. Innovating – Are there tools and processes we use daily that if we learned them better we could save time and energy?
  2. Exhibiting strategic perspective – Provide absolute clarity about strategy and vision
  3. Displaying courage – Take a risk to move faster and ask others to move fast with you
  4. Setting stretch goals – Reinforce the need for speed and achieve results you didn’t think were possible
  5. Communicating powerfully – Keeping others informed enables them to execute faster and more efficiently
  6. Bringing external focus – Look outside your own world to realize speed opportunities
  7. Taking initiative – Most opportunities are not perfect and hidden
  8. Possessing knowledge and expertise – Lacking knowledge slows people down

“The pace of the leader becomes the pace of the overall organization.” Lee Iacocca

What Leaders Who Pull Do to Generate Innovation in Their Teams

  • They set stretch goals – Asking people to increase production by 10% can be accomplished by simply working longer and harder, but asking for a 50% increase forces people to rethink the problem
  • They provided a clear sense sense of direction and purpose
  • They painted the long-term vision for where the organization needs to go
  • They turned on a dime – Leaders were skilled at recognizing problems and changing direction quickly. They encourages everyone to learn from mistakes and then move forward. They also provided support for people who made mistakes. Team members felt that their leader had their backs and would not throw them under the bus
  • They kept the focus on the customer
  • They sold the new idea and approach to others
  • Their data showed those who were more willing to take risks were substantially higher in their ability to innovative

Medici Effect

The burst of innovation and creativity that was generated by bringing together groups of people from a variety of different fields. The innovative works of many of these individuals launched the Renaissance. Most innovations are ideas, approaches, or processes borrowed from one discipline and applied to another. Expose yourself to diverse and unique fields improves your ability to innovative and speed.

DoD Acq Pros: Do you have teammates from other domains, Services, and industries? Whatever your program’s challenges are, others across DoD, federal agencies, and industry have seen (and likely solved) similar challenges. DoD’s Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems community, for example, can learn a lot from the Joint IED defeat efforts from a decade earlier. IDEO writes: To Transform Your Industry, Look at Someone Else’s


Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different.
– Michael Porter

A strategy remains clear when employees are reminded of it on a regular basis. One CEO connects every topic in meetings back to the strategy and vision of the company. While some may view this as overkill, the clarity of every person on the strategy led to amazing execution of the company.

The most successful organizations don’t execute every good idea that is generated. They focus on a few critical ideas that are most likely to bring them success. They have an environment where employees:

  • Were very well informed about the strategy and direction of the company
  • Understood how the company strategy was connected to their individual job responsibilities
  • Felt well informed, and there was continual two-way communication between employees and management
  • Felt empowered to take action and make decisions that impacted their work

DoD Acq Pros: If you asked a few people in your program office, the key operational customers, your PEO, and other key stakeholders what the core elements of your program’s acquisition strategy are, how well could they articulate it? Did you write a 100-page document that complies with the litany of laws and regulations for the oversight reviewers that lies in a file somewhere? Do key stakeholders understand the strategy and are empowered to take action to execute their part? 


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