Want to Move Fast on a Strategic Opportunity?

Deploy a focused team, and get out of the way.

No doubt about it: We live in a rapidly changing world. Disruptive technologies, shifting customer behaviors and emerging business models are shaking up nearly every industry. If you are going to survive and succeed amid this change, you need to move in a fast and adaptable way. Yes … even if you’re a huge global organization with many layers of leadership.

For seasoned executives, the reality they must compete with young, energetic upstarts that can switch speed and direction on a dime can be scary. And with good reason: It’s often very difficult for established organizations to move quickly and behave in an entrepreneurial fashion.

Here are just a few examples of what may be slowing your company down:

The incentives you use to motivate your leaders may be misaligned with the direction you need to head. Mark, a leader in a financial services firm, found it hard to convince the firm’s sales people to invest their time in growing sales of new products because their commissions were much higher on existing products. Unfortunately, those existing products were fast becoming obsolete.

Your organizational structure may not match up with new priorities. Laura, business unit president at a software firm, sought to grow recurring revenues and reduce cost by transitioning customers to software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings. Her business unit’s progress was very slow, however, because the professional services and customer support organizations were built to serve customers who were buying customized, on-premises solutions, not SaaS.

There may be a gap in your employee’s skills and knowledge, which impedes their success in pursuing new business goals. Jose’s objective was to develop a new product line to serve customers who were expanding their e-commerce capabilities, yet his employees were ill-prepared to serve this market.

However, none of these harsh realities can become excuses. We must respond quickly, intelligently and with courage when we face obstacles like these. One of the best solutions is to create cross-functional teams and assign them to pursue particular growth opportunities.

[Photo: Bruno Cervera/Unsplash]

When you create a small, focused team, you want to provide access to all the great things your company can provide – things such as customer relationships, company assets, funding, distribution channels and the like – but you also want to protect them from asking permission too often. You need to protect the team from some of the big-company activities and policies that might slow them down.

Granting “special privileges” to these teams can accelerate their learning and progress and enable fearless growth.

Here are some approaches that I have seen work well:

  • Faster processes for approving expenditures and lenience on investment approval hurdles.
  • Freedom to focus on “learning objectives” and other non-financial metrics, as opposed to strict financial targets.
  • Explicit “permission to fail” on experiments or initiatives.
  • Flexibility on legal requirements. For example, instead of an iron-clad contract with customers, a simple handshake agreement might suffice, so the two companies can quickly try new things, collaborating together to learn.
  • Permission to not attend quarterly business reviews, weekly staff meetings, routine training classes or other events that are not directly aligned with the team’s mission.
  • Permission to bypass internal processes that slow down action and learning.
  • Access to outside experts.
  • Lenient travel budgets.
  • Greater latitude to hire (or terminate) team members.
  • Different rules for how the team interacts with customers. For example, permission to call on existing accounts without having to ask the account manager’s permission.
  • Leeway to use marketing materials that are not fully buttoned up and formalized.
  • Time to explore industries, companies, technologies, and ideas that are not directly related to your business (seeing how things are done in a completely different industry does wonders for creative thinking).

Implementing even just a few of these measures will vastly improve your team’s speed and agility. They’ll have more freedom to pursue your strategic goals. They’ll feel motivated and empowered, which means they’ll take faster action, and you’ll improve retention. And, by working with others outside their function, team members gain new skills and perspectives. Innovation will flourish.

Perhaps most important, they’ll build networks across your company and with business partners, suppliers and customers outside your company. These networks mean that your team will know who to call – and who collaborate with – down the road when they encounter a new opportunity or challenge.

You’ll be able to pursue your goals more successfully, no matter what the future brings.

This article originally appeared on the Setili Consulting blog and was republished with permission.

[Top Image: Bell Rocket Belt/NASA]

Amanda Setili is managing partner of the strategy consulting firm Setili & Associates, whose clients include Delta Air Lines, Home Depot and Walmart. She previously held positions with Global Food Exchange, McKinsey & Company, Asia Connect in Malaysia, and Kimberly-Clark.

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