When you lead a team, how do you respond to the following question:
“Do you want this done fast or right?”
For the authors of this recent article for the Harvard Business Review, the right answer is “Yes.”
Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman are CEO and president, respectively, of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy. They’re also co-authors of the book Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution.
Before you dismiss Zenger and Folkman as missing the point, consider this: Great quality isn’t really enough in today’s market–even if you’re the best at what you do. Why not?
Because if you fail to adapt, you’ll get left behind.
In a professional climate where organizational agility is of increasing importance, teams must truly find a way to have both: quality work as quickly as possible. And it all starts with leadership.
“We meet many groups that, when challenged to work faster, worry doing so will cause errors and poor quality,” write Zenger and Folkman. But for their most recent research, the consultants were interested in a different group: “the people who preferred a faster pace but also had a quality focus.”
So, Zenger and Folkman asked: What does it take for a leader to inspire both high quality and fast pace?
To find the answer, the two consultants analyzed a data set with information on over 75,000 organizational leaders. Using 360-degree assessments and statistical tests, they identified seven unique factors that seemed to play a major role in getting teams to work quickly without sacrificing quality.
In my own experience consulting with numerous companies over the years, I’ve witnesses firsthand the good, the bad and the ugly.
Through it all, five of the elements Zenger and Folkman identified clearly stand out in getting great work done quickly:
1. Keep the big picture front and center.
“Leaders rated as having both high speed and high quality were absolutely clear about the vision and direction of the organization,” wrote Zenger and Folkman.
“They were also…better at taking a longer term, broader view [and] were effective at defining that perspective and then sharing their insights with others so the strategy could be translated into challenging, meaningful goals and objectives.”
A young Steve Jobs put it this way: “There needs to be someone who is the keeper and reiterator of the vision…. A lot of times, when you have to walk a thousand miles and you take the first step, it looks like a long way, and it really helps if there’s someone there saying ‘Well we’re one step closer…. The goal definitely exists; it’s not just a mirage out there.'”
2. Communicate effectively.
“When everyone understands where they are going, what problems need to be resolved and where projects are in terms of milestones, both speed and quality increase,” write the authors.
This may seem like common sense, but achieving the delicate balance needed is no easy task. Countless hours can be lost when leaders choose to communicate through meetings what should be done through email or messaging, or when a manager attempts to handle a delicate situation through email instead of a quick phone call, or communicating in person.
Good leaders know how to discern which medium is best for each situation.
3. Embrace change.
“Speedy leaders with high quality output became the champions of change…Slow leaders who produce poor quality resist change,” state Zenger and Folkman. “Leaders with fast execution and high quality were always looking for a fresher, faster, more efficient way to deliver.”
Before starting my own business, I worked 13 years for an outstanding non-profit that encouraged empathy-driven leadership. But it wasn’t until after I left that I realized how progressive this organization was. From the board of directors to the front-line managers, we were always searching for a better way, and most were quick to embrace new technology and methods when we could prove they were beneficial.
4. Get feedback.
Zenger and Folkman noticed that leaders who were “consumed with an internal focus on the organizational problems and concerns tended to miss big shifts in the environment and customer’s preferences, leading to problems in both speed and quality.
In contrast, top leaders looked outside the organization in an attempt to identify trends and changing mindsets early. (For more on the importance of feedback, check this out.)
5. Motivate and engage.
Lots of workers are coming in for a paycheck, and not much more. True leaders know how to motivate and inspire. “Direct reports felt they were on a mission and that what they did was essential,” wrote the authors.
Easier said than done? Yes, but not impossible. Here I’ve detailed seven rules of engagement for inspiring the best employees–and keeping them around.
In short, the key to keeping your company agile–without losing quality–is to encourage a continuous learning mindset.
Because the world is moving forward. If you don’t keep up, you’ll get left behind…
No matter how good you are.