Building your organization’s capacity for speed: The human context
Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten Group
If there’s one constant in business today, it’s the pressure to move faster. Can we speed a product to market? Can we rush delivery? Can we get the app to load faster?
At Rakuten, operating effectively at speed has always been fundamental to our growth. In fact, one of our founding principles for success is simply: Speed!! Speed!! Speed!!
The reality is that our fast-changing business world requires an understanding of three very different, essential forms of speed, as well as the human context required to achieve them.
Velocity, acceleration and agility
The first type of speed that must be present in any organizational setting is velocity. In other words, a constant level of speed that allows us to grow on our current path.
The second is acceleration. This is when we speed up and move faster, gaining momentum as we go.
The third is agility.
Let’s look more closely at agility. Our organization may be moving one way, but what if the situation changes or we change our mind and need to quickly change direction? As an organization grows larger, change gets harder. Regardless of the size of your team, environments and technologies change and the path to success can shift.
“Increasing speed is not simply a task for technologists. It is a human process, one that requires us all to continue to look for new, more efficient ways to communicate and achieve our goals.”Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten Group
A company that can respond with agility survives. Take the much-analyzed case of the camera film industry for instance — Kodak vs. Fujifilm. After dominating the industry for almost a century, Kodak struggled because it stuck with film. On the other hand, Fujifilm adapted its own advanced imaging technology to diversify into healthcare, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Film is only a small part of its business now. Kodak lacked agility and faced bankruptcy as a result.
So how to build an organization that can pursue all three types of speed?
It’s not all about technology: There’s a human side to speed
While many businesses look to technology to help shave time, the most important thing to understand is that an organization is not a machine. People are not parts — and management is more of an art than a science.
“Regardless of the size of your team, environments and technologies change and the path to success can shift. A company that can respond with agility survives.”
When looking for ways to make the organization move faster, I encourage our teams to look for the human factor. Understanding how our leaders and team members work together to drive organizational velocity, acceleration and agility is absolutely key to successful growth.
Team communication: A fundamental algorithm
Communication among team members is a fundamental algorithm for agility in running any organization. Is your team’s communication efficient, productive and rich?
How do you ensure that your team members are communicating effectively? As a leader, it’s a question I often ask myself. Poor communication adds unnecessary time to a process, with additional meetings, memos and updates. Great communication can break down silos and lead to better, more efficient outcomes.
Focus through establishing common goals
Sharing common goals drives focus. A team focused on common goals is much more likely to all move in the same direction. This also cuts down on time spent instructing and explaining.
A focused, informed and empowered team is built for speed.
“A leader must not only determine which projects to pursue, but which parts of the project or undertaking have run their course or require a pivot.”
While goals can be a little ambiguous in the beginning, as we pick up speed, clarity becomes essential. Our team members are human beings – they need to be motivated by a clear understanding of what we are trying to achieve.
The re-evaluation cycle
Another way to inject speed into any project is to consistently re-evaluate the process — and be on the lookout for work that can be dropped. A leader must not only determine which projects to pursue, but which parts of the project or undertaking have run their course or require a pivot.
“Achieving velocity, acceleration and agility ultimately requires close attention to your organization’s human context.”
In the early stages of a project, it might be necessary and productive to have a daily morning huddle. But does that need to be a part of the process at later stages? Perhaps once the project is up and running, the morning huddle can be cut to once a week. Or dropped entirely.
It’s important to understand that this is not a one-time deal. Even if you eliminate every unnecessary process and make your organization as lean as possible, eventually the bloat will come back. This is natural for any organization — with growth, it’s only natural that processes become more complex – and so we need to think responsibly about how we ensure our organization stays lean, yet strong. In my experience, this is a never-ending cycle.
Increasing speed is not simply a task for technologists. It is a human process, one that requires us all to continue to look for new, more efficient ways to communicate and achieve our goals. Achieving velocity, acceleration and agility ultimately requires close attention to your organization’s human context.