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What's the right pace of change?

I’ve seen your ToDo lists. They’re a mile long (and 1.6 kilometers long if you’re outside the US). There’s a lot to get done when running a business. Some of the things on that todo list are “just work”, but a number of them involve change – some substantial. We’re talking about the kind of change that’ll be hard for you, and likely for your team as well. With the new year coming soon, you’ll be tempted to make a lot of big changes quickly, or make many happen at once. Sometimes it’ll work. Sometimes you need to resist that temptation. Let’s talk about it.

Slow or fast?

It’s important to know what your team can take. Rapid change is great if your team can handle it. If they can’t, the price is likely that your change fails or is poorly executed.

It’s OK to make changes quickly – even multiple changes at once. However, if your team isn’t built for speed, or at least not for speedy change, there’s usually a reason. Sometimes the work doesn’t lend itself to rapid implementation.

Even if your team is used to moving fast, some changes demand a slower pace. Changes that are richly detailed might need a different speed than you’re used to. Don’t get trapped in trying to make a change at your normal pace (regardless of the pace) if the work doesn’t fit that speed.

Thing is, slow and steady isn’t the only way. Dan Kennedy has said “Money loves speed” more times than I can count. He’s not wrong, however not all teams are built for speed and not every change can be made quickly.

First mover advantage is one reason money loves speed. Fixing problems quickly is another, as is being able to quickly respond to industry and market changes.

You want to be careful about avoiding the creation of more chaos than your team is used to handling. It’s not that chaos is bad – some teams feel like they’re always in flux. If your team is used to it and their work isn’t negatively impacted by it, more chaos is just another day at work. In fact, the fast pace may be how they love to work.

An alternative to increased pace – if that’s what you seek – is the parallel implementation of changes. This works well for multiple department changes that get handed off as progress is made. You can organize changes in a way that makes it easier for your departments to work together to get far more work done even if departments can’t yet increase their speed.

Do what works for your team

Ultimately, you’re going to find that you need to set the pace at what your team can handle and what the work demands. The key to making the changes that you have planned isn’t necessarily that you make them at warp speed or that you make them slow and steady. The key is that you and your team implement the changes successfully and make them stick.

For some teams and some types of work, the wrong pace of change can cause an unproductive spin that results in mistakes. It’s critical to know your team, their capabilities, and what they can and can’t handle. You don’t want them rushing detail work, and you don’t want them getting bored and possibly inattentive.

Processes help increase the pace of change

You know the pace of change that your team can currently handle. If you want to increase that pace, it’ll need to be intentional and deliberate. Talk about what has to happen to make sure mistakes aren’t made as the pace increases. Everyone needs to understand their roles and responsibilities. This is not the place for surprises unless they absolutely cannot be helped. Start by accelerating the pace of changes your team is used to making.

Well-defined processes with good feedback loops are a critical component of high-quality work that happens at a rapid pace. Processes provide frequent feedback and “rules of engagement” for your work. The earlier you can detect success or failure, the more likely the mistakes and failures can be caught and corrected so you can stay on plan.

Expect continued refinement of your process over time. A feedback loop that improves the process of making change will allow you to improve the quality of change, and perhaps increase the pace as well.