Shawn Coffman

Balancing Speed and Sustainability

As economic pressures increase the need to reduce costs and transform business models, decision makers everywhere are searching for quick-hit opportunities to deliver significant improvement. The difficult challenge they face is finding ways to obtain lasting results at a pace needed to satisfy the overwhelming sense of urgency to "get something done".

Feeling the Need for Speed

Nothing creates a sense of urgency within a business like the realizations that revenues continue to decline and the current ways of doing business are no longer viable. Demonstrating immediate improvement and getting a "big win" quickly is essential for gaining momentum and winning the confidence of key stakeholders. Speedy results create momentum and eliminate short-term frustrations; decrease pain points and increase confidence in the team's ability to deliver. Unfortunately, acting with only speed in mind can lead to increased chaos within the organization, effectively reducing the confidence of the stakeholders the team is desperate to satisfy. The chaos created by a "pure speed" approach is the leading factor behind the failure of many large improvement initiatives. Acting too quickly causes a lack of cross-functional commitment and unclear objectives for transformation within the company. Moreover, it can lead to a poor business case without facts to support the case for change, unrealistic timelines; and poor communication between decision makers and stakeholders, rapidly leading to negative perceptions about the change initiative. When faced with the increased strain of trying to produce immediate results, avoiding these traps can become increasingly difficult for even the most seasoned leaders.

Lasting Value Requires Sustainability

To create lasting value, executives need sustainable results. The fundamental business changes to deliver these results require taking a more holistic approach; one that includes an understanding of the people, processes, technology, and financial interdependencies. In fact, by focusing on sustainability through a process-driven approach, greater cost savings can be achieved without sacrificing the quality or customer experience that a business delivers. Of course, the challenge of a methodical process-driven approach is the time it takes to execute. Avoiding the normal pitfalls and diligently defining the objectives, developing a solid business case, gaining cross-functional buy-in, and assembling the right team have a cost. And, as leaders delve into these important tasks, the sense of urgency that initially sparked the cost reduction effort often disappears or at least feels absent.

Finding Balance

The answer is a balanced approach in which the science of a well-crafted plan and project structure is coupled with the art of layering interim results throughout the plan to gain momentum and increase confidence. Balancing these two intertwined concepts leads to conscious decisions about the risk a company is willing to accept. A balanced approach addresses the need for quick “wins” with built-in improvements while executing a well-structured program that delivers significant and lasting results.