Speed is the biggest advantage start-ups have over scaled businesses. They are smaller, more focused, and not weighed down by process and risk, so they can move faster. In times of change, being able to move fast is a massive advantage, and the pace of change is only speeding up.
Much of what we see driving the growth of start-ups and challengers is on the outside: great products, smart marketing, big fundraises. But those outputs are the result of a series of inputs - thousands of decisions that end up leading to something that works. The final idea or accomplishment is what gets the credit, but in order to get there (and get there often) the culture of these businesses is built to move fast and constantly flex towards new opportunities that present themselves.
We all (inherently or explicitly) know this. We’ve heard the speed boat vs oil tanker analogy. And nobody likes being slow, but there are always realities inside larger, traditional businesses that seem so hard if not impossible to change. There are layers of approval, the rounds of revisions, and sometimes even just straight-up politics. Here at Rival, our fundamental belief is that any business can and should act like a challenger. You don’t have to be small to move fast, it just might be harder to get your team, division, or company to start doing it. But there are lessons we can learn from studying start-ups and pieces of what makes them fast that can be applied to any business. So, let’s start small - get started getting started.
Here are three principles that will help you move faster:
1. Principle: Focus on progress not perfection.
This is all about making decisions faster. The turnaround for decision-making is often a big part of what slows down incumbent cultures and organisations. So many people take too much time to make decisions that don’t hold big implications one way or the other. Some (very few though) decisions are extremely important, either because they hold huge opportunity or huge risk. Those decisions should be made slowly, carefully. But for the rest (which is usually 90%+ of the decisions you make in any given week), those should be made quickly. The amount of time you take to make a decision should be proportional to the opportunity/risk that decision holds. And for most people and most decisions, the ratio is skewed and it slows them down.
Practice: For every decision you need to make, ask yourself if this is a “progress” decision or a “perfection” decision. If it’s a progress decision, recognise you don’t need to make things perfect, you just need to move them forward. If it’s a perfection decision, take all the time you need.
2. Principle: Change your approval process to a “disapproval process”.
Most processes to start or ship something new focus on approval. If you’re the manager, you’re asked to approve something. If you’re the employee you need to get approval. And because of the way most company cultures are oriented (and our natural disposition as humans) we are hesitant to give our stamp of approval on something unless we feel really good about it. We want to see a brilliant idea or the exact version of something before we approve it. This slows things down...and doesn’t always lead to a better result! Usually our “approval” is a subjective opinion on what we like/dislike vs what our customers will like/dislike. The role of the approver should actually be to disapprove the wrong things instead of approving the right things.
Practice: If you’re the manager, focus on what needs to be disapproved, not what needs to be approved. If something is wrong or it will put the brand or business at risk, by all means disapprove it. If not, let it go through. Be the disapprover for your team, not the approver.
3. Principle: Minimise time between idea and execution.
This is where we see most people and teams get stuck. Someone comes up with a great idea and it doesn’t become anything for months! As soon as you have a good idea figure out how to get an MVP version of it out as quickly as possible. Focus on making the idea better, but equally focus on reducing the amount of time it sits in the development process and “assembly line” within your team.
Practice: Track your “in progress” time for new ideas. Use a Kanban board to list the new ideas you and your team come up with, then track how long they spend in “in progress” before they are deployed. Try to reduce the average time by 50% over the next 90 days.
Changing culture is hard. Humans are naturally averse to change, and many humans who tend to do things in a similar way (i.e. a culture) are even harder to change. But change usually happens gradually and then all at once. Focus on the small, gradual changes you can make now with the principles and practices above. As long as you are getting faster and not slower, you’re moving in the right direction, even if it’s not happening as quickly as you’d like.