The Right Pace Wins The Race
Each time I train for a distance race - whether it’s a half ironman or a 100 kilometer run in Mongolia - I rediscover the importance of pace - for the race and for my training. If I train at too slow a pace, I fail to build the speed and strength I need for the race. If I train at too fast a pace, I get injured or burn out. Getting this right is not easy.
Finding that just right pace where you push yourself to go as far and as fast as you can - and no further - until you build the capacity to sustain this what I call Intelligent Restraint. I find this as important to running my own global business as it is when I’m training for a race.
Business leaders need to find the right pace for their business. This enables us to deliver the performance today, build capabilities for future success and ensure the energy needed to do this without causing harm to our business or people.
Oftentimes I work with leaders who are driving short-term performance but have no resources remaining to build capacity for the long-term. We’ve learned to mindlessly exert - to go as fast as they can without conserving any energy to transform for the future. This may work quarter-to-quarter, but eventually and inevitably it backfires.
Samsung’s Galaxy 7 Flames Out
Samsung learnt a painful lesson about going too fast this year with the spectacular explosion (literally) of its Galaxy Note 7 phone. Samsung had been growing at a spectacular rate since 1993 when Chairman Kun-hee kicked off a global growth strategy. They had a fast-following rather than an innovation-based strategy. Profit margins were good and they sold more devices than any other company at a time when phone industry was evolving rapidly. But this speed meant that Samsung had cram functionality into each new device to keep up with its competitors.
Launched in August 2016, the first batch of the Galaxy 7 phones were recalled just two weeks later after several phones caught fire. Despite some initial very public assurances by October Samsung had abandoned the device and was issuing profit warnings (30%). What ensued was a reputation nightmare with images of melted phones in aeroplanes posted all over the media. At the time of writing Samsung just issued a profit warning; down 30%. Samsung was going too fast, pushing beyond its maximum capacity and neglecting to build the right capabilities for the future.
Too Little Too Late For Nokia
Not all problems with pace are about going too fast. Sometimes leaders are too slow to build capabilities needed to transform for the future. Take Nokia for example. At one point, Nokia was the most important mobile phone producer in the world. Nokia brought us text messaging and became the most important powerful company in Finland. But the leaders of Nokia had become complacent and under-invested in innovation. They were not ready for the long-awaited (and long expected) iphone with its snazzy display, slick Apple design and, importantly, the smart phone’s operating system. Nokia’s leaders knew they couldn’t catch up Apple’s operating system but were so focused on getting quarterly results with what they know best that they failed to respond to their competition and the almost instant consumer preference for smartphones. Nokia was going too slow - they needed to push to their limits and get ready for the smartphone era - instead they let their pace drop and ultimately lost the race.
The Right Pace Wins The Race
Samsung and Nokia are two sides of the same coin. One went too fast – the other too slow. Sometimes we need more restraint – sometimes we have to let go of restraints to go faster and push harder until we meet our maximum capacity. As a leader, finding the right pace to execute and the right pace to build capacity for growth is hard work.
If we always go as fast as we can, we’re sure to get burned out. If we go too slow, we lose the race to others who are nimbler than we are. That’s why "the right pace wins the race".
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To learn more, read the book, Pacing for Growth: Why Intelligent Restraint is Key to Long-Term Success. To become an endurance athlete of business growth starts with understanding how to build your own, your team or your business capacity to succeed over the long-haul.