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Monday, September 22, 2014

Sunday, June 1, 2008
Business

Column - Sarwar Ahmed

Fast forward pace

The faster you are in getting products to market, the faster you respond to customers and the quicker you have the cash cycle working in your favour.

Have you felt the impatience of things not happening as fast as you want? Oh the bureaucracy, you must have exclaimed! It is all about the pace at which things happen in an organisation.

Why is pace, the velocity of getting things done, so important? It is interesting how Toyota has nearly become the world's number one auto manufacturer. One of the several reasons for their success is their pace of getting things done. A new vehicle takes a year to design in Toyota where competitors typically take two to three years.

So why do we need to have a fast paced organisation? The faster you are in getting products to market, the faster you respond to customers and the quicker you have the cash cycle working in your favour. Of all the car makers, Toyota has the biggest cash war chest and is the most profitable.

There are three aspects to being fast paced: one, leadership attitude, two, processes that drive the business, and three, the size of the organization. The leadership of the organization sets the pace. I was told by our Regional CFO Robert Weltevreden, who joined us from Rubbermaid, that the first management principle is that the boss sets the pace. Just the other day, Sony's CEO Howard Stringer told his managers “to get mad”, meaning, act quickly, be bold, energetic and imaginative.

Thus spoke Jack Welch at the Annual Shareowners Meeting of General Electric, April, 2001: “Speed is so important and we are getting faster by the day. I'm confident future pundits will be writing articles describing how relatively slow and even plodding the GE of today is compared with the lightening pace of the GE of tomorrow. And that love of change and that desire to seize it is what makes this company so vital, so dynamic, and so special and we'll never lose it.”

“Almost all of our shared values are inspiring, uplifting, positive. But one is not; our visceral hatred of bureaucracy stems from the evil and harm it wreaks on the spirit of a company, any institution, and its people, and its dilutive effect on every other value that we believe. Bureaucracy hates change, could not care less about the customer, loves complexity, is afraid of speed and incapable of it, and inspires no one. This company is committed to keeping itself as bureaucracy-free as any big institution that has ever existed.”

This is one of the most expressive leadership statements on the importance of pace and visceral hatred of its antithesis, bureaucracy. The starting point for a fast paced organisation is the leadership's commitment to change and clearing up the bureaucratic cobwebs that choke decision-making.

Processes develop over time. However, these processes tend to get burdened with technology or a new boss who adds his thoughts to the existing flow. And the processes, sometimes outdated, live on, making people do things that may have no relevance to the current reality.

What do we do then? Scrutinize each process and ask if there is any need of any of the steps that make up the process. It is always a surprise how we tend to overlook absolutely useless steps that we have been doing for years. Scrutiny to weed out unnecessary processes that delay decision making must be embedded in company culture.

The size of the organization can be a factor in setting the pace of decision making. I have a simple equation. Each person you add to the decision making layer, delays the decision by a factor of 10.

I was comparing notes with our Regional Information Services Head Noel Low, who recently joined us from Nike. It was illuminating to hear him talk of pace, and how we are comparatively slower than the US companies he had worked in. He is an achiever, wants quick results, and his boss reminds him to slowdown because of how things work in the multi-national environment of our global organization.

And I can feel the pinch too. Decisions we should have taken months ago and have not, now haunt our operations. We lose out to local competitors who are more nimble footed because they do not have multi-national decision making overheads. They simply do things while we need to go through endless processes that in the end, would make even the proverbial snail win the race. This is what size and its consequent layers can do to an organization.

Fast forward your organisation, get the pace up through visible leadership commitment, lean processes and a leaner organisation.

The writer is the managing director of Syngenta Bangladesh Ltd

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