"A hippo in a
tutu is still fat
Lesson: No matter how elaborate a strategy (or tutu) is, it won’t help
the organization seize market opportunities any faster. People must be
mobilized to align with the strategy.
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"It’s not about a fast rollout."
Lesson: People need time, discussion, and involvement if they are to
understand and buy in to the strategy. They need to work through
– What is the business context?
– What are the specific "baby steps" I can take to execute the strategy?
– What decisions can I make? What are the guidelines are for making
– Who can I trust to support me in executing on my decisions?
Rushing through the rollout will rob people of the opportunity to work
through these questions.
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"Q x A = E"
Lesson: This is a catchy way to say that it’s not about a fast rollout.
The strategy needs to be of excellent quality (Q). But it also needs to be
accepted (A). Quality x Acceptance = Effectiveness.
Anything multiplied by zero equals zero. So, leaders in faster companies
focus a majority of their effort on affirming their strategies and getting them
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"It’s all about being
stupid. The more
stupid you are, the
faster you learn."
Lesson: Business leaders can’t see into the ambiguous future, so they
approach execution with an emphasis on learning.
The greater the learning, the faster individuals, teams, and initiatives are
able to deliver and sustain value. At the organizational level, this speed
translates to 52% higher revenue and 40% higher operating profit.
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More quotes on the action/reflection approach
to learning and strategy execution
"If you aren’t always "I’m not hiring you for
learning, changing, what you know, but for
and evolving, what you can learn."
you lose your edge."
"The organization "It’s ‘move then
is a petri dish." evaluate,’ constantly."
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Lesson: A company president said this when we asked his thoughts on
the notion that "speed is learning, learning is speed."
When asked him to clarify, the president said speed and learning are
natural opposites, and very few companies can bring them together.
We then asked if those few companies are high performers. The answer:
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"We could quickly change the lights,
rearrange the table … but we could
not change the building."
Lesson: After organizations merge, people often perceive that they
had moved faster and made decisions faster when the organizations
were separate units.
Are they right? It depends on what is measured. Sure, the people
probably made faster decisions. But could they make real shifts in their
The size and scope of the aligned and unified company can provide
infrastructure, capital, and brand awareness that accelerates market-
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"I watched a dance show with my young daughter.
She said one team was not going to win. When I asked
why not, she said, ‘Because they don’t feel it.’
"It’s the same with execution. Most people will tell you it’s
balanced scorecard, lean management, performance management.
It’s get-stuff-done. Companies are doing that and failing.
"Execution is so much more than just process.
It is insight. It is passion."
Lesson: Pace and process are just two elements of strategy execution.
The most important element—the insight or passion—is people.
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"At least 40% of your
measures must be
or you will lose speed
Lesson: Excessive focus on downstream measures (e.g., revenue and net
income per employee) can take your eye off the ball.
Leading indicators, such as rational and emotional engagement, give
leaders a glimpse into the future. If these indicators are high, it’s a good bet
that people will overcome obstacles to deliver results and sustain value.
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"I don’t know how to make a
tidal shift without constant
communication built on
and humbleness …
… because, if you’re like that often
enough, you earn huge forgiveness from
your staff and your customers
when you misstep."
Lesson: To generate the trust required to enable people to try new things
and to change, leaders must demonstrate a humble transparency.
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"Before, we made
decisions like the U.N.
Lessons: Consensus is not a very fast way to make decisions. Faster
companies often reduce the number of people involved in strategic
decisions, and make quick decisions but socialize them.
Willingness to say no is also critical to speed. It’s pretty easy to figure out
what to say yes to, but far more difficult to figure out what to say no to.
A "decisions/issues/risks" database can capture decisions that are made,
so they need not be revisited.
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"Identify those who can
be salvaged and those
"Execute or be who may poison the well."
Lesson: These quotes, from different senior leaders at two very different
companies, illustrate a similar finding: faster companies did not hesitate to
fire employees who refused to change or who were subtly sabotaging
change efforts. This practice is non-negotiable.
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"When you’re looking
forward, the bumps in the
road look far more daunting
than the bumps in your
rearview mirror really felt."
Lesson: There are lots of reasons to move slowly and cautiously. But
once you move past those reasons, the repercussions of your actions
tend to be smaller and more time limited than you may have feared.
Go Big. Blow away the narrow boxes of expectations of yourself and
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"If at first you don’t
succeed, screw it…"
“…try something else—
but always with the end
firmly and distinctly in view."
Lesson: Agility involves trying different methods of reaching the same goal
—not changing your goal to match your methods.
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"Complexity can feel like walking
through beautiful country with a
backpack full of rocks."
"We have to lower the water
to see the rocks."
Lesson: Business complexity is frustrating, and it slows things down.
These two quotes—from different leaders at different companies—show
that faster companies work on identifying and eliminating unnecessary
work or processes ("rocks") that prevent execution of priorities.
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Lesson: Do not become distracted by the topic du jour. Find new ways
to achieve existing goals, rather than seeking new goals altogether.
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“The ‘Have everything link
back to core strategies’ thing
looks good on paper.”
Lesson: The problem, sometimes, is that initiative objectives are stated at
such high a level that it’s difficult to identify projects that don’t align,
thereby making it difficult to determine what to say ‘no’ to.
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"It’s not okay to have
history be the reason
why things happen."
Lesson: "Because we’ve always done it that way" is not an
acceptable reason for doing it in that way. Question existing
business processes and models.
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"We continue to learn
how complex the English
Lesson: There are an infinite number of ways in which communication can
break down and ultimately defeat a strategy.
Leaders simplify their language, ask questions, and constantly check
assumptions and understanding. A well-thought-through communication
plan is key.
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