Each of the following companies / individuals have one characteristic in common. Can you guess it?
- LG Electronics, Korean appliance and electronics giant
- Jeff Bezos, boss of Amazon
- Zappos Shoes, online shoe retailer
- Indra Nooyi, boss of PepsiCo
- Chrysler, U.S. auto manufacturer
The answer is speed. Each one of them has made speed into one of their critical success factors.
I believe that speed, more than any other single attribute, is the key characteristic that's consistently exhibited by many winning companies and individuals. Yes, there are many other important attributes one can point to when reviewing performance, but I've always considered speed to be my favorite.
I like the fact that it's a hard success factor to identify if someone is doing a competitive analysis on another organization or individual. And it's very hard to counter. Regardless of whether the race is for the next promotion, a new product, or growing a company, if a person or an organization is faster out of the gates, the others are usually forced into spending a lot of time and energy to simply catch up. It puts them off-balance, makes it harder to run on their own track.
LG Electronics, in an earlier incarnation, was two organizations. Back when I led the Home Division for the Canadian retail organization Hudson's Bay Company, they were Lucky and Goldstar. Each of them was good at certain things, but neither could compete with the really big, U.S.-based companies. Then they got together and made speed a critical element of their strategy. Now, LG is the one to watch.
Indra Nooyi is not your typical boss of an American multinational entity. First of all she's a woman, which makes her pretty unique worldwide. Her career movement has been very fast, starting in the company in 1994 and becoming president in 2001. Just as compelling is how she has reshaped an organization that seemed to eternally be a follower of the Coke gang. She's added new product lines, reorganized the entire corporation's reporting structures, pushed aggressively into eco/green products and containers with an eye on the future of the environment, and improved profits at the same time. Industry watchers have called for her to trip and fall repeatedly. But she doesn't.
Zappos Shoes came from nowhere to become the biggest online shoe retailer in the world. The boss wasn't even a shoe expert, but he thought he could emulate Jeff Bezos' success with Amazon. He had an idea that the retail world of shoes was ready for a change and recognized that speed could become a key differentiator in the footwear sector. Started in 1999, it's now a wonderful success story overcoming huge odds, difficult economies with tight money, and on-the-job learning. He's been right. The book about Zappos' roots, Delivering Happiness, is a great read for anyone in leadership.
Finally, the "new" Chrysler. When Fiat assumed management control of this legendary company about a year and a half ago, all the pundits said it would fail, perhaps bringing down both the chairman, Sergio Marchionne, and the parent company, Fiat. He immediately flattened the hierarchy so that all leaders in both companies report directly to him. Speed became a watchword, and now a nearly new/ refreshed line of product will arrive within another year.
How speedy are you? Ever watched in awe as someone raced up the organization or a competitor did things so quickly it was almost magic? Chances are they've realized the critical importance of speed. While others have meetings, plan, research, and do presentations; a few — just a few — simply do what seems right. Consequently, they often reap great rewards for their decisiveness and commitment.
Now — noodle about your approaches: in both your career and your personal life in general. Would others consider you to be fast? More importantly, ask yourself if you've been too cautious for the success of your organization or your own career.
Speed changes everything. Try it out.
John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion dollar organizations and launching start-ups in both the U.S. and Canada. The author of two published books, he is frequently seen providing advice on TV, in magazines, and newspapers.