Pacing for Growth—and Success

January 24, 2017

Pacing for Growth—and Success

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 your pace is 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 performance today, build capabilities for future success, and ensure the energy needed to do this without causing harm to our business or people.

As a leader, finding the right pace to execute and the right pace to build capacity for growth is hard work.

Often times, I work with leaders who are driving short-term performance but have no resources remaining to build capacity for the long-term. They’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 it inevitably backfires.

Samsung’s Galaxy 7 Flames Out

Last year, Samsung learned a painful lesson about going too fast 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 the mobile phone industry was evolving rapidly. But this speed meant that Samsung had to 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. What ensued was a reputation nightmare with images of melted phones in airplanes posted all over the media. Samsung later issued a profit warning saying that 2016 earnings would be down 30 percent. 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 Nokia leaderhsip had become complacent and underinvested in innovation. They were not ready for the long-anticipated iPhone, with its snazzy display, slick Apple design and, importantly, advanced operating system.

Nokia’s leaders knew they couldn’t catch up to Apple’s operating system, but were so focused on getting quarterly results with what they knew 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 their limits and get ready for the smartphone era; instead, though, 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.

Are you Pacing for Growth?

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The Authors: 

Alison Eyring, Ph.D., is president and cofounder of Organisation Solutions, a Singapore-based executive coaching firm that helps companies at all stages of growth build the strategies and capabilities they need to execute today as they transform their business for the future. She is the author of Pacing for Growth: Why Intelligent Restraint Drives Long-Term Success. She is also an editor-at-large for the People + Strategy journal. You can find her on LinkedIn to learn more.