It's a fast paced world we live in. Blink and the competition has stolen a march, and disappeared along the fast lane leaving you languishing on the hard shoulder. So how are corporate leaders to keep up?
Steven Spear senior lecturer at MIT, and an expert on how exceptional organisations can create competitive advantage through the strength of their internal operations, has an answer - high velocity organisations.
The author of The High-Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition talked to Des Dearlove.
Other companies that had continued to create and then widen a gap in hypercompetitive markets included Southwest Airlines in commercial aviation in the United States, and Alcoa, in heavy industry.
And it kept discovering that as much as it invested in trying to design these complex systems, it designed very imperfect systems. But there was discovery over time where it realised that if it couldn't design perfect systems, it had to constantly, relentlessly discover perfection.
If you can't see the subtlety, the nuance, and the details of how work gets done, you're likely to miss opportunities to get better. But if you really train yourself, starting with what's going on in the truck, and then working your way to much more sophisticated situations, more nuanced situations, you have a chance to gain insight and convert what you don't understand into knowledge which is useful.
The folks at these high-velocity organisations are optimistic, though, in the sense that they believe that if they can see the problems and see them quickly, they can solve those problems. So, the very first capability or principle here is that work is designed in these high-velocity organisations so that the problems are immediately evident when and where they occur.
When they see problems, they swarm them very aggressively, and with tremendous discipline, they understand the root cause of the problem, develop a treatment, and then follow up to make sure the treatment works. And if it does, they realise they've converted something which they didn't understand - that's why they had the problem - into something which they do understand.
So the third capability of these high-velocity organisations is tremendous discipline around knowledge sharing.
But at Toyota when I asked people to tell me about the best leader they've ever had, every single person told me a story about a leader they had, at some point, who took the time and effort to teach them how to be a great learner in their right, and how to teach others to do the same.
With high-velocity organisations, their whole operating system is based on the premise that the job of a leader is to find ignorance, convert it to knowledge, and teach others to do the same. So to convert a company from a typical company into a high-velocity fundamentally demands that leaders change their posture and their approach from telling other people what to do, to helping other people discover and, when in doubt, leading the way on discovery.
And the thing about leading the way on discovery, the very first step is raising your hand and saying, I just don't understand.
That development of people depends on a very intimate coaching process, and that coaching process has had more and more demands placed on it as Toyota's business expanded through the 1980s and 1990s. The real challenge is maintaining the intimacy and continuity of those coaching mentor apprenticeship relationships and developing enough people fast enough.
I certainly do not think it invalidates Toyota's approach towards achieving greatness; what it says is that achieving greatness is rate limited and the critical processes that are the rate limiters are the processes you use to develop people.