‘Pace your strategy’ – business advice from founder of xTEN Club

Birds flying in a V formation to illustrate xTen blog

William Buist, the founder of xTEN Club, reckons good business strategy is all about the pacing

Strategy is about delivering the long-term mission; it’s a marathon not a sprint, and that’s why pacing is important. Everyday pressures force quick decisions to meet customers’ needs and there’s no doubt that the world has accelerated.

Operational speed means cutting corners and seeking a ‘faster to market’ edge over the competition that then masks the best long-term journey to take.

Companies that focus on strategic pace still find out how to deliver the same value in less time, and to slow down and make sure the progress is continuing along the appropriate track.

These companies take time to analyse and refine their value proposition for their products and services; ensure those meet the real needs of customers; and validate authentic alignment to actual experience.

When geese are migrating, the bird that has to fly at the front breaks the air for those which follow. This takes energy and effort. The flock will naturally rotate the lead bird to share the load, and the flock goes further and faster as a result.

There’s coherence in a flock of birds – an understanding, a system. That’s strategic pace. Successful strategically paced companies will have the same coherence and understanding throughout the team.

Companies which focus excessively on operational speed often don’t pause to determine what’s actually needed. They work hard yet get a mediocre reaction.

Ultimately just wanting everything to be done at an ever-increasing pace kills innovation, removes insight, and demotivates. It’s unsustainable. There’s very little learning, as there is no time, and so little improvement.

Strategy tips from xTEN founder

Having strategically paced goals facilitates companies developing the appropriate tools and skills to truly meet their needs. They will focus on these three areas:

  • Deep listening
  • Open learning
  • Effective re-skilling

Strategically paced companies understand that alignment and clarity are essential for success, so they strive to get everyone on the same page. When there is alignment there are still mistakes but there is no blame. Strategically paced businesses worry about, and work on, creating trusted and trusting environments.

They know that the time needed to build trust, clarity, and understanding is crucial and together there is a confidence in what’s to come that is often palpable. When there is deep trust I feel it when I first meet clients – it stands out in businesses that are pacing themselves well.

When Holiday Inn found itself steadily losing market share in the 1980s and 1990s, it developed superior customer service. The company didn’t seek to change the ethos in a moment, but took the strategically paced approach of spreading the need for change through compelling research, great communication internally, and being crystal clear about why the changes were necessary and in everyone’s interest – staff, suppliers and customers.

Understanding core values properly, communicating them well and using them as the filter for everything is part of what being strategically paced is all about.

Companies implementing a more effective strategic plan should be aware of the significance of solid leadership. This leadership should involve strong and open communication that is also willing to listen to innovative ideas about how to improve.

The leadership should be concerned with the end goal of the organisation and how the goals and the processes line up with the company values.

Nick Pudar, General Motors’ director of planning and strategic initiatives, has said that whenever he begins to consider a new initiative, he starts by meeting with all of those who will be involved and discussing with them their goals, their planned actions, and the contributions they will need from other teams.

By including those who are involved with the initiative in the initial conversation, Pudar and General Motors vastly improve alignment within the organisation.

It’s not just about time, or stress – the Economist Intelligence Unit even found that companies which slowed down averaged 40 per cent more sales and 52 per cent more profits than businesses that had made getting faster and faster their central priority.

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About author

William Buist

William Buist

William Buist is a business strategist, speaker, and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club, an annual programme of strategic activities for small, exclusive groups of business owners. He is also author of two books, At Your Fingertips and The Little Book of Mentoring

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