Updated: August 20, 2010 17:09 IST

Stories about speed and success

D. Murali
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Speed, to effective leaders, is not measured in terms of races won, but through two broad metrics, viz. reduced time to value and increased value over time, say the authors of ‘Strategic Speed: Mobilize people, accelerate execution’ (Harvard).

You may have hired brilliant employees and conceived brilliant strategies, but unless you can reduce the time it takes for employees, leaders, teams, or initiatives to contribute to the enterprise in the manner and to the extent that they were meant to contribute – and then ensure that they continue to contribute – you won’t really be accelerating execution, write Jocelyn R. Davis, Henry M. Frechette, Jr., Edwin H. Boswell.

‘Time to value,’ they explain, is the time it takes for people or initiatives to climb above the line or point at which they start contributing net value to the system rather than being a net hindrance. “Value over time is the value created as they stay above the line.” Interestingly, the horizontal axis is labelled ‘the noise-value line,’ because when people or initiatives fail to climb above it, they are sources mainly of noise (distractions and static) as opposed to value (productivity and progress).


An example of reducing time to value, mentioned in the book, is of SunGard, an acronym for Sun Guaranteed Access to Recovered Data, a privately-held Fortune 500 IT services company, serving the financial, higher education, and public sectors. In 2007, senior management were looking to grow SunGard’s Availability Services business, which protects companies’ business operations from such threats as security breaches, network or power failures, and extreme events ranging from natural disasters to terrorist attacks, the narrative informs.

“It originated as a disaster recovery service, where SunGard played a more limited role in protecting or restoring clients’ data. The new strategy was for Availability Services to be a leader in managed services, which involved taking greater responsibility for maintaining the client’s data operations on a day-to-day basis.”

The company set up a telemarketing channel and devised a new coaching process, whereby, instead of undergoing months of training before they began making calls (a typical practice), salespeople were put on the floor, making calls, as soon as they came on board. The new process – dubbed ‘sell/coach/sell/coach’ – entailed observing the salespeople on the phone, coaching them immediately after each call, and having them make the next call, the authors describe. “What had been a six-month process of getting salespeople into the field became a much quicker method for achieving full-fledged sales results among new members of the team.”

More instructive is the way SunGard could achieve increased value over time by creating a uniform approach to serving customers and encouraging greater collaboration across functions. Everyone in the organisation – whether in sales, engineering, marketing, or operations – was held accountable for sales, service, and client retention, recount the authors.

“Engineers would go on sales calls and build relationships with clients. Salespeople, able to make smooth handoffs to the service function, spent much less time with customers after making a sale, which enabled them to make more sales. Post-sale issues were handled faster and more flexibly.” These changes – that got all the ‘propellers’ aligned and working smoothly together – had almost immediate results, in the form of increased revenue and retention, lifting the merged sales force above the noise value line.

Tata Sky

Another story in the book is of Tata Sky, which launched its DTH (direct-to-home) satellite pay-TV service in August 2006 with the goal of reaching one million connections by the end of its first year of operation. “It achieved that goal, and then took only another ten months to reach two million connections and just seven more months to reach three million,” the authors chronicle.

As an effort to create unity among stakeholders, the company trained thousands of ‘shop boys’ to demonstrate the product. “Within the first three months, the Tata Sky box was available in close to twenty-thousand shops across the country. Any consumer living anywhere could have access to go and have a look at it. That was a very important part, because otherwise people are wary of new products. The demonstration piece was crucial,” explains a quote of Deepa Watsa, Tata Sky’s chief HR officer, cited in the book.

Six months before launch, Vikram Kaushik, the CEO, and his team identified ‘eight very important journalists’ in India, put them in a plane and flew them to Foxtel, Sydney, to show them what a DTH operation is. After that, the journalists were taken to Melbourne and shown what a call centre looks like – how consumer responses are dealt with and what subscriber management systems have to be put in place, the sophisticated information technology back room that has to be created, and how this whole thing is run, reminisces Kaushik.

“So when we came back, they were writing articles about how ‘the real DTH is going to arrive now.’ We created 360-degree communication, so that people were already curious about what this new Tata Sky thing was going to be and what it would offer…”


Yet another example in the book is of Vodafone Group, in a chapter on how leaders cultivate experience. Do you know that Vittorio Colao, chief executive of Vodafone uses storytelling with teams and individuals to create cross-pollination of ideas and increase speed across his global organisation? “The beauty of operating in twenty-plus different countries across five different continents is that we have an ability to share what works, what doesn’t, and new ideas which go a bit beyond – and sometimes against – hierarchical or established communication flows,” informs a quote of Colao.

However, to share information thus, two infrastructures are required, he notes. The first is a kind of communication infrastructure, in a variety of forms such as intranet, forums, and distribution lists. And the other is a personal infrastructure, which is about knowing who does what, who is good, and who has great ideas, elaborates Colao.

“It’s about personal interaction between people who may be thousands of kilometres away, but when they have a problem they ask, ‘Who is the prepaid expert? Who is the DSL expert? How did Italy launch the integrated mobile fixed DSL station, and why don’t I launch it the same way? Who is the genius who does advertising for the younger kids of Portugal? Let me give him a call and ask him how to do the same thing in Australia.’”


A fourth story, towards the end of the book, is about going beyond reducing response time, shortening sales cycles, and accelerating on-boarding. It is about helping your customers speed up, too! This is ‘third-generation speed,’ a trend that the authors expect to grow, because ‘as leaders become more and more adept at building clarity, unity, and agility within their own firm, they’ll begin to find ways to build clarity, unity, and agility in the customer’s office, plant, or home.’

A well-known example of third-generation speed is of Jeff Immelt, who began sharing GE’s Six Sigma expertise with customers at no charge. But you don’t have to be a CEO, or even a manager, to begin helping your customers move faster, the authors urge. You could be ‘a salesperson in Mumbai,’ like Vivek Gupta of IBM, who sold complex solutions to telecom companies – from call-centre setups to sophisticated research services to huge customised billing systems…

Gupta believed that his telecom customers could increase their strategic speed by letting IBM take care of all their operational functions – in effect ‘clearing the clutter.’ In Vodafone, where he started out with ‘a small order for laptops,’ the offer was similar, that his company would handle all of Vodafone’s operational activities, from call centres to finances, thereby freeing Vodafone to focus on strategy and marketing.

“By making it clear how he could help the company accelerate execution in a marketplace where speed was everything, Gupta won over the managing director and ultimately closed a five-year, $600 million contract…”

Imperative fast-track read.



“Recently I downloaded a game called CWG which allows you to…”

“Animate the different events?”

“No, it lets you build up the venues in the face of various obstacles!”


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