A bunch of co-workers and I were caravanning to an off-site luncheon. After navigating busy roundabouts and traffic lights we arrived the restaurant and, as I got out my car, one of the drivers following me told me my brake lights were` out. That’s not good, so we checked things out. To his surprise, the brake lights worked fine. “But I followed you the whole way, through all the traffic and your brake lights never came on”, he said. “Probably because I rarely use the brakes”, I responded. My car had a manual transmission and I had used the engine, transmission and timing to travel about 15 suburban miles without hitting the brakes.
One of the early national fuel crises resulted in public awareness campaigns that focused on how jackrabbiting from traffic light to traffic light wasted gas. The public was implored to start off less aggressively, find an even speed, and time traffic flow all to save energy. An important lesson, but not a lot of fun.
The different lesson that was fun, was from Keith Code, founder of a performance motorcycle training program (i.e. racers). His core premise, on which he built a very successful program yielding a number of successful racers, was that being “smooth” was the fastest way around the track. Yes, there are no traffic lights on a race course, but there is traffic. It only takes a few laps before the riders up front have come around and caught the riders in the back. You soon end up with clumps of traffic of varying speed/skills all trying to navigate twisty turns between the straightaways. And how you enter and exit the apex has a lot to do with how fast you get through the turns. How do you maintain competitive speed, much less win races, hardly using the brakes? Practice.
Practice planning. Practice execution. Practice exception handling. Know the course, identify the choke points, plan your line through the curves and around the track. Take the practice laps so that you understand how your ride actually responds on the track, through the line. Finally, have a kit bag of maneuvers to handle the unexpected. While the specifics can’t be foreseen, the categories can be prepared for. And they should be. If you keep within the power band of your ride, you’ll get maximum performance from all components of the machine. That will enable you to get maximum performance around the course including handling the occasional exceptions.
Like the professional racer, smooth is the most efficient path to success. Pushing a product to market before it’s ready, just to respond to some competitive event, will mean trading off either features or quality or both. The result will be not only extra resources expended to meet the accelerated goal, but extra resources expended to counteract the collateral damage as well. Jamming a M&A deal is another variation on the theme. How you approach planning, execution and exception handling are just as important here.
Planning for smooth
In order to plan for smooth you need a change in perspective. That knowledge of the racecourse needs to be translated to the business. Just as the racer looks at the whole track to find the best line through the various turns, the business must look beyond the specific product launch or deal at hand to create the plan. That plan should integrate with broad market and competitive flows and leverage the power band of company operations.
Staying in the company power band is key to efficient use of resources and ultimate success. Jackrabbiting through a project puts a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the organization and generates confusion in the market place. Smooth execution is at the core of brand identity. Pick your market entries and exits with an eye towards fluidity, and the net will be better margin and improved stickiness with your customers.
Smoothly handling exceptions
This is the one that’s frequently overlooked or minimized. The thinking goes, how can you plan for the unexpected? The truth is that, though specifics may be unpredictable, one can predict the categories of problems and define general approaches to overcoming them. Then if one of them rears it’s ugly head, the solution is a function of picking the prescribed general plan and modifying based on current realities. This is much more effective than starting with a clean slate at the onset of difficulties.
The road ahead
Approaching your business as a racer approaches a race means keeping on top of a broad range of variables and understanding intimately how they all interrelate. Managing those interrelationships within an optimum power band is how the racer excels. So if you don’t seem to be winning the race, check how your driving.