It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of speed in our businesses. We all want to enjoy the fruits of our success sooner  and it seems logical that moving more quickly will get us there faster. In fact the whole language of business emphasises the importance of speed: “Act now” “Move fast” “No time to waste” “Accelerate growth and expand rapidly”. Thrilling stuff.

Despite all the high-octane language around speed in business, I’d argue that speed alone means nothing. In fact it can be dangerous. It’s time we stopped all the talk about speed and focused on the far more important issue of velocity. For those who either left school a while ago (like me) or weren’t paying attention (also like me), let’s start with a recap of the difference between speed and velocity:

Speed vs velocity

Speed is the measure of how much distance we travel over time. We calculate speed by taking the total distance travelled and dividing it by the time it took to get there. The more distance we cover in a given time the faster we are said to be moving. Velocity is speed in a given direction – how far we travel towards a given point.

To demonstrate the difference, let’s reimagine the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. This version of the story starts the same way as the original, with both critters lining up for a race. When the starting pistol fires the Hare tears off at 100mph and the Tortoise slowly plods forwards. Unlike in the original version, our Hare never stops to have a sleep on the way. No lazy Hares here. Instead the Hare keeps running and running at 100mph until the Tortoise sends him a WhatsApp photo from the finish line with the caption “Where r u?”. Tortoise of course won because he took the shortest route to the finish line whilst Hare tore off at full speed without thinking about direction. The winner wasn’t’ the one who moves most quickly, but the one who reduced the distance to the finish in the shortest time.

hare and tortoise race. Hare is fast, but going in the wrong direction
Speed is nothing without direction

School’s over. Back to business

What does it mean then to “Move with velocity”? It’s tempting to say this is just semantics, but there are practical steps you can take to ensure that you move with velocity so that more of your collective effort is applied to bringing you closer to your goals. I encourage agency leaders to consider four areas when it comes to adopting this principal in their business:

Define the outcome

It is impossible to measure progress if you don’t know where you are heading. Develop a clear picture of the business you want to run, write it down and have the entire organisation understand what it is you are aiming for. If you don’t know where you are trying to get to, it doesn’t matter how fast you go.

Plan the route

If you understand where you are now and know where you are going you can plan a route. Define the key waypoints on that journey and understand when you need to pass through each one.

Align effort

Understand what needs to happen for the business to reach each of those waypoints. Give those activities due importance, backing them with resources and prioritising to make them happen (ie, keeping focused on what is important over what is urgent)

Consistency and accountability

Regularly review progress against the route map and realign effort as needed to stay on track.

You can’t fix a lack of direction by moving faster

It’s common to see businesses try to fix velocity issues by further increasing speed. They measure where they are vs where they were and express unhappiness with the result. Rousing speeches are given, sabres are rattled, tiger-teams formed and lots of noise is made. Everyone is fired up and runs off at 200mph with no more thought about overall direction than before. Maybe some short term issues get fixed, but it usually isn’t long before new ones appear and the cycle is repeated.

It’s easy to see why this approach doesn’t work when we visualise what is happening. Let’s start with what “Perfect velocity” would look like:

straight line between two pointsPerfect velocity would be all energy driving us forwards on the shortest route to our goal. Simple, beautiful, but practically impossible.

Wavey line between two points

A more realistic aim is to have progress look something like this. All energy is driving us approximately in the right direction, but not always with 100% efficiency. When we go off course it is noticed and corrected before we go too far astray. If we add more speed to this model we reach our goal more quickly.

scribbly mess without directionWhen we fail to define our desired outcomes, energy expended will take us in different directions, sometimes reversing or backtracking on our path. We might end up in a different place to where we started, but this may or may not be a desirable outcome. Adding more speed to this pattern doesn’t fix it. It just expends more energy to get to an undefined place.

messy route between two points. Long and convolutedWhen we define our outcome, but not the route, we at last have a chance to get there. However the route we take will be longer and harder. Deviations happen and can be significant, and corrections can overcompensate or fail to keep us on the ideal path for long.

In this scenario the leader knows the outcome and how to get there, but the effort within the organisation isn’t aligned to staying on that path. There will likely be a sense of progress towards the goal, but it will be slow and hard and likely never get the organisation to its goal.

Even when a goal is defined and a route is planned, it can be hard to keep progress on track. Without consistency and accountability progress tends to follow patterns of diversion and correction. Progress is made, but not efficiently.

Finally the pattern I originally drew as a joke then realised how common it is in reality. What I call the “Chaos monkey” approach. Worse even than no goals being set are when goals are continually set then changed. Leaders with more energy than focus can run themselves and their team around in circles feeling busy without ever making long term progress towards anything of meaning.


Does any of this matter?

It might be tempting to look at those diagrams and wonder if any of this really matters. Afterall most of them get to the goal in the end, and the others are still on some sort of journey. What the diagrams don’t show though is the cost those longer journeys have. Each dot on the path costs energy, enthusiasm, time and money. Long journeys that sap those valuable resources have a tendency to end long before the goals are ever reached.

In conclusion, while speed may seem like the obvious choice for achieving success in business, it is important to remember that speed alone means nothing. The focus should be on velocity, which is speed in a given direction, towards a specific outcome. To move with velocity, leaders must define the outcome they want to achieve, plan the route to get there, align effort, and ensure consistency and accountability. Simply increasing speed will not fix velocity issues if the outcome is not defined, the route is not mapped, effort is not aligned, or consistency is lacking. By prioritising velocity over speed, businesses can achieve their goals more efficiently and effectively.

What do you think? Are you guilty of any of those bad patterns? Do you have techniques to stop you following them? Let me know your thoughts in the linkedIn thread.