Direction Is More Important Than Speed

Direction is more important than speed, especially if you’re heading towards a cliff. For many years I worked in Corporate America for a variety of sized businesses, from small independent companies to mid-size and large multi-billion-dollar companies that were publicly traded. After working for many years in corporate America I got to observe senior executives and their decision-making processes; what worked and what didn’t. One of the most perplexing situations is when good companies end up going bad, when once strong brands end up fading away.

When successful companies are faced with big changes in their environment, they often fail to respond effectively. Those changes can be a variety of things: new environments, new competitors, new products, technologies or strategies, and shifting customer preferences. The once strong companies find they are unable to adapt, and they start to see their sales and profits dwindle. The next thing to follow is some of their best employees leaving. Some companies are able to regroup, rebound, and come back out of that, but a lot of them do not.

Why do some brands go bad? In some cases it is a lack of action, a lack of staying nimble and relevant to the marketplace. There is no doubt that if a company fails to stay relevant by keeping up with changes in their environment, marketplace, customers’ and employees’ preferences, they will become obsolete and die. Others fail though, due to their unchecked focus on speed rather than direction. Every senior executive, especially founders that I have worked for, all are obsessed with speed. They want what they want, when they want it, and once they’ve decided on it, they want it done, yesterday! They get into that false assumption that fast action equals faster and better results, or the opposite but equally flawed assumption, that their enemy is lack of speed.

When Change Is One-Sided. A great example of the how direction is more important than speed is what is happening with Starbucks right now. Starbucks is undeniably a mega brand. They grew from a simple but powerful idea of providing a small communal feeling café where the consistency and the quality of the product was replicated across all locations, where customers could have a great experience regardless of the touch point or the location they visit, all while providing an exceptional employee experience. It all worked really well for 50 years, until recently. Under the now exiting CEO, Kevin Johnson, the Starbucks brand evolved from a warm gathering place to tech-enabled caffeine depot. To quote the March 17th, 2022, article in Fast Company by Clint Rainy titled “What happened to Starbucks?” Johnson, who was previously an IBM engineer and also Microsoft Executive, is a numbers guy. He himself says he “…leverages data to help inform decisions.” Johnson was the one who put major changes into motion to reinvent the Starbucks experience by reconfiguring the stores, increasing efficiency and analyzing “Deep Brew’s” data. Deep Brew is the name of their business intelligence: all the data gathered from customer transactions and behaviors and then applied algorithms and fancy predictive modeling. They base business decisions based on this data. Speed was identified as a customer preference; also online ordering, expanded menu offerings, and other changes focused on the customers experience. Changes were implemented to provide speed and efficiency for the customer.

Hiccups. There were problems though. All this speed and efficiencies made to improve  the customer experience had a big and negative impact on the employees’ experience. When you change the ordering and the pickup process, you obviously have to change the processes in the store. But the impacts on the employees’ experience was not a priority during these changes. Senior executives either chose not to listen to or seek out the frontlines’ opinions and concerns about how these changes and how they were impacting their work experience. The other impact was in the brand experience for customers. Starbucks used to be thought of as a gathering place Starbucks was where people would go before work, or meet after work, or for lunch or breaks. It was the place where real, genuine relationships were developed between the customers and the store employees and other frequent customers. The way the new Starbucks brand was evolving with all this focus on speed, efficiency, touchless and contactless transactions caused a decline in human connection. Human connection was the very strength that Starbucks had started with, and overtime had cornered the market on.

Understand All Impacts. Speed is important. We all know that we’re living in this new world of instant gratification, and it is easy to see how senior executives can feel even more certain in their decision making because of all this data they have available to them. So certain do they feel in their decision making, they can move forward very quickly with changes, but if they fail to thoroughly research and consider the domino effect of the changes that they are putting into place, it can backfire. Change is needed in order to stay relevant. Every company has to pay attention to new product strategies, technologies, and customer preferences, but making changes too quickly without considering all of the ramifications and impact those changes will have in all areas of the company can be detrimentally long lasting.

So remember direction is more important than speed, especially when you’re heading towards a cliff.

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