Knowledge Center: Article
The META framework: Mobilizing, executing, and transforming with agilitySubscribe to Leadership Consulting 5/16/2017 Colin Price and Sharon Toye
It’s widely accepted that businesses must greatly increase their performance pace just to stay in place—and they must go even faster if they want to keep up with customer expectations. But those statements gloss over some important distinctions.
For one, not all industries are changing at the same pace or at the same time. While the music industry was upended 15 years ago, for instance, insurance is just now seeing glimmers of innovation because the forces at work there play out over the longer term. Also, change isn’t always that quick, nor does it always enjoy a defined beginning and end. Thus it’s not enough just to mandate speed all the time, in every part of an organization and at every level.
The right pace—the one that will deliver the most return, most reliably—is found by increasing the metabolic rate of your organization through a process that accelerates certain functions, in certain ways, at certain times, designed for maximum effect. We call this process META, short for Mobilize, Execute, and Transform with Agility. Our book, Accelerating Performance, explores how we arrived at META and explains in detail how to implement it.
We think that META is an important framework because two of the mantras among executives today—the need to go faster and the need to look for disruptive business models—can take organizations into blind alleys. Businesses can land in an “acceleration trap,” where they aren’t discriminating enough about their search for speed and actually end up going slower. META is about working with what you have, taking threads, each not especially strong, and weaving them into a fabric of considerable strength. It isn’t about finding a single breakthrough.
Indeed, our research has found that there is more opportunity for improvement by becoming more effective in the markets where a company already operates than by taking a bolder approach and moving into different industries or new geographies. Many managers miss this point. They may spend so much time looking for the next big thing that they ignore the even bigger opportunities right in front of them. Thinking in terms of META helps managers explore these issues by parsing out the factors that can drag a company down or drive it forward. Let’s look at each META area in turn.
Mobilizing requires the ability to inspire aligned action based on a compelling ambition and purpose and a simple set of strategic priorities. An organization that is dragging here will feel overtaken by market disruptions and experience chronic service failures and high customer attrition. The company will see its key performance indicators in the red and suffer projects that are delayed or never finished. It may well have no clear purpose and a message so complicated that it deters people from even trying to understand it.
To turn this drag into drive, you need to focus and simplify: put the customer at the center of all decision making, and develop the ability to read changes in the external ecosystem through the lens of your customers. Your leadership must energize and gather the organization behind a purpose so powerful that everyone will feel that he or she owns it and wants to make it happen. Your organizational story must be easy to understand, told at every opportunity, and able to accelerate decision making to spur aligned and purposeful action.
Execution is about harnessing and streamlining resources to consistently deliver excellence in the core business. It is based on a shared understanding of the critical strategic capabilities required to improve performance, the extent to which those capabilities exist in the organization today, and the feasibility of closing the gaps. Managers must explicitly consider trade-offs and risks.
When your people and resources are stuck in complex, hierarchical structures, waiting for sign-offs; when there is little or no diversity of thought among decision makers; and when there is poor talent mapping and management, you are experiencing execution drag. You can tackle that drag and turn it into drive by reducing bureaucracy and creating a culture of meritocracy where leaders demonstrate accountability for how they perform and how they manage others. Such a culture-aware organizational chart will allow you to attract the best talent and release new energy to accelerate performance.
This is where companies experiment and innovate to create growth engines and to reinvent existing businesses ahead of the market; sometimes, transformation results from a dramatic breakthrough, while other times it comes from a steady, long-term effort through a process such as Six Sigma. More than the other areas of META, transformation implies a change in the way that people in the organization think and in the way that resources are allocated. It implies breaking with tradition and internal fiefdoms, rethinking the ways in which things are done, embracing change and innovation, and not tolerating mediocrity, even at the expense of personal relationships.
The key element of acceleration, agility implies being able to spot opportunities and threats and to adapt and pivot faster than peer organizations to create a competitive advantage. It also means preparing for, withstanding, and recovering from setbacks quickly.
An organization is dragging if it’s slow to adapt to market changes, suffers from analysis paralysis, keeps applying old solutions to new problems unsuccessfully, and has leaders who are slow to adopt new ideas. To turn this around, focus on nimbleness, decode signals indicating that change is coming, and act in a timely manner. Embrace change as an opportunity for continuous improvement, and look for leaders who are open-minded and can adjust to new internal or external conditions.
When managers can increase their corporation’s metabolic rate, they greatly increase the chances of success. Speed matters—but not for its own sake. First, pick the race you want to run, and then run faster than your competitors. Doing so can lead to enormous opportunities to make your business more successful.
META and the drag and drive factors that underlie the framework must be addressed at four levels: strategy, the organization, teams, and individual leaders. I will explore each of these levels in subsequent posts.
About the authors
Colin Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an executive vice president and the global managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles’ Leadership Consulting Practice; he is based in the London office.
Sharon Toye (email@example.com) is a partner in the London office and a member of the Leadership Consulting Practice.
A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn. It is adapted from Colin and Sharon’s recent book, Accelerating Performance: How Organizations Can Mobilize, Execute, and Transform with Agility (Wiley & Sons, January 2017).