With Martin G. Moore

Episode #294

Is Faster Always Better?

I often talk about the need for speed. As a leader, placing a premium on forward progress is one of the most reliable tools you have to achieve execution excellence in your team.

If you can create a culture that values momentum, you will almost always outperform teams that don’t.

Teams that don’t value speed just seem to stagnate. I’ve seen lots of them over the years, and whenever that level of stagnation is present, it’s generally accompanied by other undesirable characteristics, like:

  • A high level of conservatism

  • A perfectionistic culture

  • Low productivity

  • Lack of challenge between team members

  • Knowledge hoarding

  • Lack of initiative and innovation

  • Decision-making by consensus

  • Over-indexing on process, and under-indexing on results

 That’s why I was interested to read an article a little while back in the Wall Street Journal, which was titled, Why Bosses Should Tell Employees to Slow Down More Often.

It led me to wonder if there’s a case for deliberately slowing the tempo of the team, and under what circumstances that might make sense?

In this episode, I share some of my experiences on the virtues of speed, momentum, and forward progress. I take a good look at the findings of the WSJ article. And I offer my suggestions for the areas where I think speed is essential, and where it might be better to tell your team to back off and cool their jets.

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Episode #294 Is Faster Always Better?



I often talk about the need for speed. As a leader, placing a premium on forward progress is one of the most reliable tools you have to achieve execution excellence in your team.

If you can create a culture that values momentum, you will almost always outperform teams that don’t. Teams that don’t value speed just seem to stagnate. I’ve seen lots of them over the years, and whenever that level of stagnation is present, it’s generally accompanied by other undesirable characteristics, like:

  • A high level of conservatism

  • A perfectionistic culture

  • Low productivity

  • Lack of challenge amongst team members

  • Knowledge hoarding

  • Lack of initiative and innovation

  • Decision-making by consensus, and

  • Over-indexing of process, and under-indexing of results.

That’s why I was super interested to read an article a little while back in the Wall Street Journal, which was titled, Why Bosses Should Tell Employees to Slow Down More Often. It led me to wonder if there’s a case for deliberately slowing down the tempo of the team, and under what circumstances that might actually make sense.

I begin this newsletter by sharing some of my experiences that extol the virtues of speed, momentum and forward progress. I then take a detailed look at the findings of the Wall Street Journal article. I’ll home in on the areas where I think speed is essential, and I’ll finish with a look at a couple of places where it might be beneficial to tell your team to back off and cool their jets.


An article in a reputable publication telling leaders to slow down was always going to catch my attention.

I’m a huge believer in setting a sprightly cadence for the team – not a knee-jerk reactive approach, which is disastrous – a culture where you do the essential hard work up front to get the foundations right, and that gives you the confidence to execute rapidly.

In the days when I was CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company, I used to say that my job was to set the tone, the pace, and the standard for the business. In fact, I dedicate one of the lessons in our Leadership Beyond the Theory program to implementing that principle.

Just looking at the pace element, I worked out a few things. The first was that no one was going to move faster than my expectations. If I didn’t push, then they would take the comfortable route.

People generally tend to build in a lot of contingency, when they’re estimating delivery dates and deadlines for their own work. They start by calculating how long they think it will take. Then they add a bunch of time to that to build in a level of comfort. I used to joke that, once they worked out the real answer, they’d then double it and add the number they first thought of.

With all of that, sometimes they still missed the deadline. So, for anything I thought was important, I was going to push pretty hard. Like I said, if I wasn’t committed to upping the tempo, no one else below me would. I found my leadership sweet spot in being unreasonably impatient… but not irrationally impatient.

For example, one of my executives once came to me and outlined his team’s estimates to deliver a critical project. He told me that it was going to take six months to complete. I said, straight away, “That’s too slow. The opportunity cost is way too high to delay it that much.”

Well, of course, my executive looked at me and said, “Well, Marty, that’s how long it’s going to take. We can’t do it any faster.

But, as you probably know, I’m a stubborn bastard! And there was a method to my madness. So I asked, “Why can’t you deliver it in three months?

Well, Marty, that’s just impossible,” was the all too predictable answer.

Now, here’s the important piece. I said, “Look, I get it. I get that you can’t do it any faster with the constraints you’re working with right now. But let me pose the question slightly differently. Let’s just say, hypothetically, we decided that it was worth delivering this faster. What would that take? What additional resources would you need? What would I need to adjust in the way I’m setting the company’s agenda? What would have to change to cause you to revise some of the assumptions and risks in your base case?

What I was doing was pushing him into unconstrained thinking. The message I was sending was, “Look, I know it’s not possible, but think about what would need to happen if there were no constraints to make it possible. Just suspend your disbelief to imagine a different outcome.

Well, guess what? There was always something that could be changed, and once we knew what that was, it gave us choice: we had the luxury of being able to ask ourselves, “Is it worth shifting our priorities and investing to make this happen faster, or are we happy to leave it the way it is?

I’ve got to say, it was very rare that this process didn’t uncover ideas for increasing the value we could deliver, by changing some of the constraints and delivering it faster. To do this, we had to create a culture that was different from most:

  • A laser-like focus on value – knowing what’s most important and not getting sucked into the noise of low-value distractions

  • Incredibly strong, single lines of accountability. One head to pat, one arse to kick – that releases a level of energy that you don’t otherwise see

  • A culture of excellence over perfection – keep moving, don’t get bogged down, and be really conscious of when you push up against the point of diminishing returns. And,

  • A willingness to be flexible – to adapt to changing circumstances, new information and the learning you get from executing at speed.


Let’s have a look at the Wall Street Journal article that prompted me to create this episode.

There are eight situations that the author suggests you should seek to slow down, rather than keep the pressure on for speed. I want to look at each one of them individually, because I think some of them have real merit. Others, in my mind, are highly questionable.

You may or may not agree, but I’ll just call it the way I see it, and you can form your own judgments from there.

  1. Big irreversible decisions. This is one where we should definitely take our time. The article uses the example of the OpenAI sacking of its CEO and founder Sam Altman. This turned out to be a massive knee-jerk move by the OpenAI board because they didn’t consult their major shareholders. And, because they didn’t read the play, the board was forced to rehire Altman just a few days later. Perhaps this decision wasn’t irreversible, but it was a very public failure in governance. So, I agree that big irreversible decisions should be approached thoughtfully rather than precipitously. Take your time to consider these fully.

  2. Solving complicated problems. The theory here goes that, longer decision times guard against jumping to rash conclusions that aren’t supported by the data. It also enables broader consultation. Look, I’m not so sure about this one. Solving complex problems will always require astute judgment – How much data is enough? How much consultation is enough? How much debate is enough? – you don’t have to be slow to get this right, though. But you do have to be thoughtful and deliberate.

  3. Doing creative work. Okay, no argument from me here. Innovation doesn’t have a timeline. But, for most leaders, innovation will only be a small part of your job… unless, of course, your team is tasked specifically with an innovation mandate, like an R&D team. Irrespective of this, there are always ways to recognize the importance of not rushing the innovation process, while also making sure it doesn’t degenerate into a never-ending navel-gazing exercise. For example, in agile methodology, they use a concept called time boxing, which forces deadlines to deliver work in an iterative fashion. They then have multiple passes at elaborating and refining on previous iterations. This could be super useful in some innovation processes, I suspect.

    All right, time for some violent disagreement — you knew this was coming, right!?

  4. Encouraging ethical actions. The authors suggest that taking your time is going to help guard against discrimination. This is based on a London Business School study, which found that companies that emphasize speed in their mission statements had a higher likelihood of their managers behaving unethically. The supposed link between what’s in a company’s mission statement and leaders practicing discrimination in their hiring processes sounds spurious to me. I don’t know too many driven, high-performance leaders who can even recite their company’s mission statement, let alone have it negatively impact their decision-making. Having said that, I guess the mission statement could possibly be a proxy for company culture, which seems a little more plausible. In Ep.266: What the Best CEOs Do, I included a section on the increasing frequency of academic research that’s being invalidated by teams of really smart people who uncover data inconsistencies and fabrications. To be really clear, I’m not suggesting that this London Business School research is in any way fabricated or invalid. What I am saying is that it doesn’t ring true with my experience. Can you have speed and ethics? Absolutely! Bias for action doesn’t encourage poor ethics. It’s about culture… it’s about the standard that the leadership of the company sets… it’s about demonstrating zero tolerance for ethical breaches.

  5. Mitigating biases and stereotypes. Once again, I don’t think this is related to speed, but the authors use a super interesting example. How do you stem people’s racial stereotyping? A social networking app named Nextdoor enables communities to share information, to give and receive help, and to connect with their neighbors. Unfortunately, when a black person was spotted in a predominantly white neighborhood, users sometimes assumed that they were up to no good, even in the absence of any suspicious behavior. So, the app developers decided to add some friction and slow the process down by asking a number of questions that someone making such a report had to answer. This included the question, “What was this person doing that made you think it was suspicious?” Apparently, when this set of questions was posed, reports reduced by 75%. But I don’t think it was the slower process that made the biggest difference here. It was more likely to be the quality of the questions asked. If you’d posed 10 questions that were all about the individual’s physical appearance, I suspect that wouldn’t reduce the reports much, if at all. But the single question, “What were they doing that made you suspicious?” Refocuses the potential complainant onto actions rather than attributes.

  6. Reducing destructive friction. This one seems a little obscure to me. The authors  use the example of out of control spending on minor software packages, which created the problem of having a multitude of disparate tools to maintain and integrate. The solution to slow this problem down was to put in place some more stringent spending limits and approvals – in other words, to put more barriers in place to get better outcomes. But, rather than hampering speed, you want smarter filters on spending. I prefer to get to the root cause. Draconian approval processes aren’t helpful, because they do three things:

    1. They undermine the accountability of the people who should be able to make spending decisions at that value level

    2. They demonstrate a clear lack of trust in those people, who then experience inevitable frustration and disengagement, and

    3. They drag more senior people into work that is way below their level, pushing everyone in the organization downwards.

      Instead of this, think about setting the right culture and standards: give people the autonomy they need to do their job, but make it really clear what’s expected of them. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt of having competence, and then you just get to manage the exceptions… and you can still move fast!

  7. Connecting with customers. I absolutely agree. This is critical. Don’t put the timer on for your customer interactions. But, equally, make sure your approach to your customer interactions is scheduled on a priority basisYou have to know who your customers are. Spend time with your most profitable customers. To do this, you should have a reasonable view of individual customer contribution and profitability. So, make sure you understand where they are on the value matrix of price paid versus cost to serve. Then, spend your time with the ones that matter the most… and don’t run a clock.

  8. Enjoying the good things in life. Well, okay, fair enough. Slow down to smell the roses. Yeah, I can live with that. But even that depends on where your happy place is. For me, I can’t think of anything better than putting aside an hour to play with my granddaughter. For others, the things in life they value most might actually happen in a whirlwind: heliskiing in Alaska, or a jet boat ride on the Shotover River in New Zealand. They might not need a lot of time to enjoy life on their terms. The key message is, don’t overlook the things that bring you joy.


I think there are many ways that speed can be invaluable in leading teams to superior performance, but I just want to give you my top three non-negotiable areas where you need to bring speed to the table:

  1. Decision-making. Decisions don’t have to take a long time, but they have to be highly disciplined and follow a robust framework. The greatest enemy of decision speed is over-consultation – paying too much deference to people who want to throw their opinion in when they have no accountability for the outcome. The rule is: don’t over-consult. You’ve no doubt been told how important it’s to “bring people along for the journey”, but this doesn’t mean you have to achieve consensus. Spend quality time with the people who you know have a unique perspective or experience set that they can contribute to the problem. Don’t waste time in between steps, either. This is a no-brainer. For example, leaving a decision in someone’s inbox for approval. This is so critical that we dedicate a whole module to it in Leadership Beyond the Theory: speed over accuracy, every… single… time!

  2. Dealing with ethical and behavioral issues. Bad habits quickly permeate your culture when you let people get away with things that are morally, ethically or behaviorally unacceptable. But many leaders will tolerate them for all sorts of reasons. If you want a culture that’s sustainable in the long term, act swiftly and publicly when you’re bringing your people’s behaviors into line. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a situation where your people don’t know what’s acceptable or unacceptable, and there’s likely to be a huge gap between the stated values and what the culture actually allows.

  3. Stepping into conflict situations. If you have a potential conflict, I can guarantee you that it’s only going to get worse with the passage of time. Many leaders, when faced with a conflict situation, will either procrastinate or avoid it. When you’re faced with a potential conflict, move swiftly. I’m not advising you to be cavalier or ill-prepared. Just ask yourself a few simple questions to validate your thoughts, observations, and feelings so that you have some clarity. Then, work out what the best way is to deal with the situation and step into the breach. Most problems can be nipped in the bud – if you can train yourself to not hesitate.


There are probably half-a-dozen situations where slowing down is almost essential, but I just want to give you my three highest priority ones:

  1. High-risk or potentially dangerous work. When you have people working in hazardous conditions, it’s critical to take a step back and think about the risks of what they might be about to do, before they rush in to do it. My experience is that many workplace injuries would’ve been completely avoidable, if it were only for the sake of a few minutes to think about the risks involved. As a leader, you need to create a culture of risk awareness and operating diligence. This is done by encouraging people to stop and think… to “use their noggin”… to think about the conditions and the circumstances that they’re operating in. Never rush in where personal safety risk is high.

  2. Building the foundations of value. This is a classic case of measure twice, cut once. When you’re building your work program, you want to have confidence that it focuses your people on the highest value things – that you’re putting the resources your company has entrusted to you to optimal use. So, take your time to understand the value that’s going to be delivered from each potential work item. Start with a zero base if you have years of rusted-on activity that needs to be circumvented. Don’t be afraid to have the hard conversations that are going to result in decisions to stop the things that aren’t as valuable as others, relatively speaking. To do this, you’re going to have to disappoint some people – and that’s why you get paid the dizzy dollars!

  3. Where the strategic value swings are high. This is what the Wall Street Journal article called “Irreversible Decisions”. Sometimes, a decision is so big and the ambiguity is so high that it would be reckless to make a decision in the absence of additional information. For example, in my first year at CS Energy, we were trying to formulate strategy without knowing whether or not the government was going to impose a carbon tax. If it did, it would be highly detrimental to our earnings. After all, we were operating a portfolio of predominantly coal-fired power stations. So, we decided to kick the can down the road. Until we knew the answer to the carbon tax question, we couldn’t lock in our strategic direction. Instead, we put our energy into a number of “no regrets moves” – things that we knew would create extraordinary value, irrespective of the way the carbon tax decision fell. Things like:

    1. Rebuilding the leadership of the company by putting the right people in the right roles

    2. Increasing the commercial bench strength of the team

    3. Improving both behavioral and process safety

    4. Bureaucracy busting

    5. Removing irrational processes, and

    6. Investing in our market trading capability in systems.

Sometimes, the stakes are simply too high and you just have to take 10 deep breaths.


As a general rule, I think organizations are mostly too slow, when they don’t need to be.

The emphasis on speeding things up is the right posture for a leader to take – at any level, and in any industry! Building momentum into your culture requires a strong drive towards the principles of high-performance leadership: strong single points of accountability; a commitment to excellence over perfection; the willingness to let go of things so that you can create simplicity and focus for your team.

If you don’t waste time agonizing over your decisions, but you learn to move confidently, using practical and proven tools and strategies, you’re going to be okay.

So just relax. But whatever you do, don’t slow down!



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