No Time To Wait—Or Waste

Whether you're struggling to keep pace with demand, or trying to stay afloat during the long lull, it's critical to ensure the pace the company is at is the one it needs to succeed.

Lately, the CEOs and executives I advise tell me: “There’s no time to wait!” For some, it’s because the urgency of their business is so great, they feel they cannot afford to pause – for anything. Their focus is solely on keeping pace: staying afloat; meeting intensive demand; adapting to changing protocols; leaping over the next bar; keeping competitors at bay; etc.

For others, “no time to wait” means the opposite. The pace of work has slowed to the extent that their business threatens to stall. Collectively, the organization lacks a sense of urgency. These CEOs can no longer wait to act. They’ve got to get everyone moving again.

In both situations, the current rhythm and pace of the organization is not the rhythm and pace the CEO needs to achieve their objectives. Importantly, the CEOs also recognize that the pace they have today is not sustainable: there’s no time to wait. Some advice:

• CEOs set the rhythm and pace.

Intentionally or not, CEOs set the rhythm and pace of the organization by the choices they make. In turn, these decisions and actions dictate the organization’s sense of urgency. Ideally, the organization’s pace allows an ongoing rhythm that maintains momentum and avoids burnout. This is not usually achieved by holding a single constant speed, however. (Think of a heart rate: flat line is never a good sign!) Good rhythm has some variation. It’s about finding a balance between too much pace and too little. Done well, adjustments to rhythm and pace enhance clarity while dodging burnout.

• Avoid creating a chasm.

Sometimes, giant steps allow giant leaps forward. At other times, they create holes that take the organization backward. Having no time to wait when the pace is great also leaves little time to think ahead or plan for the future. Thus, even if the team is meeting objectives in the near term, they may be creating potholes for the future. Perhaps inject a pause—a moment to celebrate success to date or simply take a breath. Allow “stretch” for yourself and the organization; yet avoid creating a chasm.

• Instigate urgency.

When the lack of pace threatens a stall, the organization may need a push. If the impending stall results from fatigue, try narrowing the focus. Identify a few individual or short-term goals that can spur bigger wins, which you can then make visible. This can help the team to regroup. Alternatively, when too much constancy creates complacency or organizational malaise, CEOs can instigate urgency. With their leadership team, CEOs paint a picture of what it looks like if the organization does not succeed. Then jointly with the team, they set new goals to renew interest in and enthusiasm for achieving them.

Having no time to wait is often a signal that the organization’s rhythm and pace is out of whack. Most likely, it tells the CEO that there is a disconnect between the rhythm and pace they have and what’s needed. Without direct intervention, the organization may well continue on; yet at what cost? When there’s no time to wait, the CEO must heed the warning and act. Assess whether the team has too much pace or too little. Either way, it’s simply not sustainable.

Tara Rethore, CEO of Strategy for Real, works with CEOs, boards and executives to take strategy off the page and into action. Throughout her career, Tara has led strategy development and execution within large global organizations and as a highly valued consultant. Currently, Tara serves on several private and nonprofit boards. She is also one of Chief Executive Group’s CEO Trusted Advisers and a Marshall Goldsmith Certified Stakeholder-Centered Coach. Find more insights on Tara’s Real Strategy blog.