If your competitors get there first, your most sincere efforts may be for naught. Yet as my column title suggests, there is good reason to consider the pace at which you drive your initiatives or expect your suppliers to do the same.
The risk and insurance industry has a long-held reputation for stodginess and slow improvement. Just back from the RIMS conference in Orlando and having spent time among more than 400 exhibitors, I can attest to growing evidence that this industry is making progress, but perhaps not fast enough.
For example, risk technology solutions are too numerous to count, but the majority continues to look much the same, with glimmers of big leaps in functionality here and there. Similarly, insurers continue to offer a core group of products that belie innovation of any true significance.
Yet moving too fast with insufficient planning can lead to stumbles at a minimum or major failures at worst. The clarion call for "quick wins" notwithstanding, "quick failures" may be career-limiting moves. I believe it's important to understand what type of change you're after. As Harvard University Professor John Kotter shared at one of the RIMS conference luncheon keynotes, major change requires sweeping, bold moves and is unlikely to be accomplished by small incremental moves.
By contrast, this latter approach is likely more appropriate for meeting many of our bigger objectives. Continuous incremental improvement still has a central place in business strategy and, in fact, often solidifies competitive position pretty effectively. However, in most areas where you're charting new territory, you need to learn to crawl before you can expect to either walk or run. The risk lies in crawling or walking too long, either because your competitors will move along this continuum faster than you or simply in meeting the expectations of management or governance for results. In either case, crawling too long can be fatal to your initiative or even your job.
So what determines how long you should stay in either the crawling or walking mode? The answer lies in a combination of the culture of your company and the expectations of your customers. Each company's culture will dictate the pace at which at least the more important initiatives must move. Typically, this will be most influenced by your competitive landscape, both internal and external. Dealing with those external parties just waiting to eat your lunch is job one. What will it take to not just fend them off, but defeat them? Speed of execution is almost always at the heart of the answer.
Internally, we all deliver to constituents that I think of as customers. For staff functions, these customers are nearly as important as those that buy your products and services. In most cases of course, they don't hold sway over your very existence, but in a few they do. In neither case can one afford to spend too much time crawling or walking in response to these needs. At the same time, running at a sprint too long will eventually lead to your exhaustion. Thus, prudent apportionment of that precious commodity known as energy will rule the day.
Determining and managing pace is critical to success. The balance between customer demands and expectations and your energy and resource levels to deliver is just one of the high-wire acts that challenges us all to earn our pay each day.
CHRIS MANDEL is the enterprise risk manager for a leading financial institution and a former president of the Risk and Insurance Management Society.
June 1, 2009
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