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High Velocity Leadership:

Maximizing Speed, Relevance, and Adaptability in Unpredictable Times


The classic VUCA formulation effectively captured our reality over the past decade of post-recession growth. Successful organizations were able to adapt and position themselves advantageously against each formidable variable (Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity; Ambiguity). Companies increased predictability by accepting Volatility & Uncertainty as a given, and therefore baked volatility and uncertainty into strategic business planning as a priori assumptions. By focusing on growing critical thinking, leaders more effectively disambiguated the unknown (Ambiguity) and learned how to make probability-based decisions. Companies learned how to tap big data, design thinking, and automation to simplify exponentially growing sources of information (Complexity).

Smart organizations have learned how to thrive in a VUCA-charged environment, though a new set of demands are now emerging. 

1. Market Saturation and Customer Expectations for Rapid Innovation: Companies that experienced post-recession growth on the heels of disruptive innovation, such as Apple (iPhone) and LinkedIn (Professional Social Media), are now starting to experience market saturation as evidenced by slowing GDP growth. These challenges are further compounded by customers who have become habituated to rapid product cycles and expectations for constant innovation. We see further examples of market saturation and/or slowing growth across sectors from retail to telecom, pharma to media, as well as major global centers such as China. To mitigate the effects, or at least the optics, organizations have engaged in defensive strategies ranging from share-buyback programs, M&A, consistent reorganizations, price increases (pharma), price wars to capture small market share gains (telecom), and shuttering brick and mortar (retail)

2. Disruptive Competition: Over the past decade we have seen a number of industries disrupted by innovative companies creating new paradigms for customer value creation. But what happens when the disrupters are themselves disrupted? Where previously Twitter was the most anticipated IPO and the technology driving everything from social change to teenagers sharing party pics with friends, we now live in a world where Twitter is viewed as archaic by those same teenagers using Snapchat. But rather than focusing on incremental innovation, Snapchat has again leapfrogged the status quo with its new Spectacles. Disruptive competition is not about differentiating on common ground, but rather moving beyond comparison and luring consumers into new ways of thinking and interacting with brands. 

3. It’s a New World Out There: While VUCA forced us to accept volatility and change as a constant, a new kind of change is now unfolding. Black swan events (US elections, Brexit) with domino-laced contingencies are now happening with higher frequency and as a result of media/social media prominence- ever growing visibility. One could argue that with our big data engines we could lean on predictive analytics to increase certainty. We all learned this past November that even Big Data analytics has its limitations in predicting outcomes. Because the nature and frequency of recent changes have arrived so shockingly unexpected, we must 1.) accept that over the foreseeable future there will be profound unpredictability and 2.) position ourselves and our organizations for success accordingly. 

At AIIR Consulting, we see significant shifts taking place in the global business economy that will have serious implications for how we succeed or fail. To be successful in this new normal of slowing growth, disruptive competition, and extreme unpredictability, we believe business must relentlessly focus on: 

  • Staying relevant to an increasingly transactional customer whose expectations are growing faster than products can be developed.
  • Bolstering differentiation and new value creation for customers through bold, categorical innovation (v.s. Incremental).
  • Being ready to pivot when (not if) the unexpected occurs. 

We believe this new age of work will require a set of leadership priorities that embraces movement at an accelerated speed, delivers bold innovation, and knows how to slow down to speed up. We think of this as High Velocity Leadership (HVL). 

In 2017, we believe the successful adoption of HVL will require at least three primary ingredients:

1. Lead Great, Highly Efficient Teams: Individuals can make effective decisions in VUCA, but to achieve market outperformance today requires high-performing teams that move fast and fluidly over a continuous period without succumbing to burnout. Based on our recent research on team effectiveness at AIIR, leading a high performing team requires a balanced focus on Team Culture (how it feels to be on the team) and Team Productivity (how efficiently are we getting work done). High Velocity Leadership requires teams that know how to optimally balance Team Culture and Team Productivity to drive quick, sustainable results. Our research also exposed a clear need for teams to become adroit users of strategically selected and integrated technologies to maximize the efficiency and velocity of communication. 

2. Harness the Business Value of Diversity: Traditionally, diversity has been seen as a socially conscious imperative rooted in fairness and inclusion. In HVL, diversity is no longer just a nice to have but a business imperative. In a hyper-competitive environment, there are few things more fatal than running fast in the wrong direction. Diversity in race, gender, and age, as well as in thinking, learning styles, and culture, fosters the incubation of innovative ideas and mitigates the risk of groupthink. This is evidenced by numerous studies that show how diverse teams place a greater emphasis on facts and evaluate those facts more carefully. Diversity is also crucial for fostering customer loyalty. Teams with diverse talent more effectively capture the eclectic opinions, values, expectations and needs of a global customer base. As a result, these teams have an advantage in being able to deliver products, services, and solutions that maximize customer adoption and loyalty. 

3. Brake, Deliberately: When traveling at a high velocity, teams and leaders will need to apply deliberate braking to slow down in order to speed up. This is not about work/life integration, energy management, or taking vacations (all, of course very important). Deliberate braking is making the conscious decision to slow down, even stop, in order to tap into larger trends, opportunities, and macro appraisals that cannot be made when traveling at high velocities. Software developers who work in an agile methodology format are keenly aware of just how crucial retrospective meetings are for successful product development. In retrospectives, the team steps back on a regular basis to assess their areas of success and improvement. After this pause, they then dive back into the next sprint, fully calibrated to these new insights. In HVL, we must take an additional step back to assess not only the progress and quality of our work but question our very assumptions about whether the work we are doing is indeed the work we should be doing. HVL requires leaders and their teams to challenge the assumption, regularly, that just because it was right yesterday means it is the right course today. 

Today’s business landscape has changed rather quickly, and by adopting these principles of High Velocity Leadership, we believe organizations will significantly increase their probability for not just preserving, but also growing market share. The application of these ingredients will require thoughtful integration, creativity, and the courage to change. At AIIR Consulting, we stand ready to support you and your organization to successfully navigate these changes in 2017 and beyond. Visit us at