Run Like a Hare, Think Like a Tortoise

blog May 23, 2024

By Sam Adeyemi

Don’t be a hare. Don’t be a tortoise. Be a hare with the mind of a tortoise.

When your organization is experiencing robust growth, there are good reasons to celebrate. At the same time, every seasoned executive understands that even an uptick in sales, services or production can create negative consequences when that growth isn’t effectively managed. These are four indispensable tips I have discovered for more sustainable growth.

  1. Think about things systematically. Early automobiles were experimental marvels of transportation technology but were also wildly impractical and extremely difficult to manufacture. Before Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line in Detroit, it took over 12 hours for most cars to be built, and that was assuming you devoted a team of mechanics to the task. Once the revolutionary plant in Highland Park was up and running in 1913, that production time was already down to an astonishing 90 minutes.

You can have the best ideas in the world, but if you don’t think about things systematically along the way, you’re going to end up squandering a lot of that potential. In fact, you might end up turning your own growth against you, damaging your reputation or drying up your much-needed cash flow. Robust growth is cause for celebration, but it also carries with it a string of expectations capable of sinking any business that isn’t prepared to harness and direct the rising demand.

  1. Make people your first priority. Initially, workers at Ford’s assembly line were resistant to the new means of manufacturing, finding the work a bit boring and often interrupted by machinery malfunctions they didn’t understand. Facing massive turnover, Ford introduced the $5 workday, a dramatic move that many thought would bankrupt the company. Surprisingly, it did the opposite. Mechanics across the country flocked to Detroit for higher wages, cementing the company’s future dominance.

Your robust growth is made possible by the systems you have in place. However, those systems are made possible by people, which is why your team members should be your first priority when managing new growth.

  1. Strike a balance between effective and efficient. The ancient Greek fable about the tortoise and the hare is the classic tale of effectiveness versus efficiency. While the hare is a highly effective runner, the tortoise is highly efficient, never exerting himself beyond what is totally natural. In a real race, neither would win. The hare would tire himself out and take an overconfident nap, much like he does in the original tale, and the tortoise would get beaten handily by someone with a bit more patience. The goal for our organizations should be to find the right balance between the two, then walk that line with confidence.

Successful leaders approach new growth with a combination of effectiveness and efficiency. The optimal ratio for your organization will vary a lot depending on your industry and overall vision. For example, tech companies can sometimes survive with less efficiency in their processes because the demand for innovation and effectiveness within the industry is front and center. Likewise, a company that is in the middle of a purposeful expansion of their sales and services will need to prioritize effectiveness over efficiency, while an organization that is preparing for a larger expense down the line may need to do the opposite.

  1. Establish succession at every level. The 53-man NFL football roster is a masterclass in succession: every position has a backup—some two or three. The number of backups per position is carefully calibrated according to the team’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as its overall strategy.

Employee departures, either for the short term or the long term, are an inevitable part of doing business in the 21st century, which is why successful leaders establish succession at every level of their organization. As a result, they win back a bit of their efficiency and make all future growth more sustainable.

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