ai:sight > Volume 8 > Move fast and fix things

Move fast and fix things

Creating momentum, generating results

Anne Morriss

Founder, The Leadership Consortium (TLC)

Over the last ten years, Anne Morriss has helped countless companies create the speed and trust necessary to generate momentum and results. Here she tells ai:sight about her latest book ‘Move Fast and Fix Things’, where she shares the success, she has helped achieve at fast-moving companies, including Uber, Riot Games, and ServiceNow.

Over a decade ago, Mark Zuckerberg declared that Facebook would “move fast and break things”. The phrase quickly became an informal motto for the tech giant and thousands of businesses aspiring to be like it. However, leadership expert Anne Morriss, founder of the Leadership Consortium and co-host of the TED podcast Fixable, believes a new mandate is more appropriate for businesses: move fast and fix things. Here, she explains why.

Speed has gotten a bad name in business, much of it deserved. Why did you set out to rehabilitate its reputation? Isn’t speed the problem in many companies?

What we have found in working with organizations is that there is a huge opportunity to make a difference to those leaders, teams, and businesses that are moving too slowly. If we can help increase the metabolism of organizations by giving people a way to respond with urgency to their most important problems, then that is the path to an even bigger impact.

We have worked with many organizations that are taking big swings and/or responding to big shocks. No one has ever told us, “I wish I had taken longer and done less.” So, that’s the jumping-off point for the book. Can we look at the pattern of those who have been particularly effective at leading big, meaningful change and not only learn from the pattern but also codify it in a way that would be accessible to others?

You say that, far too often, companies don’t tackle the root issues but instead focus on surface problems that mask what’s going on. How can companies identify the real problems holding them back? How will this benefit their company?

In the book, we organize steps by day of the week and use Monday to signify the first step: identify your real problem. We invite you to pause and focus on this as it’s very tempting to solve the symptom of a problem and not tunnel down to its root cause.

The thing that will help you the most is your curiosity, and that is the abundant and renewable resource we really want you to tap into. It’s not as easy as it sounds to do that because most of us, particularly as we rise in the hierarchy, become convinced that we are paid for our judgment. And judgment and curiosity don’t play well together. The research shows that they can’t co-exist, so often, we must be quite deliberate at leaving judgment out of the room as we figure out the real problem and invite curiosity to take the wheel. Your job on Monday, and when you’re trying to figure out the real cause of problems, is to ask the right questions and not to have the right answers. That’s a real mindset shift for many people in leadership.

You argue that creating the conditions for everyone to thrive is the ultimate investment a company can make. Let’s say we’re convinced – where do we start on this ambitious goal?

Leadership is about creating the conditions for others to thrive, both in your presence and your absence. The tools to achieve this differ depending on who you’re trying to influence. For the people in front of you, it’s about setting high standards, being clear about expectations, but also simultaneously revealing your deep devotion to their success. Doing these things at the same time is often counterintuitive.

Not everybody is the same, and it’s a huge advantage to create an environment where people can bring their differences into the workplace and contribute to that difference. The simplest way to do this is to practice the platinum rule. The golden rule is to treat other people the way you would want to be treated. But if those people are different from you, that won’t work. We want you to upgrade to the platinum rule, which is to treat other people how they would like to be treated. The beautiful thing about the platinum rule is you don’t know the answer to that question until you go and find out. And so, inquiry can be a powerful, enlightening, trust-building moment. So, go and find out what it will take for someone else to thrive, and then execute that with a sense of urgency. 

You emphasize the importance of trust and discuss its three essential drivers: authenticity, empathy, and logic. Can you share how you can use these to identify where a company might be losing trust?

I am more likely to trust you as a leader if I am convinced of your logic, authenticity, and empathy. Logic means I’m convinced that you can do the job, I trust you at the wheel, and I think you’ll make good decisions. Empathy is where I believe that you care about me and my success and are aligned.

This architecture works at the scale of a team but also the scale of an organization. So, when organizations are struggling with any kind of a problem, they should identify the stakeholder at the center of the problem and then look at the problem through this lens of trust and work out which of these three pillars is getting a little shaky on you: authenticity, logic or empathy.

It matters because you can’t solve a logic problem by doubling down on empathy, and you can’t solve an authenticity problem by reinforcing logic. But we see this happening all the time. For example, many employees and companies are struggling with the core employment contract right now. Younger employees, in particular, want more meaningful work, for example, or they want to grow and advance at a faster rate. Those are logic needs. Yet employers are responding by providing yoga classes at lunch or offering organic snacks in the break room, which are empathy signals. This doesn’t help to strengthen relationships. It’s important to go one layer deep and figure out at a foundational level what’s happening with trust with whichever stakeholder is at the center of the problem.

Doesn’t trust take a long time to be built?

I believe that’s a myth. When trust breaks, it’s quite possible to rebuild it quickly. We see in practice that we’re constantly gaining and losing trust. The leaders, teams, and organizations that are most effective at rebuilding it start with the conviction that it can be rebuilt and that it can be rebuilt quickly. They lean into figuring out what’s going on and then act with a sense of urgency on the solution. 

The larger message of your book is to “operate with urgency, be wildly ambitious, and fix as much as you can along the way.” Can you provide some strategies to help business leaders succeed in this regard?

In the book, we give you a challenge for Monday through Friday. The logic is that you spend the first part of the week building trust. You’re figuring out what your plan is and then how to communicate that plan in a way that’s compelling to the people you need to act on the plan. And once you do that hard work, by the end of the week, you have earned the right to go fast. So, speed is the payoff for the fact that you have built a foundation of trust earlier in the week.

Once you get there, it gets fun and tactical. One thing I will push you to dwell on is the idea of empowerment. It’s a very operational idea, even though it sounds very soft. It’s about distributed decision-making and organizational physics. So, if all decision matters must flow through a single point in your organization or just a few points, then speed will be a very clear trade-off. And if you can open that aperture even a bit, you can go much faster than in a world where only a few people are at the center of all critical decisions.

There are lots of ways to empower an organization. One of my favorites is The Ritz-Carlton. It has a policy of giving every employee on the payroll a budget of up to $2,000 to solve any customer problem. That number is shocking to some people, but solutions rarely require that kind of investment — a plate of cookies is usually sufficient. More importantly, it’s a very powerful signal to employees that they have permission from the organization to go out and solve problems by any means necessary.

The steps in your book can be accomplished in a week. Can you explain why you took this approach? What can readers of the book expect to come away having achieved?

We give you a week, but you have our blessing to take longer than a week to complete it. What we don’t want you to do is take months or even years, which tends to be our default timeline for solving hard problems. Most of our problems in organizations deserve a more urgent response. A metabolic rate that honors the frustration, the mediocrity, and the real pain of the status quo. And so that’s really what we’re challenging our readers to do – to decide right now to move fast and fix the things that are truly in the way of their organization’s progress.

How to fix your organization’s problems in seven days

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Move Fast and Fix Things

Bestselling authors and cohosts of the TED podcast Fixable, Frances Frei and Anne Morriss reinvent the playbook for how to lead change--with a radical approach that moves fast, builds trust, and accelerates excellence.

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Author Speak

Anne Morriss

Founder, The Leadership Consortium (TLC)

Anne Morriss is dedicated to helping people unlock their own potential — in the name of building extraordinary organizations. As founder of The Leadership Consortium (TLC), Anne Morriss is dedicated to building inclusive executive teams and preparing emerging leaders for senior roles.

For the past 20 years, she has guided entrepreneurs, companies and governments throughout the United States and Latin America on strategy, leadership and organizational change. She has also put her own theory into practice: as CEO of GenePeeks, she oversaw a computational genomics company developing breakthrough ways to identify disease risk.

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