Foot On The Floor, Still In First Gear?

My client’s sense of frustration was palpable. We had been doing some strategic work, and were convinced that the market was there to enable them to grow by at least a factor of three over the next few years. The market was waking up to the value of their products, and they had an unmatched reputation and network of relationships in the industry.

That was the outside view. But the inside view was completely different. Inside the company, it was like wading through treacle. Everything was stretched close to breaking point. Everything took too long. Nerves, and tempers, were becoming frayed. Sometimes the organization looked like a collection of functional groups, each in their own bunker, throwing rocks at each other.

They were trying various things to improve the situation, but nothing seemed to help.

“You’re driving with your foot flat on the floor,” I told them. “But you are still in first gear.”

The point of the metaphor is this. Imagine you are driving, and you want to go faster. You can achieve this, up to a point, by pushing down on the accelerator. But that only gets you so much extra speed. After that, you need to change gear.

Let’s explore this with an example. You need your people to be more productive. You might introduce an improved incentive scheme, or work to increase “employee engagement.” These are “press down on the accelerator” strategies. They may produce some improvement, but in most organizations the pedal is fairly close to the floor already. Any boost you do achieve by this means is likely to be temporary. It won’t be long until performance slips back to where it was before.

On the other hand, what would a change of gear look like? You could carefully analyze what people are actually doing, and how much time they spend fixing problems that could have been avoided in the first place (I guarantee you, this will be shocking). Then organize so that these problems don’t occur in the first place. Or you could identify the customers or products that soak up lots of time for very little money, and decide whether you actually want them anymore. You won’t, in some cases, because they will be clearly unprofitable and more trouble than they are worth.

Does this seem familiar? If life in your organisation feels like driving with your foot on the floor, I have a short online test to tell you if you need, and could benefit from, a change of gear. Take the test here.