The way of working referred to in the title is a form of “going slow to go fast.” Obviously, it’s not my idea, and it can mean a multitude of different things depending on the context it’s applied to, but what we’ve found in our company is that some extra focus and intentionality in the present can eliminate a whole lot of agony down the road. 

The phenomenon is described well by a McKinsey & Company blog post in which the authors state that when top teams slow down,they eventually go deeper and faster into achieving their objectives. They deal more effectively with increased complexity and challenges – and they use less energy.”

Setting Intention

So how does this work and why? And who can use it? I’ll do my best to paint a picture that answers all of the above. 

Since our transition to the “slow down” method, meetings in our organization go a little differently; in fact, they look like workshops. They generally consist of around 8-12 people and a whiteboard (these days we usually use something like Mural) and are facilitated by someone who is not wed to the outcome.

The concept is based on the A3 template from Lean Enterprise Institute, which is a prominent practice throughout our organization when you need to bring people together from different business units to address an issue. We very deliberately address every prompt, without fail, starting with the question, “What problem are we trying to solve?” 

That might sound like an obvious thing you could afford to skip right over but asking really epitomizes the concept of slowing down. Often, we find that the real problem is not the one that most of us had in our heads. The way Deacom CEO Jay Deakins puts it in his Forbes column is, “Take a step back and try to understand the essential elements.” Once we can all agree on what those are, the stage is set for healthy cross-disciplinary collaboration.

The major benefit to this careful, methodical approach is something I like to call “upfront buy-in.” It empowers a diverse group of decision-makers to co-create the best overall solution. When they agree, or “buy-in”, from the outset, it’s like the path to development and execution is automatically cleared; the course is flattened of any hurdles that often come up when you have to “sell a solution” internally after the decision has been reached. 

Buy-In vs. Buy-Out

To understand the value of going slow, you have to contrast it with the more traditional way of doing things. A person, department or team moves quickly to innovate a solution but does so within a silo, which means they then have to go and get the buy-in from every other arm of the business. It’s a terribly inefficient process when you think about it, and it also creates the potential for friction when someone takes it personally that they weren’t invited to the conversation sooner.

Most people want agency, and what the going slow method shows is that giving it to them early in the process is much more useful than giving it to them later on when they might have an idea, good or bad, that undoes all the work leading up to that point. 

The solutions that are created using the slow method are often better ones, to boot. In my experience, that’s simply because we’re often biased toward our interpretation of the problems and their answers. In many cases, the most innovative ideas come from someone who, in a more old-school setting, might not have been asked, but whose perspective turns out to be invaluable. 

This is also the basis for how going slow to go fast can positively affect your organizational culture. In our “slowed down” meetings, people learn from, respect and collaborate up and down the business hierarchy. The ladder is removed – a tough task when it’s being shared by executives and junior employees – and the volume between voices becomes equalized.

What helps this process even further (at least in the new, remote paradigm) is the ability to submit ideas anonymously, which can be a huge boost for less-confident or marginalized participants. Likewise, so is the realization that the CEO or CMO they’re in the meeting with doesn’t necessarily have the answers, either. Everyone comes to the meeting prepared to learn and be open to everyone’s ideas, no matter where they originate.

Recruitment and Staffing

What does all of this have to do with Human Resources? Sometimes, it’s HR that gives us the most challenging problems to solve! We like to talk about client relations, but the reality is always that employees are the first clients of any business, and in the context of the fast-paced shifts that COVID-19 has required companies to make regarding HR, taking a “slow” approach to tackling issues is even more valuable. 

Do people continue to work remotely, do they come back to the office or is a hybrid approach best? What does that mean for benefits, worker’s comp and culture? When our company first tackled these kinds of questions, we quickly realized that the slow method of decision-making was the best one suited for such complex issues. 

In a more direct way, slow to go fast is relevant to the people in an organization because it facilitates the kind of cohesiveness around strategy and implementation that is tough to find in most businesses. Through empowerment, employees become more engaged and more fulfilled, increasing productivity and reducing churn. The ability to co-create solutions and give input that is truly valued fundamentally changes the relationship between business and employee. 


Bottom Line

There’s a saying in creative circles: process over product.

Focus on the process, in other words, because that’s where all the intrinsic benefits are found. Focusing on the product instead tends to limit our creativity, blind us to opportunities and lead us to get ahead of ourselves. And at the end of the day, what is business, if not a creative endeavor?

Final thought: it’s not about slow and steady winning the race. It’s about slowing down now to go fast later


Victoria Maitland

As Head of People, North America for CI&TVictoria Maitland is a passionate, collaborative, high-growth leader with over twenty years experience envisioning, building and driving innovation within organizations. She possesses an agile, intuitive and personal leadership style capable of creating values-based cultures where people are driven by purpose to come to work every day and empowered and happy to contribute to making a better tomorrow.