When we think about April in Boston, we think about Patriots Day and the running of the Boston Marathon.

Two separate events, one that honors the past, the battles of Lexington and Concord and the other that celebrates the present – a personal challenge to run 26 miles requiring incredible endurance.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has put the marathon on hold this year but that has not stopped runners from practicing with the hope that the event will be held this fall.

During the running of the last Boston Marathon a reporter said “that we are seeing younger runners in the race whose motivations are different.  They are running to beat their best time, not beat other runners.”  For them it is all about increasing their own speed. Breaking their own barriers.

These runners realize that running fast is not enough, they need to be increasing their speed to stay ahead of their own personal best.  The same is true for organizations.

All businesses are being impacted by the accelerated pace of change.  It is no longer enough to keep pace with a rapidly changing and dynamic business environment.  The rapid pace of change makes acceleration a critical part of everything we do. Like a runner, it is not enough to be running fast, we must be running faster over time.  Organizations need to be moving faster in a world that is increasingly more complex and uncertain.

Acceleration is an event that occurs when something moves from one state or phase to another.  It shows the change in speed in a unit of time.  The concept of acceleration is often misunderstood.  You may have heard someone observing a runner say, “They are moving fast.” A runner can be traveling fast and still not be accelerating.

Acceleration is all about changing how fast an object is moving.  If the runner is not changing the speed, they are not accelerating. But acceleration is not enough.  You need more than speed to succeed. Acceleration is a vector that can change in two ways – a change in speed and change in direction.  Like individuals organizations must not only be moving faster, they must be moving in the right direction.

On a road trip a couple of years ago my husband said he would take over driving while I rested. When I woke up, he said that we were making good time, but I noticed that we were heading south not east.  In fact, we had lost a good half hour.  The speed was great, but the direction was off.  His decision to take the bypass to avoid going through the city and maintain our speed was fine. It was missing the turnoff that messed us up.

We see similar things happening in organizations.  Most organizations spent the last few decades streamlining operations to make them more efficient and effective. This has enabled them to operate at maximum speed to support their core business, but these efforts have hampered their ability to create new businesses.  Streamlining systems and processes to support an existing business is great in a more stable, steady growth economy but doesn’t work in one that is constantly changing.

The accelerated pace of change is impacting every aspect of your business. There is more complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty than ever before.  Globalization and technology have leveled the playing field. Employees are less engaged, they want to be challenged and they want to do something that has meaning.  Customers and clients are more knowledgeable, have more choices and are less loyal. The world of business is being transformed.  Entire markets are being restructured.

According to a recent article titled The Need for Speed in the Post Covid-19 Era, “speed is an essential ingredient for outperformance in times of unprecedented change.” The article goes on to say that during the pandemic, “executives and directors say their organizations are making extensive changes with one overriding goal: to increase the speed at which they adjust strategic direction, make and implement tactical decisions, and deploy resources.” These are positive signs that organizations are adjusting to a new normal – creating a new way forward.

Yet, we continue to see organizations struggle with their ability to change, let alone accelerate the speed in which they change.  Change is the biggest obstacle and the biggest opportunity for most organizations.  In fact, many organizations report that given the volatile market things have slowed down, risk is avoided, decisions take longer, and growth has stalled.  All of this is happening at a time when most organizations are under pressure to generate new growth.  It’s not only speed but a change in direction that is required.  One that enables organizations to be more flexible and adaptable.

A key to enabling organizations to increase their speed is their ability to adapt their strategies to this new environment. This has not been easy. Although many organizations have demonstrated their ability to adjust their strategies, others have not faired as well. According to the article, Strategic Resilience During the Covid-19 Crisis, “Roughly half of executives reported that the crisis exposed weaknesses in their company’s strategic resilience, defined as the extent to which an organization’s business model and competitive position prove resistant to disruption.” Not surprisingly, the article reported that the most important “strategic lever” used during the crisis to address this issue was business model innovation.

It was not just business model innovation but innovation in general that has kept businesses thriving and growing during the pandemic. Thanks in part to the individuals inside these organizations that didn’t see a problem but an opportunity, found a better way to get work done remotely, and challenged themselves and their organizations to address new and unmet needs in the market. despite this major disruption. These individuals – these intrapreneurs – need to be recognized and acknowledged for stepping up and making a difference at a time when it was easier to sit behind your computer screen on a Zoom call rather than acting. Both speed and direction attributed to the success of those organizations that thrived.

In order for organizations to increase the speed in which they respond to change and achieve business growth they are turning to intrapreneurship.  The goal of intrapreneurship is to build the capabilities that enable organizations to quickly change direction and accelerate growth.  Organizations that have successfully implemented intrapreneurship statistically do better.  They tend to attract and retain the best and brightest.  They have higher levels of employee engagement, innovation and growth.

It’s not just about speed – intrapreneurship helps you move your organization in a new direction.

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Originally published April 2016, updated April 2021.

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