balanceWe like to think that we can have our cake and eat it too. However, in business, few leaders have such luxuries available. Instead, we must make choices regarding our preferences or priorities. A simple example might be speed versus accuracy. Obviously, we’d love to get things both fast and right. However, there are most definitely times where we must choose between the two. Even in this example, it is not always clear cut which choice must be made. As you can imagine, accuracy is highly desirable in anything we do, be it for business or personal purposes. However, sometimes getting something 100% accurate is overkill. It sort of follows the 80-20 rule. Sometimes getting to 80% is good enough because the “cost” associated with the final 20% may not be worth it. But, generally, I am of the philosophy of “I’d rather have it right than fast”.

In a recent entry on the Harvard Business Blog site, Freek Vermeulen writes about this issue in a piece entitled Slow and Steady Wins the Growth Rate. His piece resonates with me as he uses his own experience of learning to play the cello as an analogy for his point about “time compression diseconomies” – a term coined by professors Dierickx and Cool from INSEAD. I studied violin and played for many years beginning when I was nine years old. His piece highlights a very important point – three hours does not always equal three hours. The point being that doing something for a half an hour 6 times is not the same as doing that same activity for one three hour period. Think about exercise. We all likely realize that exercising 6 days a week for 30 minutes each session is much better for our long-term health than exercising once a week for 3 hours.

Rushing to accomplish something very rarely works out as well as we’d like. Growing a business faster by hiring more and more employees without allowing the business to properly onboard and acclimate these hires will not ultimately achieve the desired results. Rather, it will likely lead to challenging times with leaders scratching their heads in wonder and then commencing the downsizing that inevitably will follow. Patience, or “slow and steady” as Vermeulen says, is necessary in order to achieve sustainable success. Taking the time to “do it right” will ensure a better outcome versus scrambling to get it done as quickly as possible. Vermeulen’s own study of multinational companies demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach by showing that “growing at a moderate-yet-steady pace increased profitability much more than did short outburst of rapid expansion–almost twice as much.”

On a very simplistic level, we all understand this. How many of us would be comfortable to learn that our doctor’s office is measured on “patient throughput”? Ouch! When I have to see a doctor, I want to know for sure that they are interested in “getting it right” not getting me in and out fast. Businesses must balance these oft-competing objectives in order to strike the proper, sustainable result – and it is we, as leaders, who must make those decisions and set the priorities.

Nina Nets It Out: Whether you’re studying an instrument, exercising or tackling a business issue head-on, be sure to understand that there are real choices in how we go about accomplishing whatever it is we are doing. There’s an expression that comes to mind: “There is never enough time to do something correct the first time, but there is always time to do it over again.” Be sure to assess the needs of each situation and decide what is most important before taking your first steps.