Accelerating Performance

Why do companies in the same sector pursuing near-identical strategies and emphasising the same priorities perform so differently? In the FTSE 500, for example, the difference in profit margin between the top performing sectors and the worst is 19 per cent, yet the difference between the best and worst within a sector is 34 per cent.

What sets the top-performing companies apart and why some deliver so much more than others are questions that Colin Price, executive vice president and global managing partner at Heidrick & Struggles and Sharon Toye, a partner in the firm’s London office, set out to explore in their new book, Accelerating Performance: How to Mobilise, Execute and Transform with Agility.

But while innumerable books claim to unlock the secrets of better business performance, few can back up their assertion with such extensive research. Over the course of several years, the authors delved into the details of the management at half of the FT 500 companies, surveyed 20,000 global leaders, conducted in-depth interviews with 150 of them, analysed data from 3,000 teams and drew from their library of more than 10,000 executive assessments as well as their experience of placing more than 4,000 executives a year.

What they found is that top performers have worked out how to be both big and agile. And key to their success is acceleration - they can build and change momentum more quickly than their competitors, largely because of their ability strip down complexity to the bare essentials and to make apparently contrasting objectives compatible and achievable.

The authors dub those that achieve this magic balance ‘super accelerators’, and identify 23 companies in the FT Global 500 which exemplify the winning behaviours - and avoid the traps - detailed in the book. It also details the recipe for achieving acceleration, a process termed ‘META’: Mobilize, Execute, and Transform with Agility.

“We have gone from an age of strategy to execution. Everyone is trying to strip out costs, to digitise and to flatten hierarchies,” Price says. “But it’s not where you are going that is important, but how quickly you get there. Execution is more important than strategy. It’s about accelerating.”

With an unashamed focus on data and empirical evidence, Accelerating Performance stands out from the sea of performance and change management books that are based on anecdotes and theory. As such, it is essential reading for anyone serious about analysing or improving organisational, team or individual performance.