In February 2012, Facebook filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as a first step toward fulfilling its long-anticipated Initial Public Offering (IPO). In the company’s regulatory filing, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg included a letter to investors, which had become a Silicon Valley tradition since Google’s founders penned a letter to shareholders in its 2004 IPO materials.
In Zuckerberg’s letter, he included a section called “The Hacker Way,” describing the company’s principles and culture. In one passage, he wrote, “We have a saying: ‘Move fast and break things.’ The idea is that if you never break anything, you’re probably not moving fast enough.”
Frances Frei and Anne Morriss disagree. In their latest book, Move Fast & Fix Things, Frei and Morriss argue that speed has earned a “bad name in business”, and Facebook’s philosophy and the actions of many other companies have cemented the idea that there is a tradeoff between speed and fostering an environment where employees can thrive.
“We wanted to write a book that could show you exactly what to do so that you could move fast and fix things, which is what we believe the world needs.” – Frances Frei
Frei and Morriss would know. For more than a decade, they have helped companies clean up the mess left by leaders attempting to rapidly implement significant change programs without considering the people side of the equation. The authors’ new book offers a practical approach for corporate leaders who want to solve big problems quickly and take genuine care of their customers, employees and shareholders.
“We saw the wreckage of ‘move fast and break things’, and then we saw the defensive crouch of ‘let’s not do much for fear of doing anything wrong’,” Frances Frei tells The CEO Magazine. “We wanted to write a book that could show you exactly what to do so that you could move fast and fix things, which is what we believe the world needs.”
For many corporate leaders, change is the new constant as organizations continue to reinvent themselves in the face of new technology, new competitive threats and an unrelenting global environment of uncertainty. Yet the reported failure rate for organizational transformation programs has hovered around 70 percent for decades.
“Perfectionism leads to mediocrity. Quite counterintuitively, it holds us back.” – Anne Morriss
In their book, the authors aim to improve the odds by proposing a Monday-through-Friday “playbook” that leaders can use to start or reboot a change program. The playbook is designed to “build trust, solve problems, and accelerate change – all at the same time,” according to the authors.
“We think that a week is the right metaphor,” Frei says about the time needed to set up a transformation program for success. “It’s not a month, it’s not a quarter, it’s not a year.”
While some leaders might balk at the suggestion of building a robust change program in five days, Frei argues the structure is designed to break through a common failure mode in organizations: perfectionism.
“We want to liberate people from perfectionism,” she says. “Perfectionism leads to mediocrity. Quite counterintuitively, it holds us back.”
For every day-of-the-week chapter in the book, Frei and Morriss provide a detailed agenda for leaders to follow so they can build and execute their transformation plan. They also cite examples from companies worldwide and include practical advice for leaders trying to diagnose and treat systemic organizational issues.
Five days to real change
Move Fast & Fix Things says on “Monday”, leaders should begin by identifying their real problem. Frei says this can be more difficult than it sounds.
“When people identify their problem, we often find is that it’s a ‘presenting problem’,” she says. “So the first thing we do is help people go from the symptom to the root cause.”
For Monday’s work, the authors provide a detailed list of questions for executives to better understand what is holding the organization back from achieving its full potential, a critical input for building a fast-paced change program.
On the second day, “Tuesday”, the authors say leaders should “solve for trust”. Frei and Morriss say that building trust – and re-building it when necessary – is a critical step many organizations miss when leading large-scale change programs.
Leaders should begin by identifying their real problem.
“Speed unleashes your organization’s energy and reveals where you are going,” they write. “Trust convinces your stakeholders to come along for the ride.”
To Frei and Morriss, “Wednesday” is the day for leaders to “make new friends”, by which the authors mean leaders must build an inclusive team who can strengthen and refine the organization’s transformation plan.
“Here’s the whole thing about Wednesday,” Frei says. “Whatever you’re solving, you will have brought to the table the people you typically bring to the table. We encourage you to put a few empty chairs and constantly look at the empty chairs and say, ‘Who are we missing?’”
“I guarantee you that the people you already have around the table are insufficient to solve your problems, or else they’d be solved.
“Tell a good story” is the book’s “Thursday” chapter theme. The authors say that despite broad awareness of the importance of good communication when working through organizational change, it’s an often-overlooked area in many companies.
“Change is hard, but progress is joyous.” – Frances Frei
Frei recommends leaders focus on a compelling story that says, “I need you to understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and what to do in my absence.”
“But many people, because they might be feeling time pressure, skip over this day,” Frei says. “And then they’re like, ‘I can’t believe how often I have to say this.’ And we’re like, ‘I can’t believe how often you have to say this incomplete message.’
Friday is the end of the work week. In Move Fast & Fix Things’ approach to change, it may feel like the beginning as the authors devote this chapter of their book to moving as fast as you can. When it comes to execution, almost no-one in business is against speed. Nevertheless, “the how” of moving fast can be elusive, and thankfully, Frei and Morriss break the topic down into critical moments leaders can address.
“Friday is about not missing your chance to change things,” the authors write. “You’ve now earned the right to move fast.”
A good weekend read
Publishers release books on change management topics every year. Move Fast & Fix Things stands out for being concise, practical, comprehensive and optimistic. Frei and Morriss enliven the material by speaking to the reader directly and including wit and humor throughout the book.
“Change is hard,” Frei says. “But progress is joyous.”