To Go Fast — Go Slow

Here is a conundrum. The fastest way to achieve significant organizational change is often by going slowly.


The problem is that leaders live to make things happen. They thrive on taking new ground. They work to move people, ideas, and organizations toward greater accomplishment. In short, leaders are change agents. Slowly and patiently do not come naturally. Leaders resonate with Sammy Hagar’s song, “I Just Can’t Drive 55.”

A friend of mine pastors a good church with a strong reputation and significant impact. Courageously, he has embarked on a plan that will exponentially increase their impact on the lives of people and their community. However, this change will require more than new methods and curriculums. It will require a shift in culture as well as practice. He said to me, “if we try to go too fast, things will backfire.” This is one of those times when going slow is the key to going fast.

If you are a leader, there is probably at least one significant initiative on your plate right now. You can see a preferred future and you long to help your team, your employees, or your congregation get there.

I am not advocating for slower as a more noble approach. I am simply saying that organizational change is complicated. Even when necessary, it is often unwelcome. Organization change calls for time to bring people along, to cultivate buy-in, and to deal with the inherent destabilization that accompanies change. Press the accelerator of change too fast too soon too often and the resistance you’ll face can cause organizational retrenchment that permanently locks in the old ways.

Sure, some situations call for quick and decisive action. In those moments, going slowly can be irresponsible or worse. However, the impulse to make it happen now usually says more about the impatience of a leader than about what is best for the organization.


If the any of the following conditions apply, you would be well-served to slow down and allow more processing time.

    1. Your desired outcome represents a change of culture.
    2. What is being changed has been entrenched for a long time as “the way we do things.”
    3. In order to successed at implementation you will require large scale participation.
    4. Your people already feel the fatigue of multiple recent changes. All change destablizes and wears people out. The next one might demoralize the troups.
    5. Something remotely similar to the current proposal was tried without success within active corporate memory.
    6. The change you seek will touch corporate identity and when that happens personal significance feels threatened.
    7. The organization you lead is a volunteer organization, (ie. a church or club or service organization.) If this is you, start with the premise that slower is usually better and only accelerate when necessary.

Just as there are some times when you should go slowly, there are indeed time to act quickly. Here are a few of those.

    1. Your people are discouraged after a series of hard hits and hope of a better future is weak.
    2. You need minimal human resources to implement the change being proposed AND it will yield quick large scale wins.
    3. You face a crisis that threatens corporate viability.
    4. Your reputation in the community has been damaged and this initiative will address it.
    5. The core concept of this change is not only strategically helpful, but it was born as a grassroots effort. (To go slowly in this case will disempower your people.)
    6. You really are only making a decision. Implementation of change might need to be slowed, but indecision is fundamentally abdication of leadership.

So, what are you working on? Should you speed up or slow down? What do you think might be possible if you took a longer view? If your ultimate goal is to normalize a new day, what other steps are needed in your enrollment process?

Can you think of other criteria for when you should slow things down or speed things up?



{FYI: John Kotter’s book, Leading Change, remains one of the all-time best on the complex challeges of change.}