The internet, rapid technological innovation and ever more adaptable business models have produced a business environment that’s changing at break-neck speed.
To survive in this accelerated world, organizations have got to learn to move fast. Everything—communication, decision-making, teamwork, the delivery of products and services—has to be done quicker than before. Speed is key.
At my company, we took a long and hard look at ourselves, and at other firms’ best practices, before coming up with five basic policies to become a speedier organization.
1. 24-HOUR RESPONSE RULE
We introduced a rule that all e-mails have to be answered within 24 hours, or one business day. After that, the sender is free to treat a non-response as agreement. With mails copied to many recipients, the 24-hour rule accelerates debate between all parties, with the result that issues that could drag on for days or weeks get sorted out in a single day.
Softbank, the telecoms and internet company headed by Masayoshi Son, was my inspiration for this policy. Softbank, however, had a 48-hour rule, so we literally doubled down on this one!
2. INTERNAL STAIRCASES. NO PARTITIONS
We rent space over several floors of a large office building. The building’s elevators and staircase can only be reached by going out through secure doors and along a corridor. To make it quicker and easierfor people to go and talk directly to their colleagues on other floors, we built additional internal staircases. This cost us a great deal of money, but the benefits from free and easy internal communication justify the expense.
To boost internal communication further, we also got rid of partitions and private offices. My desk is out on the floor with everyone else; anyone can come to see me anytime, and I can also “manage by wandering around.” I got this idea from a visit to the open-plan offices of Bloomberg, the financial data company. (One Bloombergism I did not adopt was the concept of glass-walled meeting rooms, which must be distracting for everyone concerned.)
3. CHOPPING THE CHOP
Most Japanese companies retain an old-fashioned, bureaucratic approval process which involves circulating documents until all the relevant department heads have stamped them with their official chop or seal (hanko or inkan in Japanese). The system is a notorious time-waster, and I detested it when I worked in a large trading company in my twenties. I made a conscious decision when I set up my own firm in 1992 that we would never use a chop—and we never have.
4. NOODLE DISCIPLINE
All our meetings have to start and end on time. Nothing saps morale like a meeting that gets underway late and drags on with no clear end-point. Equally, nothing is as energizing as a brisk, well-run meeting that yields prompt and tangible results. In our VC business, we have a rule that anyone who arrives late to a meeting has to treat everyone else to a lunch of spicy tantan-men noodles. This threat seems to keep everyone nice and punctual!
5. SHARED VALUES AND CLEAR GOALS
This last point is obvious, but no less important for that.
To make decisions fast everyone in the organization needs to be thinking and acting in alignment with the same core values. We have a staff book that clearly explains our vision, mission and values. This makes sure that all of us are pointing in the same direction from the get-go.
We also instituted quarterly one-on-one meetings between bosses and their team members to discuss key parameter indicators (KPI, or any measurable goals or objectives). Because of these one-on-ones, every individual in the organization has a crystal-clear understanding of precisely what it is they’re meant to be doing over the next three months. Again, everyone is in alignment in micro as well as macro terms.