April 2, 2015
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Four Steps to Achieve the Right Tempo

Clients often come to Seed for help launching new initiatives that will take their businesses to the next level. For better or worse, most business leaders want to tackle these endeavors at warp speed. But faster isn’t always better.

Finding the right tempo is just as important as finding the right initiative—without it, even the best ventures will fail to achieve the success everyone is hoping for.

Consider for a second: a train riding smoothly over the tracks. Perhaps, a sports team imposing its pace of play on the opposition. Or, a drummer jamming to fans’ delight at a rock concert. What do these seemingly unrelated things have in common? The answer: a reliable tempo—an overriding rhythm that helps them to excel.

Achieving a good tempo isn’t always easy. Trains take a long time to reach cruising speed, sports teams need players who are sharp and in-sync with each other and (to borrow an old joke) sometimes rock-band drummers simply need to sllooowwww dooowwwnnnn. So, what about business? How can organizational leaders help their teams achieve the right tempo?

1. Set Your Vision

Setting good tempo often begins with vision. Certainly, the train conductor has a destination in mind, the sports coach has devised a set of tactics to win the game, and the drummer knows the set list. So, where do you, as a leader, want your team to go? What’s your plan for reaching that end game and how do you want everything to unfold on your way to getting there? A vision is critical to achieving the optimal tempo that will help you reach your goals.

2. Be Observant

What’s the natural tempo of your organization (or function)? There are companies with frenetic activity—often entrepreneurial and emerging companies. There are companies that are always slowly, steadily moving forward—more prevalent at larger corporations. And, there are those who run on a slow-fast-fast-slow tempo—not uncommon in service companies.

So, if you stop to think about it, what tempo does your company usually operate with? Is it right for what you want to accomplish in the near-term? What tempo are other key players using—your suppliers, your competitors, your buyers, different pockets of the globe? And, don’t forget to consider your customers’ tempo. Sony determined years ago that Asian customers wanted more products quickly, with little changes, while American customers wanted new products with bigger changes spread over time. Taking these sorts of factors into consideration will go a long way in helping you determine what a good tempo looks like for your team.

3. Monitor Your Progress

Once you set the tempo, it’s important to constantly assess your momentum along the way. Are you going too fast for the team to keep pace? Or, are you going too slow to achieve your vision?

Use the measurements that you have available to you. The train conductor has mile markers and fuel gauges, the coach has a scoreboard and fitness of his players and the drummer can observe the audience and his band mates. What do your senses and tools tell you? Do you need to pick up the pace, slow things down or stay the course?

4. Stay Connected

A healthy tempo is one that creates order and predictability. At it’s best, it feels like a metronome whereby everyone and everything is in lockstep with one another—simply humming along.

One simple way to create this synergistic feeling is with regular check-ins that team members can come to rely on. Commit to recurring, focused and decision-oriented meetings that will coordinate the players who are driving the initiative toward its goal. These check-ins should be more about “what’s ahead” than an update on “status.”


Though it can be easy to overlook, tempo can make or break the success of a project and even an organization. The trick is to find the right tempo for both your risk tolerance and what’s going on around you. Set a cadence that’s too slow and you’ll never reach your goals. Set a rhythm that’s too fast and you’ll likely rush into mistakes and burn your team out in the process. But, find that just-right tempo and your team will rock—just like that drummer laying down a perfect beat.

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