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If you’ve seen the American comedy show Modern Family, you’ll have heard this phrase before. Phil Dunphy uses the phrase “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” in those moments when he’s trying to get his family of 5 from A to B through seemingly difficult situations. Actually taken from the military, this phrase contains a fundamental truth that we can transfer to transformations within companies and organizations.  

In the special forces, this phrase refers to modern infantry relying on mobility – if you can’t move, you’ll be pinned down but if you move too fast, you’ll be surrounded and overcome. This nugget of military wisdom can ideally be transferred to everyday work in transformation and projects. No matter what approach you choose – waterfall or maybe agile – you’ll still be confronted with surprises and unexpected developments despite good intentions, planning and know-how. The chaos quickly perfects itself when the problems become frequent and people start to hide their heads in the sand (or stop moving to stick with the military metaphor) or try to quickly return order (move too fast).  

As Change Managers, our job is to first and foremost calm the system down. Complex issues have never been solved in a panic. To the people involved, this step is especially difficult as most people want to do something right away. But there is a rule of thumb here: the more complex the issue, the more time should be spent consolidating it. Important questions that are apt in these situations and that should be analyzed calmly:  


What exactly is the problem?  

What are the reasons behind the problem’s occurrence?  

What has to be done to rectify this problem now?  

What do we need to solve the problem?  

What has to be done to ensure that the problem doesn’t occur in future?  

Who do we need to ensure that the problem doesn’t occur in future?  

Do you know the first three most important things in these situations?   

  1. Before anything else, ask yourself: what has been going well and should be kept? 
  2. Ask yourself until you have a comprehensive, satisfying answer.  
  3. And no matter how hectic it is or how much time pressure there seems to be, sleep on it for at least one night and make a decision in the morning over a coffee. Look yourself or the team in the eye before taking the first next step.  

Why is this so enormously important and yet so difficult at the same time?  

We’ve seen this time and again across many transformations and situations in different companies. People, and to be honest we as German people in particular, tend towards the negative. It’s often incredible how easily and quickly teams and managers dole out red cards to things that definitely have to change. Most of the time, so in 99% of cases, others’ actions are quickly identified as not working. But one thing is so hugely important: people and teams always have qualities to bring to the everyday workings of their organization. The team and its manager always have something to contribute that is already working well. These are the qualities that can be called upon easily in times of crisis and massive pressure. These are so valuable that everyone should be able to consciously reflect, value and develop them. So, give yourself time. You can easily make up for this time later on in the process as you initiated things in the right direction calmly at the beginning.  

And speaking of sleep, science has proven just how important sleep is. Especially in this modern age and even more particularly in times of transformation, often perceived by employees as stressful, quality and/or quantity are usually lacking. Even our forefathers knew that you should always sleep on important matters. And modern sleep research has proven that new neural connections develop overnight, facilitating new solutions.   

In this spirit, he who masters “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” will succeed.