Have you ever watched a toddler try to run after something she wants? Her little legs typically can’t keep up with her desire to “get there already.” She’ll be moving at break-neck speed and before you know it, she’s on her knees, dazed and confused, wondering how she went from having her feet on the ground, to having her feet by her ears.
I was a pretty rough and tumble kid myself. My mom still jokes that my baby shoes are so battered and torn, it’s a wonder the little feet they carried are still functioning. I attribute this wear and tear to two things: loving life and wanting to eat up every moment I could and wanting to do everything as fast as possible.
I reflect on that kid a lot now as an older and wiser professional. I try so hard to tell myself to “slow down” for fear of scraping my proverbial knees. And yet, I still feel myself being pulled into the race – trying to be the first, the best, the winner.
In the professional culture we live in today, it is hard NOT to move quickly. This is especially true when working remotely because of the internal pressure we tend to put on ourselves. We feel as if we need to continuously prove our value when we’re physically unseen.
In order to keep up with and outshine the competition, we rush to complete our goals, often while multitasking. On top of rushing through our day-to-day tasks, we find ourselves rushing to our work, rushing in and out of meetings, and rushing to get knock out our tasks to meet deadlines. Our professional “knees” are taking quite a beating.
So, what’s the problem?
Faster is better right? Not necessarily. In fact, while so many of us are moving at lightning speed these days, we are also finding ourselves suffering because of it.
Think about this – how do you feel when you are told to “move faster” or “it needs to be done yesterday.” If these words cause you anxiety, rest assured it’s a natural human response. Our bodies are reminding us of the many falls we’ve taken when moving too fast.
The reality is, impatience and time urgency can cause stress. It activates our sympathetic nervous system, which is our more primitive “survival” system. When we hurry, it can feel like we’re being chased by a cheetah.
If we stay in this state for too long, it can lead to chronic stress which is proven to have negative health effects and does nothing for improving performance in the long term.
In a former life, I spent over a decade at a global retail organization – If you want to find an industry where speed is rewarded, retail is the place to look. Did you know your local checkout clerk is taught to “race the clock” with how many items they can scan in a minute?
After an eight-hour day of trying to “out scan” your fellow employees, work can become downright exhausting, and the words “pick up the pace”? Well, they can make you want to throw that kumquat you are trying like heck to remember the name of, at the person barking those words, which of course, is not helpful or advised.
Much like the worn-out clerk, too much rushing can push teams and organizations to a similar breaking point. We spend so much time competing for speed, we lose sight of the “why” behind the work and also each other.
For the sake of our culture, our relationships, and our physical and mental well-being, we need to learn to slow down.
An important question to ask ourselves is, where are we trying to go? And perhaps more importantly, how do we get there in one piece?
Efficiency vs. Urgency
For the sake of managing performance, it’s important to distinguish between two concepts: urgency and efficiency. Urgency requires haste and is defined by the speed in which we get things done. It puts the quality of our work at risk and perpetuates feelings of stress. Efficiency, on the other hand, allows us to maintain our energy and doesn’t involve rushing. Efficiency requires that we intentionally “slow down to speed up.”
This involves maximizing our resources in order to complete projects or tasks in the most accurate and effective way. It’s having the necessary conversations to manage our resources and our time without the cattle prod or the skinned knees.
Having the right conversations and knowing how to train your employees how to have them is a non-negotiable component of efficiency. It can save individuals, teams and organizations time, money, and a whole lot of personal stress, while increasing productivity, improving performance, and getting us to the results we want.
Don’t believe me?
According to Deloitte, one sign of positive change in performance management is a rise in employee-driven communication rather than one-way feedback. Increasing the quantity and quality of conversations through training is becoming a key to both team and manager success.
To truly drive value, the experts are telling us we need to be teaching employees how to start having ongoing high-quality and supportive conversations between each other and their teams.
So, how do you slow down enough to be able to teach employees how to have the necessary conversations with their teams? Here are some valuable pointers to help improve the efficiency of your employees:
1. Teach them to stop multitasking.
RESEARCH SHOWS that monotaskers are generally more productive than multitaskers, and mono-tasking results in fewer mistakes. On top of that, multitasking can have a significant impact on trust and relationships in the workplace.
Consider what happens when someone messages or calls you to discuss an “important matter” and you are in the middle of that report you should have had to your boss 30 minutes ago. You are feeling rushed, pressed for time, you are clearly stressed. That said, the colleague in front of you seems to be gravely concerned and his matter seems just as urgent.
So, you do what you think is best – try to tend to both items at the same time. The trouble is, you are distracted by your report. You aren’t fully listening and the message you are sending to your colleague is “your matter isn’t important enough for me to stop what I’m doing and really focus on you.”
This does not mean you need to drop everything when someone wants to chat. But you need to consider how you are showing up and the example you’re setting for your employee.
What if your response to your employee was, “This matter sounds important. Give me 20 minutes to finish this report so I can give you and this conversation the attention it needs.” Or “what are you doing at 11 a.m.? Let’s meet then and give ourselves the time and the attention this needs.”
To change multitasking habits and build the monotasking muscle for ourselves and to teach our employees how to do the same, we need to encourage eliminating distractions to focus attention on one thing at a time. We must protect the time needed to do that task or have that conversation, block time on our calendar, close all other screens, put our phone on mute. Relationships, performance, and the overall well-being of ourselves and our employees will be better for it.
2. Encourage time for positive feedback.
David Rock, founder of the Neuroleadership Institute says “positive feedback is a signal to the brain to do more of something. When we acknowledge, we highlight the behaviors we want to see more of, and at the same time, we build the other person’s confidence and certainty around what they are doing well.”
And yet, think about it. Most of us rush through or skim over the positive stuff. We say things like “great job!” or “way to go!” and “time to set our sights on what’s next!”
If recognition of others is rushed, or occurs as infrequently as annual performance conversations, employees are lacking a powerful performance tool. Providing specific, positive feedback has been scientifically proven to lead to success. It should be given freely and regularly by everyone in an organization.
Who deserves your recognition today?
3. Promote curiosity, and really listening.
At Fierce, we start all of our one-on-one conversations with the same question: Given everything on your plate, what is the most important thing you and I should be talking about today? And then… we allow the time and space for the person to reflect and respond. As Henry David Thoreau once said, “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought and attended to my answer.”
Healthy work relationships require time and space for conversations to happen and for all parties to actively listen. Employees must go beyond day-to-day transactional interactions and have real conversations.
When it comes to increasing efficiency, encouraging employees to slow down to have skillful conversation is essential. The world is constantly changing around us, and it is pivotal that employees feel comfortable checking in with their team and the strategies that are currently in motion.
The Fierce approach is to explore more deeply what is happening. If you sense something is not going as planned or you are noticing something under the surface with your employees, it is imperative to slow down, have the conversation, and get curious about what is really going on and teach them how to do the same.