How to Think Slow and Work Fast

How to Think Slow and Work Fast

Getting people to be fast.

— Manager

Facebook, the company, is almost as famous for its slogans as Facebook, the product, is for its likes and shares. One well-known Facebook-ism is: “Move fast and break things.” I don’t know if that’s what the author of today’s challenge had in mind, but what manager doesn’t want his people to work faster?

Whether they write code, save lives, or serve beer, managers always want employees to step on the gas. It’s a common problem that invites a common solution: pressure. I wrote a post on pressure, so I won’t repeat myself, except to say that pressure is not a solution. If you rely on pressure, you may break things that are hard to fix—like your reputation, or your company’s.

Let’s consider the alternatives to passing pressure down the chain of command. What do your people need to work faster? First and foremost, they need to know what to do. A standard procedure can save them a lot of trial and error. Next, people need the freedom to make improvements. A lot of standard procedures could benefit from new technology and other time-saving updates. Even with good procedures in place, every now and then people need to do things their own way and take shortcuts.

Create standard procedures that save time

Much of our day revolves around repetitive actions. Our brains hate going over the same tasks multiple times. Try paying attention while brushing your teeth or driving to work. Your mind will wander as your task continues on autopilot. Something similar happens at work. If we don’t have a specific process to follow, we will keep doing things the way we’ve done them before, without questioning our actions.

Your brain might think it’s doing you a favor by freeing your mind to wander, but your work will suffer. Going on autopilot is not the most efficient way to do things. It’s an automatic habit built on other automatic habits, not on what’s best for the customer or the business.

A habit can save time, but only when it’s an intentionally learned good habit. If you want your people to be fast, create good habits for them to learn, and make learning good habits itself a habit. Use good work habits to design standard procedures to overcome bad habits and save time.

Eliminate standard procedures that waste time

If yours is an established company, I’ll bet you have plenty of company-wide bad habits in the form of outdated policies, procedures, and poor practices that became ingrained in the culture.

Recently, I became a witness—and an unsuspecting victim—of this behavior. A large well-known company asked me to demo our intranet software. I was a little surprised because the same group of people had already watched a video of the same demo I provide live. But I was thrilled about the opportunity and happy to oblige.

I always ask a lot of questions during a live demo. Do you see yourselves using Communifire? Do you think this will work for you? Do you have any questions so far? Do the features make sense? Will they help you solve your challenges?

So, I keep asking these questions every five minutes, as I flip through the screens. No response from these guys. Fine. I know how to play that game. I sit in awkward silence for a full minute. Nothing.

I’ve given hundreds of these demos. I’ve done it in the middle of the night, first thing in the morning, before coffee, after a few beers, tired, sick, and naked with soap over half of my body. Suffice it say, I’m not afraid of giving demos. But this time the creepy silence on the other end is getting to me.

I fidget in my chair and look at the clock as I talk into the lifeless void. Finally, I reach the end of the demo and ask the same questions once again. A pleasant female voice replies, “This software contains none of the features we are looking for in a marketing platform.”

A marketing platform?! Didn’t someone watch the video? Didn’t I ask you several times what you were looking for? I couldn’t help but wonder why a company would openly waste hours of professional and executive labor. I am not even counting myself—but wouldn’t it be nice if these people respected my time and their own?

It turned out the woman in charge had decided ahead of time which software vendor she was going with. However, a company policy obligated her to source competitive bids. She also had to have a live demo to prove that she had thoroughly evaluated all proposals. So she scheduled a few obvious losers, including myself, to make it look like she was doing her job.

Competitive bidding is not a bad policy. When used correctly, it protects the company from overpaying and invites exciting new technologies to take the place of the old ones. However, if your employees are going to game the system to pursue their own agenda, it’s time for a new policy. And maybe a new employee or two.

Leave wiggle room

But suppose the woman looking for a marketing platform had made a fantastic choice even though she was short of the required number of bids. In that case, rather than comply formally, wouldn’t it be better if she could bend the rules for the sake of efficiency and common sense?

After all, the policy is not there to replace your whole brain—but only the part of it that follows old habits.

Once your employees have mastered the policy and understood the reasons to have it in place, empower them to use their judgment. Replacing rigid procedure with accountability and trust can set people free to do their best.

In summary, we all want to work fast. And we want other people to work even faster, especially when they’re working for us. Mobile Internet has corrupted us all. Having instant access to people and information has raised our expectations and lowered our patience.

Just remember, when working with people, you have to be slow to be fast. Take your time to hire the right people, match them to the correct jobs, and build a relationship with them. Move carefully, one step at a time, as you set up a smart process for them to follow. Then get out of their way and let them move fast and break things.


If you like to work fast, you might like my book, because it helps you break things that slow you down.

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Written by

Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.


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