The need for speed

June 27, 2021

The need for speed pervades all we do.

We are bombarded with advertising and influencers wanting us to lose weight fast and be beach ready in 14 days. Or the new FFSx that will do 0-60 in the blink of an eye, ensuring envious looks from those with beach ready bodies. Or mega-fast broadband, that allows multiple devices to be open at the same time.

The breathlessness of it all is sold as exciting and better, but I find it all rather daunting. Actually, it mostly sounds like hell on earth.

Some of my anxiety is, I know, overdeveloped and reveals certain insecurities that I should not masquerade as truth. I know that in my whole life I have never had a beach-ready body, it is now best described as a beached body. If seen from a cliff top vantage point, most people would call the local sea-life sanctuary in the hope I might be refloated on an incoming tide. My antipathy to people who want to drive fast also spills over into my aversion to running. I am convinced there is no such thing as a fun run. My longstanding advice to all runners is to please leave earlier and enjoy the stroll, and in doing so avoid frizzy hair, sore nipples and pants that runkle. As for digital stimulation, are we not already living in a sort of digital Bedlam, where cacophony is described as information?

Why is doing something more quickly synonymous with doing things efficiently?

I spoke to someone this week who calmly and rationally told me that they simply did not have time to reflect and plan. All he could do was to hope to get through the day navigating the slew of emails and meeting requests that had broken away from their tethering and were hurtling towards him like recently cut timber tumbling downstream through boiling rapids.

I asked him how I could help, and I heard the usual conference agenda bingo – we need to be more strategic, we need to make better use of tech, we need to be better business partners, we need to…

I told him that I didn’t think I could help. The concerns he had for his work were not the concerns I had for him and his team. He was spinning in his wheel, and the faster he ran, the more he just stayed still, but with added exhaustion.

I told him he needed to do three things, just three things, but each would be difficult and each would need him to ask for some help.

Action #1: He had no boundaries. No red lines. Anyone could call him, email him, disturb him at any time. He considered it part of the job to always be on call and available and ready to help. He thought this was what good service looked like. Ironically, he didn’t expect this from his team and wanted them to have balance and boundaries; but what he did not notice was that his team felt less able to have boundaries, because of the way he behaved. They followed what he did.

I told him to sit down with his team and agree team boundaries which he would adhere to as well.

Action #2: He had too much on. He had allowed (even encouraged) demand for his time to outstrip the practicalities of the resources available. He was constantly asking for more people and more tech, but never showing how the business would benefit, and always being given less than he needed. It was an unbreakable cycle in his mind and his only solution was to continue to work ridiculous hours at the cost to his mental health, his family, friends and to his career.

I told him to sit down with his Chief Executive and Finance Director, but this time not to ask for more people or greater investment. This would be a meeting where he would tell them what he was going to deliver and what he was not going to deliver with the resources he had. This is not admitting failure, it is being a good colleague and leading your team.

Action #3: He had no time to plan and even to think. Saying you want to be more strategic, but them adding this ambition to the agenda of a team meeting under AOB in the last 15 minutes of a two-hour meeting is not going to achieve it.

I told him to have one day a week (still just 20% of his time) to have no BAU related meetings and to answer only crisis emails. These days are going to be precious days. They are not for him to indulge flights of fancy, but they are an investment in the business helping to create a sustainable and important contribution. The days will include conversations with peers in other organisations, time reflecting with members of his team and time with his thoughts.

None of these things are easy because they require him to change his behaviour and that is why he needs help. I am certain however that what he doesn’t need right now is more tech, more people or to go even faster to keep up. The need for speed pervades all that we do, but often we succeed best, when first we can bring the spinning wheel to rest.

Take care Paul xx

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