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Pace and Productivity: When Faster and More Isn't Always Better

What's your personal workday pace? Maybe it's slow and steady or blazingly fast. For you, it's normal. Perhaps the bigger question is: what's normal for your team?
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What's your personal workday pace? Maybe it's slow and steady or blazingly fast. For you, it's normal. Perhaps the bigger question is: what's normal for your team? Especially if you are a manager, it's critical to recognize that everyone in your office isn't working at exactly the same speed. Without that awareness, we tend to use our own individual work pace as the standard. And that usually leads to unrealistic expectations and frustrated co-workers.

One of my clients named Laura is a perfect example of this concept. Laura always seemed happiest burning the candle at both ends. She was known for pushing herself toward "impossible" goals, meeting deadlines and expectations that gave her a "Wonder Woman" reputation. Besides that, she made it look effortless.

After achieving impressive success in the medical cost containment field, she started her own company and began to attract top professionals who wanted to work on her team. For employees, working with Laura was a shiny jewel in their career crowns. They were learning from the best in the business. But they wanted to impress Laura, so they were always trying to keep up with her seemingly limitless drive to work crazy hours and meet deadlines their competitors couldn't match to keep clients happy.

Over time, however, Laura's employees seemed to run out of steam, experience signs of burnout and distress, and eventually compromise the limits of Laura's performance expectations. Productivity and morale took a serious nosedive. While most people knew that Laura's unrelenting pace was the culprit, she couldn't see it herself. Laura suffered from Dust in My Wind syndrome--a professional blind spot in which she couldn't really grasp the idea that her full-throttle capacity was not the norm.

Laura brought me in as a leadership coach, and I could quickly tell that Dust in My Wind syndrome was her roadblock. Through my work with Laura, I was able to help her identify a mistaken belief. Laura honestly believed she worked at a normal pace and that most of her peers and colleagues could perform at her same capacity if only they tried. In reality, her staff was struggling to keep the pace she set. The pressure made many of them feel high-strung, volatile, and much less composed--virtual powder kegs of unmitigated stress.

Should Laura lower her standards or stop pushing for greater productivity? Definitely not. But she did have to accept and apply the counterintuitive idea that moving a little more slowly to match the pace of her staff could actually generate better performance, not to mention stronger relationships and more effective teamwork.

Once Laura understood this idea, she was able to moderate her pace when appropriate to optimize the results from her team. She communicated with her staff members about her realization and sincerely asked them to hold up the virtual stop sign when her expectations were out of line. By asking her entire staff for their collective help to alert her when she needed to slow down, she demonstrated her commitment to reducing stress for everyone in the office. Imagine the surprise and relief they all felt!

If you might suffer from Dust in My Wind syndrome, there are some practical steps you can take to make life better for everyone on your team.

• Consciously slow down and watch for stress signals among your colleagues that indicate your light, breezy work pace is being perceived as hurricane-force winds.

• Take the time to recognize the unique gifts and talents of each individual who participates on your team (and recognize that they can best make those contributions at their own pace).

• Show your human side. Chances are, your co-workers may think of you as a results machine with a one-track mind. Make yourself more relatable by sharing something unexpected--a personal story or even details about a missed opportunity.

To learn more about Dust in My Wind syndrome and other professional blind spots, I invite you to read my book: You - According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and your career.

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