How to coach employees for faster performance

by Bruce Tulgan17 Aug 2016
Metrics are a great way to help managers monitor employee performance. But the metrics are only valuable if they are used to develop good course-correcting feedback for your employees.

It’s not enough for you to say, “You need to get the job done faster.” You have to teach employees how to be faster.
First, take a step back: Faster is not always better. Some people work slowly because they are trying to be very, very careful. That commitment to quality should be encouraged.

The challenge is coaching the very careful employee to maintain quality, but also work on speed.
There is a delicate balance between productivity and quality. The good news is that, usually, an employee who is so committed to quality is likely to be an engaged learner and open to performance-coaching.

Tune-in to this ‘quality-focused’ employee’s careful, deliberate style. Take a very deliberate approach to helping him/her speed up. In your regular one-on-ones, focus on the goal of starting to speed up, slowly but surely.
Spend some time with this employee and together conduct a time/motion study (described below) of each task in question. Take it one task at a time, and for each:
  1. Watch the employee do the task multiple times. Break each task into its component steps; and break each step into a series of concrete actions. Then time the whole thing: Time each concrete action.
  2. Figure out: How long should the task take? Step by step; concrete action by concrete action. Create a step-by-step time-budget for each task.
  3. Do a micro-gap analysis: Identify the micro-gaps between the time budget and the employee’s actual time step by step. In these micro-gaps lie the potential opportunities to speed up.
  4. Choose one concrete action at a time to “accelerate” and take it slowly. What if the employee could speed up just one concrete action per week? Close the micro-gaps one by one. By going one-concrete action at time, you will minimise the chances of increased mistakes in the effort to “speed up.”
Once you’ve increased the speed of one task, move on to the next task. Every step of the way remember to monitor the quality of this person’s work to make sure it doesn’t dip and acknowledge the continued high-quality as her/his pace speeds up, slowly but surely.
Quality-focused employees are often very gratifying to coach on speeding up because they are earnest, detail-oriented, and know how to work on “getting better” at something. You just have to get them focusing their attention on the details of “going faster”.
One of the beauties of doing a time/motion study of every task, responsibility and project is that it gives you an opportunity to drill down and see not just what your employees are doing, but exactly how they are doing it. You learn so much as a manager about the employee.

And in nearly every case, you will probably find at least a few surprises in the details. Just as some employees work slowly because they are so careful to get everything right, there are plenty of employees who work slowly because the way they are doing it is all wrong, a little bit wrong, or somewhere in between.

Bruce Tulgan is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking. He is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader.