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What to do when you're told you work too slow
Speed of work is extremely subjective.
Every manager that utters the phrase “working too slow” has a different opinion of what slow means. Well-meaning managers across many industries use this phrase because they can’t put their finger on what exactly “slow” means.
All they know is something is off, and they haven’t found the words, evidence, or explanation as to what is wrong. This post is as much for managers as it is for direct reports so we can hold each other accountable as we move forward.
Direct reports, I’m going to ask you to take a breath and let me say this. Your manager means well when they tell you that you are working too slowly, but they may be struggling to find a solution to what they feel is a problem.
Clarify what is meant by “slow”
It is extremely possible that your manager has never even thought about what “slow” means, they just have a gut feeling that you're working too slowly. Too slow could mean:
the work is getting done, but you're not very public about it
you are taking longer than you specified you would take
you are also taking longer than the team has agreed that you would take
In the Age of Agile, most teams have points that are assigned to tickets, and when those points are assigned, they typically have a day or hour allotment associated as well (don’t at me about how points should work). An example of what your manager may be referring to.
If you take a small ticket that is intended to be two days time and you take five days, well sure, look at that. You are going too slow (by the standards the team set).
Slowness also has a few other factors though.
Were you vocal about being too slow?
Were you vocal about the blockers that you were facing?
Did someone else end up being a dependency?
If there were dependencies did we make those known?
Why didn’t we know about the dependency ahead of time?
If not, then that is a good area for you to improve. The bottom line is to make sure you are clear with your manager on what slow means.
It is possible that your manager has the above data laid out already, which is fantastic if they do. Look at it together and understand the problem. If you completely disagree with your manager, let that be known as well. After all, they will likely continue being your manager, so it doesn’t do any good to sit and stew.
Once Clarified, Determine How To Get “Faster”
If there is data, or even if there is a feeling work with your manager to detail what “faster” looks like. Once defined, create an action plan for yourself with your manager and track your progress!
My advice would be to check on this weekly to help dial in exactly what you need to do to increase your speed. It may be small tweaks or it may be a total mindset shift, but as long as you have a clear definition, you can think of ways to improve.
Creating your action plan could be purely from introspection, reviewing past instances, and identifying what you could have done to increase your speed. It can also be working with peers to understand how they work “faster,” and what tips they might have.
Continue To Check In On Your Speed
“But I don’t want to be annoying.” Hey! Someone told you you weren’t moving fast enough, so once you’ve made your adjustments you have to check in on the improved speed. How else will you know if you’ve really improved?
As noted above, check on this weekly, or at the very least in your 1:1s. Don’t have weekly or bi-weekly 1:1s? Set them up. You were told you weren’t meeting expectations, and you are resolving that issue. Check in with those who noted the issues with speed and go from there.
Check yourself as well. Find ways to track and determine, am I faster than I was last time? If you’re running, it’s easy to keep a stopwatch and record your times. How can you apply that to your current work?
Go Speed Racer, Go
Clarify what speed you should be working and get examples of how you are lacking, as well as examples of the right speed
Create an action plan so you can begin making improvements right away and confirm with your manager you are headed in the right direction
Check in on your progress with yourself and with your manager. They are there to support you (or should be at least).
Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. While it may sting initially, the fact that you were told at all is a gift. Take the feedback and think on it, then act on the feedback with your manager. You can do this.
Note for managers
Please consider why you think someone is not working as fast as they could be. If it’s because your boss said so, that is absolutely not a good enough reason. No one wants to hear that they are slow, so before you approach the conversation have tangible evidence of what you’ve seen, what you would like to see, and some thoughts on how you will get there together.
Remember, you are not only there to call out issues, you are there to support the fixing of issues.