How to teach hustle
July 15, 2022 8:58 PM   Subscribe

Please share helpful techniques to teach a sense of urgency to employees in environment that requires hustle, efficinecy and a sense of urgency, in both movements and multitasking. I have found a sense of urgency one of the hardest things to teach- folks either have it or they don't. I'm looking for anything from personal anecdotes to Course on Management and beyond. Think saving seconds and minutes, not meeting deadlines a month away.

I manage a team in an environment that requires quick & efficient thinking, acting and prioritization.

Job markets as they are, I'd like to be able to teach it to folks who are solid and promising in other ways.

I learned this skill by working next to people who are way faster than me and thinking "damn I slow, I am going to go faster and faster so I don't suck!" which I've since realized doesn't work for everyone.

Other things I've tried, besides putting slow people next to fast people for context:
-holding them accountable to the clock. "This task has taken you 5 minutes, remember your goal is 2 minutes" "Here is a project. It should take you 30 minutes to complete."
-eliminating as many systemic inconveniences as possible. This step requires adding 3 components to the widget? Lets combine those three components ahead of time, so three steps becomes one!
-finding comparisons to other parts of their lives that may require hustle and urgency, like playing sports
-showing or explaining all of the efficiencies I've found through expereince.

I am not looking for advice on how to train people to manange long term goals or projects.
posted by Grandysaur to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Financially compensate them extremely well.
posted by Edna Million at 8:59 PM on July 15, 2022 [58 favorites]

Yeah it’s very much all about incentivizing, especially if you expect to consistently micromanage them for maximum productivity like this. Give them a fuckton of money then expect them to burnout after a while and turnover to be high.
posted by greta simone at 9:05 PM on July 15, 2022 [24 favorites]

Hustle may mean sacrificing something else - like quality. Sometimes sacrificing quality is okay, and all you need is adequate. If that's the case, you could work next to someone or review their work and identify areas where they are overdoing it.
posted by lookoutbelow at 9:08 PM on July 15, 2022 [10 favorites]

Your processes need to allow for variation, as well as take into account the learning curve. I've worked production crafting jobs and on any item, the first couple times I made a batch the goal time was treated as a suggestion, since I was still learning the patterns and techniques. Times were also averaged over all items in a batch - so if made a batch of 100 2-minute items, the expectation was that overall it'd take me around 200 minutes, not that I'd hit 2 minutes on each item itself. This allowed for me to organize the batches in ways that were more efficient than just making one item start-to-finish, then the next.

Also, if some people are consistently hitting slightly longer times than others, that might just be how fast they can do it. You can't take a high-end speed & then assume everyone can always hit it, your speeds need to be based on what an average person can realistically do & keep doing over long periods of time. Not "once a single person did this in 2 minutes, so that's what we should all try for always".
posted by augustimagination at 9:16 PM on July 15, 2022 [6 favorites]

If you know about how long something should take, and you're telling them how long it should take, why do they ALSO need to rush? Either I can comfortably do it in 30 minutes or I can't.

What if you start giving bonus points for meeting or exceeding quota and exchange points for gift cards?
posted by bleep at 9:19 PM on July 15, 2022 [3 favorites]

Are they paid enough to care? Seriously for real examine the financial incentives. A focus on speed speed is draining and grueling and often dehumanizing. Are they a cog in the machine? Are you sure they don't feel that way? What's more important, their numbers or their mental well-being?

Is everybody pulling the equal amount of weight? If I've been there the same time as Bob and Sarah and we're roughly physically capable of doing the same amount of work and I do a hundred units and Bob does 50 and Sarah does 20 are we getting paid the same amount to do vastly different levels of work? Are there consequences for Sarah or does she just get to coast by? People know who the fuckers who stand around and do nothing are and we resent them.

Competitions with worthwhile prizes can help. Rewarding the people who actually work hard makes a big difference. If the people who work hardest feel like they're getting screwed that's not a good situation. Especially if the managers are known to get significant bonuses for productivity and the employees get shafted.

Good managers get better results, I care infinitely more about the boss who knows my name, how I feel about things, listen to suggestions, and know darn well which one of their staff does the work and is reliable and which ones are the dead weight that they just can't fire for specific reasons. The one who constantly asks me to go do something because I'm standing in a very specific spot waiting for something very specific to happen that's mission critical and doesn't have the first clue what that actually means gets zero respect.

Little perks can go a long way. Even buying the bottom shelf discount candy once a month is something. More meals and better rewards is better incentive though. Whatever it takes to make the good employees feel like they're not being taken advantage of, that the system isn't abusive and that they're not slave labor. There's good odds they can find a significantly easier job and if you don't give people reasons to care many of them aren't going to. The easiest one is of course money. If they're doing mind crushing work where people are focusing about seconds and numbers constantly, it definitely helps to be able to go we ask a lot but we actually do pay what it's worth. Most places aren't particularly fond of doing that, and it's not at all hard for employees to look up and see what other businesses in the area are paying for similar or less work.

Maybe some stuff like mentoring and training programs can help with the actual mechanics, there's usually ways to increase efficiency without sacrificing morale. And I think most people respect to manager who actually works when necessary versus the guy who hides in their office constantly and is never seen.

But yeah, seriously most of it's paying them to care, and minimizing as much of the abuse as possible.
posted by Jacen at 9:30 PM on July 15, 2022 [8 favorites]

When you say the environment "requires hustle, [efficiency] and a sense of urgency, in both movements and multitasking":

What creates this requirement? Could the environment be less chaotic? Could multitasking be reduced via better planning? Is a constant sense of urgency really beneficial to long-term throughput?

Don't answer these questions right away - think carefully about them. You may find the effort and frustration you expend on trying to make people "hustle" is better invested in making your workplace less chaotic and better organized.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:30 PM on July 15, 2022 [27 favorites]

I have provided itemized checklists to technicians when I needed work done on a strict timetable.
posted by nickggully at 9:34 PM on July 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

People will hustle - to the extent they can - if they have a reason to care enough. It sounds like you're not giving them one. If the work itself isn't motivating then you need to find out what would incentivize them. That may not be the same for everyone; you're going to have to figure out individually what makes your people tick.

I'd start with a bigger picture look at what you're doing, though. Are your requested targets actually realistic or do you just think they are because a couple of exceptionally fast experienced workers can meet them? Are there inefficiencies somewhere else in the process you could tweak to buy some more breathing room for these folks so they don't have to scramble to save seconds? Are you asking your team what is and isn't working well about the current workflow?
posted by Stacey at 9:38 PM on July 15, 2022 [4 favorites]

- Hire people that have a competitive mindset
- Public ranking of top performers. Don't rank the entire list because people at the bottom at the list usually don't care about moving up, but people at the top of the list care about staying on top
- Public recognition and praise of the behaviour you want to see
posted by saturdaymornings at 9:51 PM on July 15, 2022 [5 favorites]

Seconding Stacey's suggestions - it sounds like the work doesn't naturally inspire employees to go as fast as possible (i.e. I'm assuming these aren't firefighters or surgeons or similar roles where speed is genuinely essential), so the best bet is probably providing your workers with positive incentives like extra money or extra time off.
posted by Brioche at 10:22 PM on July 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

Job markets as they are

Sounds like you realize you’re mostly out of luck. Why should they care?

Reinforcement, not punishment (since it sounds like punishment is not feasible). Set a realistic goal for everyone, even if it’s not your ideal time goal. Finishing early means they get to… something, maybe go home but get compensated for the whole day. Slow folks may be motivated to do that, or they may not. Don’t make the task longer or decrease the time too rapidly.
posted by supercres at 10:26 PM on July 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

eliminating as many systemic inconveniences as possible. This step requires adding 3 components to the widget? Lets combine those three components ahead of time, so three steps becomes one!

Do they have ownership of the process, and can actually do this? Sometimes you're told to follow a process and cannot deviate from it. In which case, if you try out anything different to improve the process and it doesn't work, you get punished because you've slowed things down. So no one is going to try.

If someone happens to discover a process to make things faster, what incentive do they have to show others? Especially if they are recognized as a "top performer" and telling others would make them less special?

Also, making up targets is going to incentivize cheating. As the saying goes, "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying".

Your question should be more about process management, and not about "making people move faster". People come and go, processes last forever.
posted by meowzilla at 12:05 AM on July 16, 2022 [4 favorites]

Without knowing the role and industry, it is impossible to answer this question.
posted by parmanparman at 1:37 AM on July 16, 2022 [13 favorites]

Anecdotal but as someone who very much doesn't give a shit about my (presumably fast paced and deadline driven) job, I would "hustle" more if things like meaningful quarterly bonuses were offered.
posted by windbox at 4:14 AM on July 16, 2022 [8 favorites]

The concept of sprint might be helpful to you. Ditto time boxing. Generally, teaching "hustle" as a lucrative skill set for concentrating energy and activity into a discrete time-block might be effective. It's a skill set that translates broadly into all aspects of life.
posted by desert exile at 4:28 AM on July 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Are the consequences of the lack of hustle clear *and* meaningful?

I once was given feedback that I should be rushing to the fax machine.
- I was the only one using the machine so it should be on my desk if they care about the twenty second round trip.
- What did saving a minute a day do, other than mean I had to work more?
posted by Monday at 4:46 AM on July 16, 2022 [9 favorites]

Why should they feel urgency? Is it even ethical to demand the kind of urgency you’re describing? Doesn’t sound like it. Humans shouldn’t feel urgency for endeavors that aren’t contributing to their values, shouldn’t wear themselves out for others’ profits or other’s professional cache. Unless you’re paying them so much that the quality of their life outside this context drastically and substantively improves, then yeah this is asking for something inappropriate and unethical.
posted by asimplemouse at 5:09 AM on July 16, 2022 [17 favorites]

Best answer: IMHO, the problem is one of "corporate culture" and the built-in incentive system.

Efficiency experts and corporate coaches can come in and pep talk all they want, but only those who actively wanting to advance, promote, or otherwise improve themselves will take the advice the heart, because they generally are then noticed for their improvement / achievement, and thus, be promoted for their efforts. The rest, who just want a paycheck and do steady but uninspiring work, wouldn't really care about being more efficient. But the corporate culture has already trained people for the "bell curve"... Most people will be in the middle. The outliers are the ones who get promoted, as before.

If you want EVERYONE to learn urgency and speed, i.e. make it a part of corporate culture, you need to change things at a pretty fundamental level. You may have to change the incentive structure, or how power is distributed ("empowerment") in the daily work. Car manufacturers gave individual workers on the line power to stop the entire line if they spot something wrong because "Quality is Job 1". Waymo's unofficial motto is "safety first", and everything is engineered around safety. Manual takeover of autonomous operation, remote teleoperations, automatic braking and maneuvers, slow speeds, will not move until seatbelt engaged, camera monitoring of exterior and interior logging... remote kill switch AND driver kill switch, even a secret SOS function should a vehicle be carjacked and AVO under duress...

I don't know what your corporate culture is, but if there's little reward to push for speed, then people will take it easy. Afterall, if the reward for efficiency is simply more work, who'd want to be efficient?
posted by kschang at 7:04 AM on July 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Agree that without knowing the industry or whatever is being produced it is hard to advise.

This sticks out to me from your post "I have found a sense of urgency one of the hardest things to teach- folks either have it or they don't."
I fully agree, and unless the person has at least a seed of that teaching sense of urgency is impossible.
I have worked in the service industry (in the widest sense), specifically event management the last 15 years and with many people on event staff such as interns, colleagues, volunteers, temps through the years and honestly i don't think it is easy to motivate people to hustle unless they are so inclined in the first place.
Don't need to answer here but ask yourself:
Why would they Hustle/work quicker/more efficiently? What is in it for them?
You obviously are very motivated yourself. Why is that? Personally i love knowing i do a good job, and also get praise from the Boss and our guests. However, the intern for example, is not as visible and also gets less money. I can try to set a target of excellence but ultimately i cannot make them hustle and speed up, unless they themselves are motivated already without me, and only need me to show them eg the most efficient way of doing the task.
People who still do things in 5 minutes that take me 1 minute, after i showed them the most efficient way, i found fall into two categories: they are unwilling to do so for reasons of their own (ideological, or financial or both), or simply unable physically and / or mentally.
Neither is something you can change. In my line of work (service), i found that assigning tasks or responsibilities according to ability much better use of my time and energy than attempting to teach a mindset to someone not interested or in some rare cases not able.
I want to give the best service possible to our guests, because i thrive on it. But why would the low pay intern or temp or even colleague?

I remember one temp telling me that they were aware of not being efficient, because why should they? No one would suffer or die because it took 1 hour instead of 30 minutes to assemble the conference badges. And they were right.

I think, if you have influence on who works on your team, focus on hiring already efficient people who are of the hustling mindset.
posted by 15L06 at 7:51 AM on July 16, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I remember one temp telling me that they were aware of not being efficient, because why should they? No one would suffer or die because it took 1 hour instead of 30 minutes to assemble the conference badges.

This mindset exists and I’ve never seen it change. This person will never have any interest in doing anything efficiently.

When I had tedious jobs I entertained myself by doing ‘random, boring task’ as fast as possible so I’d get to do something else. Anything to make it feel as if time was passing faster and alleviate the boredom.

When I have people with that mindset on my team now I make expectations very clear, I try to set them up for success. But I do this
- knowing it’s extremely unlikely that I will get what I need from this person
- knowing that everybody else will have to pick up the slack because the external deadline isn’t changing
- knowing that I’ll have to waste hrs of my life in tedious review process because that person will not see anything wrong with others having to finish their work, will be surprised by the poor rating they will get despite having been given clear expectations and ongoing verbal feedback

The best I can do is try to minimise the effect on the rest of the team until I can get that person off my team.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:45 AM on July 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

I remember one temp telling me that they were aware of not being efficient, because why should they? No one would suffer or die because it took 1 hour instead of 30 minutes to assemble the conference badges.

This mindset exists and I’ve never seen it change. This person will never have any interest in doing anything efficiently.

....ooooooor maybe this person sees no reason to put their heart rate up to assemble conference badges! For most people, efficiency is not a goal in itself. It is a means to an end. If the reward for working more efficiently is more work, and the work itself is of little meaning to the person, the end is...what? Greater profits for the corporation, which doesn't care if I live or die? Sign me up!!! (Actually, I personally get bored and irritated easily at repetitive tasks, so I do seek out efficiency for its own sake in some scenarios, but that is a quirk of my own brain.)

Other people have hit many of the relevant points, but something else I would ask is: are there significant penalties for errors? Looking for ways to work more quickly almost always leads initially to more errors, and, if you don't tread carefully, the more apparently efficient process may also be more error-prone even once it's established. This means an actual disincentive to "hustle."
posted by praemunire at 9:27 AM on July 16, 2022 [11 favorites]

Hire people who were abused as children and so feel a deep seated terror at the thought of disappointing any kind of authority figure, and who get a sense of tenuous inner worth from external praise that will keep them chasing that feeling until they collapse.

Alternatively, give them additional rewards and incentives to perform at this level. This could be financial but it doesn’t have to be. For example, what if once the day’s tasks were finished, they could go home? Bet you’d see some hustle then!
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 9:29 AM on July 16, 2022 [16 favorites]

aside: multitasking is not a thing say psychologists and sociologists and this debunking article from productivity company asana. prioritize tasks. once tasks are assigned and prioritized, every priority change has a mental and productivity cost. that cost is on you.
posted by j_curiouser at 11:49 AM on July 16, 2022 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I am in the service industry. Efficiency is already incentivized in that the faster they move the more food they sell, the more money they receive. However, it’s a few steps removed: these folks aren’t taking home a stack of tips each night to gauge their hustle, a tip share percentage shows up on paychecks and is therefor harder to tangible connect to urgency. Cooks not servers.

Staff is well paid, rates above the industry standard on my area.

Thanks for all the feedback this far, I appreciate it, even if I’m not running an Amazon death warehouse we are still all laboring under capitalism. Oof.
posted by Grandysaur at 7:26 PM on July 16, 2022 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you've tried a lot of solutions so far but I'm curious how far you've explored the core problem here? Perhaps try better understanding why this lack of urgency exists by asking some of the staff key questions and listening deeply to their answers (both what they're saying and not saying).

For example, the solutions to increasing engagement are very different if the problem is because people don't feel valued through compensation versus if people feel incompetent and are panic-freezing versus they just don't care/get why they're doing the work. Or it could be something else you haven't even thought of!
posted by iamkimiam at 5:10 AM on July 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Are the people who aren't "hustling" prioritizing other aspects of their work that maybe you're missing? Is there relationship-building happening that's important in keeping the team cohesive that some members are better at and spending time at, and for which the business would suffer if that labor was removed? As others have pointed out, are they factoring in their own wellbeing in ways that are making the job sustainable rather than hastening burnout? Is there something you can learn from them, in the same way you learned from previous colleagues who worked quickly?

A constant sense of urgency:
  • makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive, encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision-making, to think and act long-term, and/or to consider consequences of whatever action we take;
  • [...]reinforces existing power hierarchies that use the sense of urgency to control decision-making in the name of expediency;
  • is reinforced by funding proposals which promise too much work for too little money and by funders who expect too much for too little;
  • privileges those who process information quickly (or think they do);
  • sacrifices and erases the potential of other modes of knowing and wisdom that require more time (embodied, intuitive, spiritual);
  • encourages shame, guilt, and self-righteousness to manipulate decision-making;
  • reinforces the idea that we are ruled by time, deadlines, and needing to do things in a "timely" way often based on arbitrary schedules that have little to do with the actual realities of how long things take, particularly when those "things" are relationships with others;
  • connected to objectivity in the sense that we think that our sense of time and/or meeting deadlines is objective because we see or frame time as objective;
  • reproduces either/or thinking because of the stated need to reach decisions quickly;
  • makes it harder for us to distinguish what is really urgent from what feels urgent; after a while everything takes on the same sense of urgency, leading to mental, physical, intellectual, and spiritual burnout and exhaustion;
  • involves unrealistic expectations about how much can get done in any period of time; linked to perfectionism in the urgency that perfectionism creates as we try to make sure something is done perfectly according to our standards.
I realize the point of that list is mostly around decision-making and strategic planning, but I think a lot of it still applies. Valuing speed above everything else as a constant thing may be missing other forms of work that are happening, and may end up creating stress to the point that everyone throws up their hands and gives up.

I've found that the more I encourage "a sustainable pace," and the more I make clear that I get that sometimes things take longer than we're expecting, and the more I make clear what tasks need to be prioritized in general, the more dedicated and high-quality work my staff does. People rushing through things due to anxiety are not really great workers, most of the time.
posted by lapis at 9:48 AM on July 17, 2022 [7 favorites]

I am someone who works in a kitchen and have gotten much faster at my job over time. I've been reflecting since I read this question yesterday morning what the elements were in speeding up.

My number one response to your question is when you address these issues with your employees frame it in terms of what results the job requires and not how they need to be.

I did receive feedback from my boss one specific time about needing to get faster and the phrase "you only have one speed" was used and I was so insulted and angry that there was a many month period where I was just on the verge of quitting despite actually enjoying my job a great deal. Do not get personal.

The main thing that helped was just becoming more experienced .....a lot of the reason this helped is because there were so many elements of my workplace that nobody ever explained to me, I just had to gradually become aware of them or puzzle them out for myself. These range from things like the names of the other team members who were depending on me, or how to log in to the computer, to what our supply delivery schedule was

I think new people often seem quite clueless because they are. They don't know the hierarchy, the politics, where things are stored, why we stack things this way not that way. The more about the job and the workplace and the other team members that you can make explicit for people the better they can do the job.

So if you have people who are solid and promising, the longer you keep them around the better they will become. On the other hand, the sooner you can fire someone who you can see is not right for the job, the better for them and everyone on the team.

I have reflected (nay ruminated) on that painful feedback from my boss for a long long time and I know now it wasn't fair. I didn't get enough work done that day but the reasons were almost entirely structural.... I was having to jump into to a lot of other people's jobs that day (ESPECIALLY MY BOSS'S) because we'd been critically understaffed for more than a month. I may have slowed day a little that day out of despair that nothing I did would every be enough. The result of the conversation was that I was given explicit permission to ignore a lot of demands on my time that weren't my job.
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 4:12 AM on July 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

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