Why slowing down can be good business

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 January, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 January, 1994, 12:00am

PEOPLE and technology are urging us to do things faster, but there's something to be said for stepping back occasionally, catching our breath and re-examining some of our activities that might be better done slowly.

For example, hiring decisions obviously should be made slowly - because you're literally inviting a stranger into your company and that demands some reflection. But more often than not, people tend to hire in haste, because they desperately need someoneto fill the position. They don't ask: ''Does this job need a replacement? They don't re-invent the job description. They just look for someone who resembles the departing employee.'' Acquiring new technology is certainly another area where you're better off waiting rather than rushing in. A cellular phone that cost US$2,000 five years ago can be yours for US$200 now - and it will be a better phone. When it comes to gadgets and computers, nothing is more expensive now than it was one or two years ago.

Most people know this. But nowhere near as many people can resist the urge to buy it today and wait for prices to come down tomorrow.

The fact is, we all know we should slow down. But we don't.

Any change in a personal business relationship should be done with measured care rather than haste.

A good example in our company would be injecting a third party into an ongoing successful personal relationship between a client and his manager. Let's say that you are the account supervisor of a superstar athlete who is counting on you personally to handle all his affairs.

Let's also say that the skills you display in handling this superstar have convinced top management to increase your executive responsibilities. As a result, you have less time to devote to your superstar.

Obviously, you need a replacement. In my experience, people can be clumsy in how they inject this replacement into the superstar relationship. They think about who they're going to assign to the job, but in their hurry to move on to bigger things, they rush the process. They don't take enough time to prepare the client for the change.

If a decision affects the feelings of another person, take your time accounting it. The more important that person is, the more time you'll need.

No matter how talented and charming your replacement may be, no matter how strenuously you assure the customer that you'll be around to keep an eye on things, you have to give the customer time to get used to the idea.

There are many compelling reasons to sign a contract sooner rather than later, as well. If everyone agrees on the essential deal points, it's nice to have a fully executed agreement before someone changes their mind.

But I always worry when the other side is rushing me to sign a contract. Their haste is a red flag that reminds me to take great care reviewing the agreement. The faster they want me to move the slower I tend to go.

Of course, a skilled deal-maker on the other side doesn't explicitly hurry you to sign a contract. He doesn't say: ''Sign this by next week.'' He has cannier, more insidious ways to rush you.

One of the more common ploys is waiting until the last few weeks of the year to send out a draft of the agreement. Some people feel compelled to sign such a contract before December 31 - for perfectly legitimate reasons. They might want to receive the money within the fiscal year for tax purposes or so they can meet a sales quota. But that sort of contractual time bomb is no reason to agree hastily to terms that don't suit you.

In fact, other parties have tried this end-of-the-year contract ploy on our clients so often that we have come up with an elegant but simple defence. We tell the other side that they haven't given us much time to review the agreement, that we'll need at least a few weeks into the new year to work it out.

But we tell them that we fully intend to sign it once the details have been worked out and then we ask them to advance us part of the guaranteed payment during the current fiscal year.

We even offer them an ''intention to sign'' letter, stipulating that if we fail to agree by a set date, the money will be returned. It's a nice win-win situation. The other side risks nothing. Our client gets paid quickly. But most important, a less-than-perfect contract is not jammed down our throats.

We all know it's dumb to send off a letter written in anger and haste, that it's better to put it in a drawer for 24 hours to see if we feel the same way the next day. It's the same with confrontation.

Yet few people practice this. They think any challenge or personal attack at work requires instant retaliation, as if letting the attack go unchecked for a day or a week somehow undermines their position.

In a highly public forum this may be the right move; a big difference between the Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton campaigns in the last US presidential elections was how quickly the Clinton camp responded (and neutralised) every Republican attack. But electoral politics is not the same as office politics.

In the workplace, confrontation should be taken slowly.

In our company I see enough decisions that I disagree with each day that I could literally spend my entire day correcting or confronting the people who made those decisions. But I don't. For one thing, I've learned that effective confrontation is a function of effective timing.

I've waited weeks, months, sometimes years to confront some people about their questionable behaviour. Rarely has the delay hurt me or the company. In so many cases, the problem corrected itself or simply became moot as business conditions changed.

In every case, waiting has also taken some of the personal animosity out of the confrontation. It frees me up to deal rationally with the problem rather than the person. That's a great luxury if you're managing talented, independent-minded people.

You only earn that luxury if you learn to slow down.


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