Tick, Tock

My patience is running thin. According to reports, so is yours.

A recent study indicates that as Internet connection speeds grow faster, our willingness to wait grows shorter.

Since about 2006, online marketers have lived by the four second rule. Based on a study of online behavior, it states that one-third of shoppers will abandon a retailer’s website if the pages take longer than four seconds to load. At six seconds, two-thirds will be gone.

Fast forward to 2012 and our online patience has grown even shorter. Ramesh Sitaraman, a computer science professor at the University of Massachusetts, examined the data from 23 million online video views and 6.7 million unique viewers and found people say “forget it” when a video doesn’t load within two seconds.

Think of that: one, two … we’re gone.

Nick Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, writes on his blog that the four second rule is now becoming the quarter of a second rule. In six short years, our patience has not just been halved. It’s been drawn, quartered and sixteenth-ed.

Ever faster Internet connection speeds are accelerating that loss of patience. In our wired world, we’re connected via smartphone to the information superhighway no matter where we are. Our experience has been digitally souped up and fuel injected. When we step on the gas, we expect things to go from 0 to 60 in milliseconds. Anything short of that feels like agony.

That online impatience is translating offline. Internet time is being transplanted to real time. News stories break, develop and flicker out in a single day. Events are tweeted and re-tweeted in real time. A five-minute delay might as well be five years too late.

As time ticks quickly away and the calendar flips to a new year, it’s worth some self-reflection. How fast do you deliver talent management to your organization? The answer is increasingly critical to your success.

Think about your answer from two stakeholder perspectives: the individual employee and your line-of-business partner. From an employee standpoint, time is of the essence. After all, all employees are consumers. They don’t suddenly give up their expectations when they walk through your office doors every morning. That paycheck you write them every other week buys some extra time, but not that much.

It may be time to re-examine some of your talent management processes in that light. Take performance reviews — the talent management process everyone loves to hate. The basic problem is a whole year’s worth of performance data and assessment is crammed into one painful hour-long conversation.

Not only is this a recipe for frustration for managers but it also doesn’t give individual employees the real-time feedback they want and need to improve performance and develop their career. Employees want feedback and they want it now.

Ongoing and continuous data feeds are crucial. For example, multiple “pulse” surveys of engagement levels administered periodically, while better than a single ponderous annual survey, might still be too slow. By the time you collect responses, crunch data and analyze the results, it may be too late to do anything about that disengaged high performer or struggling department. Potential sales are forever lost and valuable workers may have already fled.

Your business partners should in theory be more understanding of the extended time and sustained effort required to effectively implement a program or properly address a talent challenge. But in reality, they are just as increasingly impatient with progress as the rest of us. Quite frankly, given their responsibility for delivering results, they’re probably even more so.

Despite our best efforts to be patient and see the long term, digital technology and a wired reality are relentlessly conditioning us to be more and more resistant to delay. Parents and teachers taught us patience is a virtue. Unfortunately, there’s not a limitless supply to go round.