Instant Communication and Poor Management
As I rail against the damage instant communication can do to building managers, let us expand our scope… and offer some management suggestions. First you have to identify why something is happening. In this process always follow a great rule… “focus on why rather than who”. The process should be to indentify the reasons for ALL problems or issues… this should be the goal, not simply assigning blame. Assigning blame does nothing to solve the core problem. And if all the “why’s” lead to the same “who”, then perhaps you make a change.
Using this mental framework… why is this constant, instant communication necessary? Is it because management is afraid to make decisions? And why might this be? Are they weak managers or have they had their chops busted in the past for making decisions and now take the much smarter role of letting the boss make all the calls? People always make rational choices… if you are punished for making decisions what is the rational thing to do? To stop making decisions. Or don’t they want to take the risk? Or…?
So first start by gathering and analyzing data… do you receive (or make) multiple phone calls to the same person(s) in the same day? Why? I’m not talking exceptions here, but rather day-to-day activities. Why is this “necessary”? Perhaps instead practice better personal management skills and save this communication for one call per day. Or if possible better yet, for one personal meeting per day for this communication.
Again looking at this from a time management perspective, there is generally no such thing as a 30 second interruption. Most interruptions cost anywhere from 5 – 10 minutes before you can fully return to what you were doing before the interruption. Assuming an 8 hour word day… I know, who in this industry works 8 hour days but let’s use the number anyhow… and assume you get 6 interruptions per day (for many of you, this would be a VERY low day’s count). If the interruptions are of the 5 minute variety, these waste 30 minutes, or over 6% of your day. If they are of the 10 minute variety, it’s an hour and 12.5% of your day. That’s a significant percentage of a work day wasted due to interruptions that probably did not need to occur. If I told you that you could increase your workforce’s productivity by 10+% without spending a dime, I think you would jump on it… please send checks to Conlin Beverage’s corporate offices ;-) This is easily within your power to control.
And how about that other instant communication tool, the wonderful email (or for those on the cutting edge, the text message). Again ask yourself, do I receive (or send) multiple emails to the same person(s) in the same day? Why? A LOT of time is spent on email messages… checking, responding, checking again… responding again. What is your company policy for internal email use? Email is an incredible tool but can these multiple emails be condensed into one? Help your employee practice better personal management, better planning, rather than the spur of the moment “management” these tools allow. Not to beat a dead horse but you only purchase so many minutes per day… you can use them wisely or waste them… they will tick away whether you like it or not. And most of these solutions must begin at the top of the organization. If you don’t operate this way, then neither will your employees.
But don’t perform this analysis in solitude, take the time with your management team… or even in departmental meetings to discuss the overall issue. What are time wasters? How can we use our technology in a more productive manner? Develop general company policies… not struck in stone policies but general policies. Think of them as sign posts to give your employees guidance when confronting a decision.
Keep in mind there are two general factors of any action item… importance and urgency. If we simplify these items you could think of it in this manner. Either an item is important or not. Either an item is urgent or not. Then you end up with four possible combinations:
1. Items that are important and urgent… do them NOW!
2. Items that are important but not urgent… since they are important they need to be done, and if you don’t do them they will sooner or later become urgent… therefore place them in second priority and attack them as soon as all #1 items are completed.
3. Items which are not important but are urgent… these are time busters… put then off until you have time or until they fade away. Or better yet, just cross them off the list.
4. Items which are not important and not urgent… why do them? Put them to rest quickly and quietly.
As your departments do a post-mortem of the last week or two regarding communication technology, try to place the items in these types of general categories to discover whether organizationally we were wise in how we spent our time.
And of course a tremendous organizational time waster is our friendly suppliers… often asking for information that they already have somewhere in their organization. Their employees could spend their time finding the information or simply send an email and put the time burden (and associated cost) on us… I personally don’t like it when other people spend my time (or my employee’s time).
Here’s a suggestion you can pass on to your suppliers. They need to produce a Frequently Asked Questions section on their internal network for their employees to peruse BEFORE they contact a distributor asking for some piece of information. This will tell their employees what information they already have from their distributors and where to find it… rather than simply requesting the wholesaler generate and send the information ONE MORE TIME. Distributor personnel often spend FAR too much time sending information to a supplier when the supplier ALREADY has the exact information. Here’s a nice rule of thumb… if you aren’t paying for the employee’s time, then you have no right to waste that precious resource. Suppliers, get your act together and quit wasting other people’s time! And wholesalers, if this problem persists, you need to intervene and give your employees permission to refuse to generate the same data time and time again for various supplier personnel.
The same is true for emails… how many emails a day do you get from a single supplier?! Prior to email… which remember was only a few years ago… somehow the process worked without 30 contacts/requests per day. This again is just a symptom of poor management skills and letting instant communication capabilities further engrain a sad lack of planning. I suppose you can’t force your supplier personnel to develop better planning skills but you can quit responding to their lack of planning. Whether for the distributor or supplier, I don’t think it is a huge management burden to send out 1 informational email per day rather than 8 (or more). Remember and enforce another great quote - for both your employees and your suppliers…
A lack of planning on your part does not create an emergency on mine
The rapid advancement and more importantly, implementation of technology has altered the way we conduct business. In many ways it has driven important advancements, but the instant and immediate nature of this communication has opened the door for extremely poor planning and management. In addition it has driven significant issues with inter-personal communications… never forget that face-to-face is always best, for all parties.
Remember that just because this technology can, doesn’t mean it should. Make the effort to control and shape how these technologies are used in your organization. Don’t just let them happen. In far too many cases, good management practices will be shredded in the process… and once lost, they will be far more difficult to regain.