Overcoming the E-Mail as a Default Mindset

Message Not ReceivedThere are many fantastic collaboration tools that are much better than email.  To get your organization to use them effectively, you need to lead that cultural change for how you communicate.

Today’s post is by Phil Simon, author of Message Not Received (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

Peter Drucker once famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Truer words have never been spoken. Before I started writing and speaking for a living, I spent nearly a decade as a consultant implementing enterprise systems. More often than not, I would see Drucker’s very statement play out firsthand. A CEO’s grand vision would quickly go awry because of thorny personnel issues, cultural impediments, and just plain bad management. You know, the “soft stuff.”

Let me put this as bluntly as I can: In most organizations today, the biggest challenge is not technology. It’s people.

It’s Easy to Blame Technology; It Can’t Blame Us Back

Of course, many people fail to recognize this. Case in point: A while back, I attended an interactive one-day event with 40 other industry thought leaders. The agenda was fairly loose: The group participated in a wide array of discussions on tech-related topics.

I agreed with much of what was said during the event, but some level of discord was inevitable. What are the odds that so many folks from disparate backgrounds concur with every comment made? It didn’t take long until I heard a few things that just didn’t make sense. One attendee’s particularly objectionable lamentation: “Employees would be so much more productive if better tools existed.”

Nonsense, and this person should have known better.

This is not 1998.

The “no-tools” argument is wrong on so many levels, and my research for Message Not Received confirmed as much.

Let me focus on just a few here. First, there’s a little thing called reality. Long gone are the mid-90s. Back then we relied upon e-mail and, to very limited extent, nascent knowledge bases and intranets. Sure, e-mail remains the killer app in many if not most corporate environs, but it doesn’t need to be that way.

Want to manage a project in an efficient, truly collaborative way? Check out. HipChat, Smartsheet, Asana, Jive, and Trello. And I can name oodles more: DropBox, and screen-sharing tools like Oh, and WiFi, LTE, smartphones, tablets, and apps allow us to be vastly more productive while away from the office. Brass tacks: Vastly superior collaboration tools exist relative to 15 years ago. It’s not even close.

Second, the fallacious argument completely ignores organizational culture and the human side of the equation. If you extend this line of thought to its logical extreme, employees are just waiting for that über-useful tool to come along. When it does, they’ll immediately adopt it in droves and become ten times more productive. They’ll unlearn bad habits and force IT departments to approve them.

Again, the history of technology suggests otherwise. There’s always an adoption curve. Is our general lack of collaboration a function of deficient technology or something else? I’d argue the latter. Aren’t many of us lazy or unwilling to learn new ways of doing things?

What to do?

How does an organization take advantage of this new breed of affordable, powerful collaborative tools? There’s no magic formula, but consider these three tips.

Start at the top. The CEO sets the tone for the entire organization. It’s hard to expect employees to move from emails to truly collaborative tools when senior leadership doesn’t lead by example. This type of leadership also includes making gentle suggestions to those with email addictions. Yes, over-emailing should be a fire-able offense in some cases, as should failing to update “enterprise social networks” in a timely manner.

Hold team members accountable for updates. All employees must use collaborative tools consistently throughout projects. This goes beyond updating their own availability or progress. If the organization uses Jive, for example, then it needs to be the epicenter of the project. Unless the material is confidential or politically sensitive, all content needs to reside in a central repository.

Actively move conversations from emails to more collaborative tools. Today, most knowledge workers now routinely read email via iPhones, Droids, and other mobile devices. This isn’t going to change anytime soon, so don’t fight it. It’s folly to expect everyone to abandon email altogether. Rather than using the stick, why not try the carrot? Try leaving comments like, “Great suggestion. I’ve moving this to [insert name of application] so others can easily see it as well!”

Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker and recognized technology authority. He is the award-winning author of seven management books, most recently Message Not Received (CLICK HERE to get your copy). He consults organizations on matters related to communications, strategy, data, and technology.

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