Summary: This article is about the level certainty user of alternative communication channels need. The sender has to be sure that the message reaches the right recipients. Potential recipients have to be sure that they won’t miss out on important or relevant information. Without that certainty user will never move from the old fashioned e-mail channel to much better alternatives
Recently I have posted about the options to replace e-mail with new channels for communication and data distribution (link). While attending a test-pitch for enterprise 2.0 I was able to switch perspectives. Due to a role play I was forced into the situation of a stakeholder that is completely hesitant to but into the concept of social business. On a side note I would like to recommend everyone to do this from time to time. Take the role of someone who just doesn’t want to change and accept new opportunities (why? because I don’t want to!). Make up everything that comes into your mind to argue against the presented subject…a mind opening experience.
Anyway… An important thought suddenly crossed my mind: how can we create certainty and a comfort zone for users of the new channels? This actually counts for both perspective of communication: sending and receiving.
1. Sending: Being sure that my message though in-direct channels is still
S pecific enough to trigger the right action
M eaningful enough to be picked up
A ddressed to the right people
R elevant enough to others to get involved
T imely responded to in if response is required
Sending an e-mail (the ones starting with ‘Hi All’ or ‘Team’ and CC-craziness for addressing groups excluded) to seek for help, an answer or a certain piece of data doesn’t even have to be very SMART. There are trained behaviors and certain motivators not to ignore e-mails most of the time:
If you are addressed by name you will at least answer something. That’s something we get taught by our parents at home. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the answer contains much value but ignoring a direct request isn’t very established (assuming proper education).
From a more corporate perspective ignoring a direct request is pretty bold. It might lead to escalation through line management or in the worst case to being labeled as the unhelpful person that’s not caring for anyone else. If one repeatedly ignores other’s e-mails there will be consequences to some extend.
It’s simply difficult to say ‘na, didn’t get the e-mail’ if you were in the TO-field and personally addressed. Not picking up or responding to a status update, a posted question or a comment has literally no consequences at all. You just didn’t see it…
The sender puts himself in a very vulnerable situation as well…from multiple perspectives: the answer ‘I’ve posted a couple of questions and am waiting for someone to respond’ is a pretty brave if the boss asks ‘How far did you get with the issue?’.
Furthermore – and this is a real life response from a workshop – exposing lack of knowledge to a broad public isn’t very popular in some organizations.
There isn’t one simple answer to this challenge. (Work) cultural and managerial change is required in many cases to create the right foundation. Certain principles (not ‘have to’ rules but ‘how to’ guidelines) have to be established. Interest and research (yes…not everything will find the right person automatically) have to be part of daily information work. Senders have to have a level of certainty that there will be open eyed recipients out there.
2. Receiving: Making sure that one stays on top of things…
If e-mail is the information worker’s hub – in the worst case even the repository for files – one thing is created: certainty. There’s only one place where my stuff can be and only one channel how new stuff can get in there.
Establishing new channels for communication and new locations to maintain data has to incorporate one essential element: clarity. There can be only one channel for a certain type of communication or data distribution. There can only be one single repository where data resides if it’s not my personal one.
If the clarity of the system (and thereby the certainty for the recipient) isn’t created there can and will be only one natural reaction: denial. People are creative enough to find ways of maintaining the way that it has worked well for them so far. IT guidelines and managerial orders haven’t been the most effective way of preventing that so far and they will be even less effective in the future.
Just to avoid confusion…
Introducing new channels of information distribution, retrieval and enrichment shall not trigger a vast set of rules and guidelines. However, as attractive the use of social and commercial inspired work tools might feel, posting, commenting, linking, tagging etc. have to be ‘learned’ in corporate context. It won’t come natural and people…not even the Digital Natives. The closer the new services will be to the actual context of the users the easer it will be for them to adopt (link). Moving further up the ladder towards the endeavor of a networked organization needs hand holding…and a new way of leadership. A leadership that stands for openness, curiosity, shared responsibility and accountability as well as trust…a leadership for the new way of working: collaboration.