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At Work

you are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic.

You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic. You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic. Who hasn't been there? You move a few inches, then a sea of cascading red tail lights rolls towards you like a petroleum powered wave. You pound the steering wheel, let out a sigh and slouch back in your seat. You're stuck. If only these bozos would just mooovvveee!!! What's the hold up anyway? Don't they know you have somewhere to be?

I met a civil engineer once who specialized in traffic flow. I asked her how traffic happens. Is it one person slowing down that creates a ripple effect, is it talking on cell phones, is it bad drivers? Nope. It's us. We are the problem. There's just too many people on the roads. And the sad reality is it's not happening to us, we are the cause.

Last week, Bob Anderson from The Leadership Circle spoke to a group of our leaders at work. He shared an anecdote about his own career. He was positioned as a change agent in his organization and convinced that his inability to produce results was surely the fault of the culture, senior leadership, buy in, resources... anything but his work. He was an expert in change, after all.

Bob's realization was simple, he wasn't leading his own team the way he was coaching others. He was highly effective at getting others to understand and work through change, but he wasn't practicing what he peached. When he retooled his thinking. He began to work as a change agent for himself and his team. The end result? Things started moving in the fast lane.

I can relate to Bob's story. The role of a change agent can be a difficult one. Remember that great conversation about empathy I posted about a few weeks ago? We also talked about affecting change in cultures and organizations. It probably doesn't come as a surprise there's a high rate of burn out among innovators and people who promote change. Sometimes the organization has accepted or implemented all they have a capacity for, at a given time. Sometimes the agent them self has given all they can; taken the group or project as far as they can. Hopefully that timeline coincides with success, and a successful transition.

I think a lot about change. I work in a role all about innovation. We look at new ideas and trends and practices and think about design and process and user experience. How do all these parts fit together? Is there something we can do with widget A and process Z and team N?  Usually, success comes when a team or group picks up the threads and the shell you've created and makes it their own. It goes from conceptual and testing to operationalized.

But for one area in particular, that hasn't been the case for me lately. I've been stuck. Red taillights as far as the eye can see. It's goto to be some idiot 2 miles up the road talking on their phone, fiddling with their GPS...if only they'd move faster, this traffic would clear.

Then it hit me: I'm not stuck in traffic. I am traffic.

How am I going to take my foot off the break and open up the throttle? It starts with Bob Anderson's realization - We've got practice what we preach. If I was trying to coach another group through a similar challenge, where would we start? I'd ask questions:

  • Have we identified the challenge?
  • Do we understand the goal, barriers, stakeholders?
  • Have we put ourselves into an empathic mindset about the end user of this process? What do they really want?

In short, I need to take myself and team through the same design process I'd work with others on.

To be fair, it wasn't exactly a a lightbulb moment. I can be pretty dense about autodidactic growth. A few friends and big thinkers helped me think through the problem and how to design through it. How'd they get through my daft brain? They asked questions. What are you challenges? Do you know where you want to go? Have you though about doing XYZ, would people react differently if it did? See what I mean, smart people.

And, in fairness, it also helps to be married to an awesome OD expert in change management.

These friends are on twitter and you should follow them. The following example tweets from them are apropos of nothing in this post:

 

 

Confirming what we already know: eMail is impersonal, draining and outdated

According to Mashable's Sarah Kessler and Boomerang*:

Baydin’s average email game player deleted about half of the 147 messages he or she received each day. Ninety minutes of the two hours he or she spent on email each day went to just 12 messages.

Increasingly, I'm less and less a fan of email. The root of the problem is also the root of the word - mail. Because it's an electronic form of an old modality, we think of it in old context. We spend a lot of time reading, sorting and composing email. We put a lot of pressure on getting email right. Pretty soon, we've spent more than two hours on email.

What's the big deal, why is a nice cordial greeting and a thoughtful message such a problem? Am I really this grumpy? Not at all!

What do you do? Oh, I sort email. 

What I dislike about email is how it has become the work product for so many of us. Who's job description starts with: responsible for managing their Outlook inbox. Would you take a job that did say that? Yet, it's what so many of us do. eMail has become, largely, the product of knowledge workers, and that is dehumanizing.

Take your primary care doctor, you probably imagine them in a white lab coat, next to a patient, providing care. Guess what, they are probably spending over two hours of their day mired down in email just like the rest of us. Where's the care in that? From their perspective, where is the join in doing two hours of email. I doubt it's why they become a doctor.  (And for a bit of levity, Dr. Mike Sevilla shared this slightly less scientific "infographic" about a doctor's day).

Hey you, stop what you are doing and deal with me! 

Sending someone an email is sending them a task. And, according to the folks at Boomerang, it's pretty complicated task. We don't have control over our inbox. Anyone can push a task on the top. You have to read it and act on it, even if the action is to delete the note. That's a pretty impersonal thing to do, even if it's masked in the prose of a long-hand style letter.

Some alternatives to eMail:

  • Text messages and Twitter DMs - since they aren't rooted in old traditions, people are freer to get to the point and move on.
  • Google Docs, Dropbox, iCloud, SharePoint - eMail is an ineffective way to share files. In effect, it copies them, forking their contents and versions across each recipient. Instead, we can use document collaboration and management tools.
  • Facebook and Twitter - low barrier to messaging and low barrier to consumption. You don't have to act on a facebook or twitter post, you simply read it and move on. There's no filing, replying (unless you want to), sorting, deleting, etc. Time it takes to check facebook: 10 minutes. Take that eMail!
  • Secure portals (EG: Electronic Medical Records w/ patient access) - sometimes you need to send a note and sometimes security and privacy matter. Keeping health-related dialogues within the patient record also help keep the record contiguous.
  • FaceTime, Skype, Google Plus Hangouts - hey, at least its more personal than email. Just don't call me before I've had my morning dose of caffeine please.
What do you think about eMail?

*Boomerang is apparently a commercial service add-on for Google's Gmail.

eMail Info Graphic

Want People to Return Your Emails? Avoid These Words [INFOGRAPHIC].