Matrix Management

Technology or skills?

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A current and very real trend is towards using technology to solve problems.

Cars have sensors so that the car driver no longer turns the lights on and off – the car decides based on the car’s idea of when it is too dark. My car also decides when to wipe the rain off the windscreen. These are not areas where I invest a lot of my time, but they are minor irritations because they don’t always do what I want, when I want it.

Equally like most Europeans I use a manual gearbox even though automatic gearbox technology has been around for many years. I am happy to have learned driving “skills” and I enjoy using them.

Imagine how frustrating it would be if we were all mandated to drive automatic cars, just because others can’t drive them.

Yet this is what seems to be happing in the business communications world. Instead of people developing good communication skills, technology is attempting (and failing) to handle this task for you.

Let’s take one example – inbox management.

When I joined my first company most mail was physical and I had a physical in-box. I received some great training on how to handle information (for example not double handling the information; getting rid of rubbish immediately; keeping your inbox limited to action items only). And even today l I have an (electronic) filing system and an inbox which contains usually between 10 and 20 items, all action items. It works really well.

Yet I hear about overflowing inboxes all the time.

What is better – for technology to solve this problem or for people to take training and develop the relevant skills? Which is cheaper and more efficient in the long run?

I am a passionate user of technology, but also feel it needs to be seen in its place, and that training is essential too. To use total quality thinking, we should be doing “right things, right” (not sending the emails in the first –place, filing them efficiently, managing emails well) rather than doing “wrong things, right” (Getting rid of these unnecessary emails on arrival, developing links so that information can’t get lost). “Conversations” or “Clutter folders” are not the answer to ballooning inboxes – training in how to use email is.

And this is to say nothing of the time I spend downloading, new “upgrades” that actually downgrade performance and the time I invest in learning these new products. But I’ll return to that theme in my next blog.

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