– David Burkus
We tracked down David Burkus, the author of the new book Under New Management, and spoke to him about how we can overhaul our understanding of what organizational management should look like. David was interviewed by Todd Greer, the Managing Editor for Nonprofit Performance Magazine. This is part 3 of our interview. Read part 4 on Tuesday.
Todd Greer: I was 18-19 years old when I worked on my first political campaign. One of the first things I learned in volunteer management was that titles are free. It stuck with me from that point on. Our intern is the Director of Brand Strategies, because he is doing stuff in and around that. It gives him a title that makes him feel important and valued. It allows him to go do the work.
David Burkus: The first person you meet at Google is the receptionist, whose title is the Director of First Impressions. That is a realization of where the value zone is. The first person visitors meet is that person. Who that person is, and making sure that person is empowered to create a great first impression, is the key.
Todd: One thing you discussed caused me concern. I bristled at it initially, but I think you are onto something here. What are the outcomes if we outlaw or restrict email within an organization?
David: Most people can’t envision a world without email, despite the fact that email is still in its infancy. Email was invented in the mid-’90s, although a select few used in the late ’80s. That’s less than 30 years ago. It’s hard to remember that.
When email first came out, it was awesome because it was a cheap and asynchronous really cool shiny tool. Previously, the cheapest technology for getting an asynchronous message out was physical paper. Because email could bridge a gap so quickly, you could send it around the world in a few seconds, while a letter took several days. There was an expectation to not hear back immediately from a physical letter. Email has the benefit of a memo or a letter but, because it is so quick to send, it actually has the expectation of a phone call. That creates a lot of distress. Because it is cheap, we send a ton of it, and we expect a response immediately. We have never had a conversation about whether this is actually the best tool for all communication.
I am only talking about outlawing internal email. You have to use whatever communication tool your customers, constituents, or donors prefer. My banker knows that I don’t like talking on the phone and prefer email, so she does it that way. Internally, the question is this: What is the best technology? There are now a lot of companies that are having that conversation. Most of them are putting limits on internal emails, and some are outlawing it entirely. It’s an outgrowth of a real conversation about the best communication tool.
I am more in favor of companies taking deliberate steps to give their people their nights and weekends back by shutting down the email server or making it an unstated policy and cultural fact that we don’t send email on nights and weekends. But I am not opposed to the idea of banning it internally entirely.
Companies that ban email entirely usually create some other system that is digital and text-based, but less disruptive or distracting, allowing people to keep that ease of focus, asynchronicity, and cheapness of communication, but on their terms. That’s really what I prefer: taking this communication tool and making it one that serves us on our terms. Very few people know that they can shape tools however they want, instead of how they were given to them. Most people don’t change preferences in Outlook; their inbox is still checking itself as often as the guy in IT decided it should check. The ringtone on most people’s phones is the ringtone that came with the phone. We default to defaults. Email is a great example of something that may not work for us.
Outlaw it. Limit it. Restrict it to certain times of day. Whatever you want to do is fine as long as you are taking active steps to control the tool, instead of letting the tool control you.
David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity, LDRLB, and Under New Management, writes for The Creativity Post and 99U. His passion is leadership, innovation, strategy, and the transfer of good ideas. Find him at http://davidburkus.com, Twitter @davidburkus, or Facebook/drdavidburkus
This article is reprinted from Vol. 3, No. 2, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today.
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