How To Stop The “Urgency” of Instant Communication
A sales person was meeting with a client for two and a half hours. When he had finished his visit and left the account, he noticed that he had 2 voice mails and 4 emails from the same person about an “urgent” matter. It was merely a question of explaining a simple return for product that another customer did not order.
A food and beverage director at a theme park became frustrated with the park administrative offices communications. They would email and expect instant responses, and hold on-the-spot meetings with all the departments when they thought there was a topic to discuss. This leader and his colleagues were many times in the park attending to the needs of the guests.
A department head in Southern California used his old Nextel Connect phone (with the walkie-talkie capabilities) and called a supervisor from the maintenance crew and requested he come and fix a broken piece of equipment. The supervisor said he would, but he was vacationing in Mexico. The company required all managers to carry these phone with them 24/7, regardless of personal time off, and so that was why the supervisor was contacted.
We see people text someone and then call them moments later because they didn’t respond.
We have the great privilege of technology opening the doors of communication like never before. People are more accessible than ever and barriers of communication have been broken down. Yet there is another problem created. It’s the expectation of an instant response from the person contacted.
People have come to believe that because we can email, message, or text directly to a person and they see the notification or pop-up, that a response should happen right away.
This instant gratification from technology comes at the expense of:
- Serving customers
- Focusing on your people
- Personal time, including vacations
- Pushing more important matters down the list
- Increasing stress, individually and organizationally
- Creating more false urgencies and fires
- Reducing productivity – disruptions as well as feeling the need to constantly check emails and texts
- Having the requester be labeled as a “pest”
What I’ve observed is people tend to forget the reasons why an instant response is not always generated:
- Operational needs
- Other more important, versus urgent, matters
- Physical inability to read or respond (vacation, incapacitated, technical issues, meetings, etc)
- Time management practices where people only respond in given time slots
- The sender’s priorities are not the same as the recipient’s
- Barriers to communication such as credibility, distrust, and lack of understanding
It’s imperative today that a leader must help the lines of communication stay open while also creating solid guidelines that foster respect of the other person and not create any additional barriers.
The food and beverage director at the theme park mentioned sent an email to all departments that during peak times not top expect a response from his department “as we will be servicing our guests” who have come to enjoy the day there. He also stated that they “cannot be expected to be waiting at their computers to answer emails” when the guests were in need. At least 3 other department leaders thanked him for making a stand for what the true urgency was.
How can a leader develop a better culture of communication in an instant, urgent world? Here are some strategies:
- Have a clear and concise communication policy or practice that aligns with your company values
- Train people to distinguish the difference between urgent and important
- Prioritize those real urgencies – customer attention, safety-related emergencies, and so on
- Allow your teams to talk with each other about their priorities and how they fall into play with the overall mission and big picture
- Foster a culture that allows people to speak up and say that something else is more of a priority
- Regularly promoting the mission-critical purpose of the company and use the core values as those guard rails for operating
- Set the example by making more talking points in person or on the phone (sitting down, relaxed and not walking, multi-tasked which sets an urgent tone)
By educating your people on the quadrants of urgency and important, re-aligning their goals with the company mission, and building a culture of service- or purpose- focus , you will allow communication disruption to fade away. Watch a better connection and more meaningful dialogue happen between your people.