Last week I was in a very interesting meeting here on campus with our new CIO, Deputy CIO, and two ITS Senior Directors to talk about blogging. Not the PSU Blog project that is really taking shape, but organizational blogging. I have been spending a lot of my time looking at how organizations can use tools like blogs, wikis, and podcasts to share information within the walls of the unit. It started several months ago with some podcasts that I listened to dealing with enabling direct internal communication within a company — you know, a President or CEO podcasting short weekly updates that people within the company could listen to understand mission, goals, changes, or whatever else. This meeting was designed to get us talking about how we could put a tool like blogs in the middle of a close to 500 person IT department to encourage and enable more authentic and active communication.
The real winner from the meeting was a comment my new CIO made that really struck me … he was talking about email and how it was used. In my own world email has become a real drag on time. I get way too much, it is filled with confusing spam messages, and really doesn’t do a great job at providing context for complex issues. He mentioned a goal that I instantly locked onto — what if we could reduce the total number of emails we send each other by 50% within three years? I was thinking that we could but it would require changing the culture of communication and putting good tools in people’s hands. I thought long and hard about and I think I have an example that I think illustrates the opportunity very well … take the process required to reach a decision on the image below:
This is a proposed poster for our TLT Symposium to be held in April. The way this poster came into existence follows a typical pattern … for this example, this is how it happens. I send an email (1) to Dave Stong, our graphic artist, explaining what I am thinking. Dave replies to me via email (2) telling me he understands what I am after and maybe to clarify a few points. I respond to him (3) to clean up a few communication issues. An hour or so later he sends me an email (4) with a link to a comp graphic for me to check out. I click the link and it opens the image in my browser for me to review and think about. I look it over, notice some things I don’t like and send him a note (5) with my thoughts and ask him to explain something to me. He responds (6) with his thoughts and sets off on creating a revised image. He sends me another note (7) that asks me to review it again with a couple more questions. I reply (8) even before looking at the comp to answer his question … I then review the second comp and send him more feedback (9). I finally get another note (10) saying he has implemented the final changes and to review it. I check it out and link it so I send him a note (11) to say it is perfect. He then replies (12) with a thank you and maybe a question about printing it, or size, or some little nuance that requires me to send a final note (13). I then send an email (14) to my Leadership Group to gain feedback and all hell breaks lose (15-30).
If he were to simply post his initial understanding to his blog along with a link to the comp we could have done this whole thing with three emails. Do you know how much time that would save me? Do you realize that we would then have a real trail saved in digital form that is searchable and that answers the questions I will get from Leadership Group? So, on a simple poster, I could save somewhere between 12 to 27 emails. That is what the CIO is asking for … tools that support workflow, increases productivity, and allows us to collaborate in an authentic way. Is anyone feeling this way about email and what are you doing to stop it?