How can you communicate in a way that saves time (efficiently) and also maximizes impact (effectively)?
Efficiency and effectiveness are integral to becoming Lean. Yet, they often seem to be at odds with each other. For words to be effective, they have to influence the people on the receiving end. Sometimes this is done efficiently, using just a few words like "Help!" or "Stop!"
However, when it comes to communication, less is not more. And efficiency is a detriment to effective communication. Using more words doesn't mean you are being more effective or efficient either. In some instances, more is just more.
Today, you have instant access to knowledge that would have been difficult or impossible to find just two decades ago. The Internet has revolutionized the way you do business, and e-mail has revolutionized the way you communicate. Never before has there been a mechanism for conveying information faster, easier or cheaper. But is e-mail efficient and effective?
Lean challenges you to get rid of waste or activities that don't add value. And there are nine categories of waste as illustrated in DOWNTIME+A. But how is waste identified in communications? Using the same nine categories, wasteful communications could be defined as follows:
Defects – receiving the wrong information
Overproduction – communicating excess information when it is not required
Waiting – waiting for information
Not Utilizing People/Talent – not using the best communicators in the communication process
Transportation – elongating the process by not utilizing the right channels
Inventory – accumulation of information without processing
Motion – looking for information
Excess Processing – reading excess communication when it is not required
Attitude – having the right frame of mind when communicating
Is your e-mail communication efficient and effective? If you are not sure, keep track how many e-mails you send and receive over the course of a day. Start by writing down the number you sent in a single day. Then write down how many you received, regardless of whether you read them or not. Further break that number down into the number of messages you found valuable and those you didn't. You'll also want to look at how many were sent directly to you versus how many you were copied on. Are there any correlations?
Chances are most of the e-mails you received were of little to no value to you or your clients. So why did they ever make their way into your inbox? Because e-mail is so fast and easy, it helps us become poor communicators. Now, think about the context of the e-mails you sent and received. Were they rambling and unorganized? Did they force you to wade through useless text which you probably didn't have time to do?
It would not be uncommon for you to have hundreds of e-mails in your inbox right now. What is exceptional is finding people who can successfully manage their inbox. Don't let your inbox become a great black hole with no business value. People who don't treat e-mail correctly contribute to its bad name. E-mail can be a vital tool to your company, but it has to be managed.
To keep your e-mail under control, consider the following:
Limit the number of e-mails you send and the text included in each by thinking about the nine categories of waste listed above. There is a direct correlation between how many e-mails you send and how many you receive.
Discourage the use of the "reply all" feature.
Consider using instant messaging. Your e-mail program may include a feature that allows you to see when colleagues online are available or not. This feature significantly reduces time wasted exchanging messages.
Flag e-mails from the handful of individuals you deal with most frequently so they show up at the top of your inbox.
Develop blogs, intranets, threaded discussion boards or similar technologies as a means to disseminate information while avoiding group e-mails. This also helps you manage information so you spend less time searching for it when needed.
Pick up the phone. Don't underestimate the effectiveness and efficiency of the phone or face-to-face communication. Your clients and staff really do enjoy hearing and seeing you.
The communication process is one of the most important processes in any organization. Even in this age of information, organizations have to learn to communicate effectively. Remember, it is not about communicating fast. It is about being effective and efficient. It's about being Lean.