I recently started following Luis Suarez’s quest to reduce his email. He nailed his colours to the mast last year by proclaiming the death of email. For the past three months, by not replying to emails, he has so far managed to eliminate the number of emails he receives by 75%, instructing people to interact with him using other tools. That is not to say he has saved himself 75% time, because he spends that time in those tools. The main thrust of his job is to provide expertise. Rather than answer the same questions over and over in private email conversations, he is raising the collective organizational IQ by insisting those types of questions take place in public or behind the firewall, social media, where the answers are visible to all. That sounds very similar to the types of conversations I had inside Lotus over fifteen years ago – don’t ask me here, ask me in that forum, here’s a link. Many people learn where to find the answers – and to ask good questions in a public forum so others learn. But many don’t.
If I can generalize, there are many who find it difficult to use a medium other than email to interact. They include the people with whom I interacted a great deal, people who advanced their position through superior social, conversational abilities and those where largely salespeople. The better they know people, and the better information they have, the more they sell, so getting the right answer, for them, must require that they ask the best person. And perhaps there is a touch of competitiveness in the drive to get the best answer from the best person. For them, the best answer surely requires a convincing conversation, and if that can’t take place on the phone, then email is the next best medium. And if they find someone is unresponsive via email, they’ll phone or email someone else, because tenacity is also one of their positive traits. And there are plenty of examples in their minds where they see something on the intranet, ask the right person, and get a completely different perspective that gives them the inside track.
It would be simplistic to say we could save 75% of the 25% of our total workload spent processing email, since if we are not interacting via email, we would be interacting via wikis, blogs, IM, fora and facebook – social media. We would be saving time through knowledge re-use and by strengthening the ties between experts and people who could turn their knowledge into revenue. That’s harder to quantify. Knowledge management practioners struggled to provide empirical ROI cases, but then ROI may be the wrong argument. Getting employees and customers in more meaningful conversations to create faster, higher value is surely justification enough for using the best possible tools to interact more easily.