Fri, 24 Jan 2020
(Reading time: Approximately 8 minutes)
Last time, we considered the negative impact of information overload and the downside of what we called "leaking information" by accummulating lots of info without actually using it. In these few minutes, we ponder how this impacts the workplace.
In an organisational context, many businesses are spouting how wonderful they are, how clear their vision is, how focussed they are in terms of their mission and how this shows in their results.
But, when you get down to it, when you start asking the really awkward questions, there is a stutter… When you ask for evidence to be cited about how their people are developed, managers hesitate or offer lame examples. Or when you ask senior executives how managers would feel if their efforts to help develop their people were rated by the employees themselves, they try to duck the question in some way. The same happens when you ask how staff would rate their managers in terms of giving them room to contribute to real innovation and encouraging creativity and new ideas.
I mean, think about it – Imagine what would happen if managers had their pay or bonuses determined by feedback from their own teams, maybe directly or through employee satisfaction surveys? Imagine the reactions that would come into play if employees were allowed to give some input on how well they thought their managers ran their teams, even if it were only applicable to a portion of a possible management bonus?
And yet, isn’t this one key area (ideas, innovation and creativity) where there is a real opportunity to solicit a contribution and buy-in from everyone in the organisation to build and grow really successful, profitable and strong businesses.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not promoting some left-of-field wishy-washy nonsense without any commercial sense. I’m talking about getting behind the hot air that is often blown out in self-promotion without the substance being tested.
Do we get a quality result (or any result) from the actions managers take to encourage innovation and action in their teams? Sometimes you wonder just how amazing the potential results of some businesses could be if they performed at their best, rather than when you consider just how off-peak they currently run their operations and are still doing reasonably well. The lost potential is often huge.
I’ll leave that little point there for now, shall I? Save to say, maybe, that there is a lot of information and knowledge being thrown around, in particular by managers and supervisors, without much consideration for what is really useful and helpful, and how much of it is translated into action. And in fairness, sometimes it's not even their fault, but derived from pressures further up the line that allow no space for input from everyone in the business.
So, what can we do about information overload and leaking information in a work context?
First, I think, we must start to stop. When you switch on a light as you enter a dark room, or when you flick the switch on your kettle to make a cup of tea, or when you reach for your remote control to watch a movie on telly or swipe to view the screen on your mobile device, you don’t give a second thought to the ins and outs of how electricity works (unless that’s your area of expertise, of course). And they all need and use an electric current to work.
So, why get bogged down with the intricacies of other things, however interesting, if they are of no earthly use to you. And if we're honest, such distractions are way too commonplace.
We too easily forget that knowledge, while a good thing, changes all the time. What we knew about transport in the 1800s is almost completely irrelevant in the 21st century. Imagine going back in time to bring forward an expert on horses and carriages… His or her expert knowledge, no matter how indepth, would be mostly obsolete now in the context of daily transportation of people and goods. That should put some things in perspective and give us some comfort and sanity.
As individuals, we need to learn to stop and allow ourselves time to make or do something that has a worthwhile purpose; that gives back without the expectation for getting anything in return. And funny enough, you will probably find what you get back from that small thing, actually delivers a bigger personal reward than you thought possible. Use the info you obtain rather than using up your time accumulating an endless amount of it.
In our businesses and organisations, we need to consider that we flick between giving our staff almost no upskilling information and learning opportunities (in some organisations), to providing so much information (in a variety of ways), depending on budgetary constraints, that it contributes to the information overload that people experience.
We need to provide opportunities for people to consume bite-sized chunks that give them just enough to think about how they can use it on the job and get a good, quick result rather than none at all. These little victories is what will motivate people to do more and for the longer term.
I remember a learning programme for managers that we ran at one of the small sales-focussed businesses in the group of companies I worked for some years ago. Participants were provided with enough knowledge to give them something to think about in terms of how to make or save money changing something that they worked with on a daily basis.
One chirpy chappy who provided a service to gas engineers realised that the people he was dealing with were quite “no-frills” in their approach and would respond to classified ads, even if the text was highly abbreviated. He tested his theory with his audience and then went through the exercise of working out the savings. By abbreviating text in the classified ads they placed, the business would realise a saving of several thousand pounds per year, with no negative impact on the responses to the ads. In a business of around 25-30 people, the impact of that cost saving, albeit on its own not enormous, would make a big difference to the bottom line, especially if others witnessed the impact and copied the mindset. The cumulative potential of doing several of these went without saying. And even if they did nothing but used the extra cash for employee incentives, it would be worth its weight in gold.
We need to think a bit more about what we do with the mind blowing amount of information that we have access to.
Want to stop leaking? In the context of information, don’t fill the jar to overflowing and watch it all drain away… To carry on with an earlier analogy, just drink some of the contents, and “quench your thirst” by using what you know and making space for more.
Let’s not mistake information accumulation for learning. Good learning will result in action. A big part of life is about learning the right stuff and putting it into action.
Something to ponder over, don't you think?