I’m going to throw out a concept that might seem ludicrous. We need to communicate less. Before you conclude that I have lost all my marbles, stick with me here.
We send emails. We make phone calls. We distribute reports. We book meetings. We mail stuff. We talk to people. We CC, BCC. We FYI (for your information), BTW (by the way), and CYA (cover your arse).
And we do this without thinking twice about it. Do we consider the cost of all this communication? Top level costs: the cost of time for people to receive (hear, read) the communication and the cost for creating/delivering communication. If you send an email to your team of 50 people and if the email takes 3 minutes to read, and 15 minutes for you to write – the top level costs are people’s salaries for the 3 minutes and your 15 minutes. Plus the costs of the email server time and space, etc… The time is the largest cost. You may think this is a small amount, but multiply this times 100s of emails we deal with each day, and the costs add up. If you book a two-hour meeting with 15 people, the top level costs are huge.
But that’s just the start of the costs. There are two other important types of costs:
Diversion/multitasking costs: When we are interrupted by emails, calls, or meetings, we lose momentum and focus. This is another cost. Research on the myth of multitasking has shown that it can take as much as 22 minutes for us to get back to the mental place we were at before we were interrupted. Do you want to be the person who wastes 3 minutes plus 22 minutes of the CEO’s time so you can share that there are donuts in the break room? Or do you want to be the one to have your entire team spend 3 minutes plus 22 minutes EACH on your FYI/CYA update?
And there’s another important type of cost:
Opportunity cost: The cost of doing one thing instead of other things. Think of all the time that we spend on emails, calls, meetings, reports, and stuff in our physical and virtual mailboxes. If you could take all the time in a day that you spend on communication that does not make a positive difference or is so tangentially related to what you need to do – and you could do something else with that time, how much value could you create for your organization?
I believe that communicating is one of the most expensive things we do. Many managers feel communication is lacking – I think they mean that the communication is the wrong communication. These same managers tell me that they are overwhelmed with emails, cell phone calls, meetings, and reports.
If your department budget was charged $100 for every minute you spent communicating, would you choose your words more wisely? It is likely that the costs are that high or higher. Do you see where I am going with this? I think that we ALL need to second guess every communication we send out and make sure it is worth the cost. I would guess that 90% would not make the cut. This is especially true when sending to email or mail distribution lists. Is it nice to know that Krispy Kremes are in the break room? Sure – but not worth the cost. Well, perhaps just Krispy Kremes…. they are so delicious (and what’s this about whole-wheat KKs with 20 fewer calories, silly, silly).
Can you justify the cost of asking EVERYONE to read your 10-page report? Do you really think it is a good use of people’s time to read every email you send out because you happen to like to CC people? You might rebut with, “My peer/boss/team member told me they want to be cc’d. What would you say if that same person said, “I am going to buy $300 worth of office supplies EVERY DAY.” It is our responsibility to stop the madness and value people’s time like the precious resource it is.
Here’s my formula for a revolution:
If you are a senior manager – take this on as your mantra for a month – I will communicate conscious of top level, diversion, and opportunity costs.
If you are a middle manager – take this on as your mantra for a month – I will communicate conscious of top level, diversion, and opportunity costs.
If you are a line manager – take this on as your mantra for a month – I will communicate conscious of top level, diversion, and opportunity costs.
If you are an individual contributor – take this on as your mantra for a month – I will communicate conscious of top level, diversion, and opportunity costs.
If you are a consultant – take this on as your mantra for a month – I will communicate conscious of top level, diversion, and opportunity costs.