Sunday 8 June 2008

This e-mail will be the last one we send you

Letting people go has never been an easy thing to do. Retrenching people has never been easy. Telling a man in his forties who has a family to support that you know how it feels (when the truth is you have no clue how it feels) is not something any of us are well equipped to do. Or worse, not telling him anything and instead sending him an email telling he has been made redundant is something that none of us will ever be equipped to do because it should not be this way. Real leaders will never behave like this.

I think an important consideration in today's anxious world is not only how we behave with respect to our co-workers but how we communicate with them, literally. And by this I am not referring to one’s tone of voice or mood or demeanour but rather to whether you communicate face-to-face or via some electronic means that may be convenient but really not appropriate. How can you retrench someone via cold keystrokes? Surely this cannot be healthy in the long run? If our Western world keeps going like this just now you will be dealing with robots – faceless machines that lack emotions. There are many that would argue that this is already the case in America, for example, but this is another VLOG altogether, actually, this would be a collection of VLOGs. I better be careful what I say.

We need to understand what cellphones and e-mail are meant for. We send off messages in every direction and we land up creating more problems than we realise. We think we are being effective and we confuse this with being efficient. So what if you can let a whole department go with one e-mail. So what if you saved an afternoon of your time by sending an SMS to that unit that is about to become redundant. In the long term you are doing a lot of damage and this will land up taking up far more of your time in the future.

I read this in an American newspaper a while ago: Teaching at a state university we instructors get to know our students fairly well. A colleague once mentioned that he had told his communications class of his plans to propose marriage. A student spoke up and said that he had recently asked his girlfriend to marry him. “What was her answer?” my friend asked. “I don’t know,” the student replied.” She hasn’t e-mailed me back yet.”

Is this what technology has done to us? Have we replaced face-to-face communications with cold keystrokes and wireless telephony? Life is about relationships. And business is about relationships. With your staff and your customers. And with your suppliers. I could go on and on. Real business is about people. Look at the core of any institution. You will find a group of people who speak to each other in the flesh. I know these are times of fast foods and slow digestion but we better slow down or we are going to crash.

We can’t cheat nature. It is not natural to grow at the speed of light. The good things in life take time. A good business takes time. Spend quality time with your staff and your customers and the numbers will sort themselves out.

What is the purpose of your business? Is it about making a difference or is about making money. If you really want to make a difference then start working on relationships. A good, solid business works on trust. Inspired companies gain people’s respect. People who make a difference feel proud about the work they do. And this is through the good as well as the bad times. How can letting someone go via a cold email message be conducive to any of these ideals? No wonder today’s youth are so drawn towards violent movies and offensive music – in a world where email has become so easy, we are all far too trigger happy.

Come on folk, the next time you have something important to communicate with someone you claim to care about then do it over the phone or face-to-face. Whether it is good news or bad, don’t send a fax from your PC and don’t fire off an email or send an SMS message. Let’s start putting all these electronic communications tools into perspective so that the progress paradox does not become more of a reality.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker