Incoming: The Leader's Role in Making Technology Work

June 1, 2018
By Terry Halvorsen

Second of two parts. Read part one.

Technology can either multiply time or diminish time, depending on how you manage it. Unfortunately, email and text communications are frequently mismanaged. But the technology isn’t at fault. You the leader must own the technology and not let the technology own you.

Don’t be a slave to texts and emails. If an issue isn’t important, then don’t respond to a message immediately.

Be careful about the number of emails or texts you send, and talk with your team about how they are managing emails and texts. Resist the temptation to jump into a discussion if you are copied.

Many times, especially if you are the leader, emails and texts don’t require a response. This may be the hardest urge to resist, but if you have no value to add, then stay silent. Apply this to your team, and establish a policy that acknowledging receipt of every email is neither expected nor desired.

Your behavior as the leader will drive the behavior of your team. Don’t let emails and texts interrupt important meetings and work. Especially in meetings, focus on people and reading them—not your texts and emails. I hear from many leaders that they don’t have time to think or write. When I ask them about how much time they spend answering emails and texts, they admit it is a good part of the day. When I also ask if these emails or texts are as important as what they would otherwise do, I mostly get a surprised look and what amounts to an a-ha moment.

The timing of your emails and texts also is an important consideration. We generally don’t call colleagues after a certain hour during the week or on the weekend, unless it is an emergency. Yet many of us will send nonurgent emails and texts in the wee hours that could have waited until the next day.

If many of you are like me, then you might use evenings to review your calendar and the results of the day’s actions and begin to plan your next day. You might even use emails and texts as a way of taking notes and tracking actions and results. This can be a good way to manage yourself and even your team. But just because you wrote something at 2400 doesn’t mean you have to send it. If you do, then you are setting an expectation that you want a response. And if you are doing this routinely, then you will desensitize your team to the really important issues for which you really need weekend and late-night responses.

Now I know some of you are saying, “I do only send the important stuff, but we are so busy that there is important stuff every weekend or every night.” If this is the case, then you aren’t prioritizing correctly or you are under-resourced, and these are your problems, not your team’s. Most of us could work 24/7 and still never catch up, but if we ask ourselves how that work fits with mission and business priorities and what we want our staff to focus on, we will get an interesting answer that could help us spend our time more wisely.

Today’s technology certainly makes it easy to ask for updates and progress reports. However, just because you can send your request faster doesn’t mean the staff can provide you updates faster. People still need to time to think and do the work.

Leaders must be patient in a technology environment that, left to its own devices, will not be patient. Try to be disciplined and stay within the planned reporting schedule. Resist the urge to ask questions just because you can.

Finally, let’s discuss those individuals—both leaders and team members—who do everything in text or message applications. They would rather text and message than talk. Email, text and message platforms were designed for short, pointed communications or to deliver pictures and complex documents. They weren’t designed to replace conversations, especially those nuanced conversations that are key to mission- and business-planning success.

Good leaders don’t use technology to take the easy way out and avoid direct conversations that can be confrontational and even unpleasant. Good leaders also don’t use technology to defer the hard decisions by asking for more and more data. Most decisions will be made without having every piece of data you might want—many times, the data simply is not available in line with the mission or business timeline. Make your best decision and move on. Waiting to be perfect has, sadly, cost lives and money.

Technology is like any other tool. It is only as good as the person using it. It can be a great time and money saver. It can increase productivity. But technology needs to be managed, understood and used for its intended purpose.

Counterbattery is expected at signalnews@afcea.org.

Terry Halvorsen, the chief information officer (CIO) and an executive vice president with Samsung Electronics, is the former U.S. Defense Department CIO. He also has served as the Department of the Navy CIO.

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