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Chapter 5: Leading with E-communications


Communication . . . always makes demands. It always demands that the recipient become somebody, do something, believe something. It always appeals to motivation.

Peter Drucker
Peter Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, p. 487.

Bill is a relentless communicator. As a marketing manager for a large packaged goods company, Bill understands the power of communicating with the consumer. He carries over this philosophy to his people. As one who operates in the realm where the application of knowledge about consumers and customers is power, Bill believes in liberating information so that his people can use it to do their jobs better.

Bill also is an early adopter of technology. He was among the first to embrace email as a means of sharing information as well as giving direction. Wireless communications is a boon to Bill; he prides himself on always being accessible and in touch. In addition, Bill set up a departmental intranet where employees could post updates on their work and also share documents. The team even works collaboratively online through the services of a departmental network. As a result, the department has a strong esprit de corps. This connectedness has spurred cooperation because colleagues know more about one another's projects and can share information more easily. This sharing has produced true organizational growth because the lessons learned on one project can often be carried to the next.

The e-communication revolution has certainly produced harmony in the ranks, but lately some employees are beginning to feel overwhelmed. While they appreciate Bill's keeping them abreast of developments, his emails, once a trickle, are now a veritable tsunami. And the emails don't stop when Bill is out of the office. Evenings, weekends, and out-of-town trips do not stem the flow. In fact, it seems that the more Bill is away, the more he sends messages. Accompanying his messages are the inevitable to-dos. His people cannot keep up. As a result, the happy workplace that Bill fostered so diligently is beginning to fray at the edges. People have become edgy, snapping at one another and going out of their way to avoid Bill. One or two refuse to check their email more than once per day for fear of getting another wave of things to do.

While the bubble may have burst, one of its legacies is thriving - e-communications (see Figure 5-1). From corporate intranets to e-newsletters as well as the all-pervasive email, we are all more connected, or e-connected, than ever before. Rosabeth Moss Kanter has written, "Communication is the core of e-culture."[1] Much of this connectedness is good. We can work from home, from the airport, from a remote office, or from a beach in the Bahamas - often more productively - thanks to the proliferation of e-communications. Being connected 24/7 is our mantra - always on, always available.


Figure 5-1:  E-Communications

Hold on, though! Maybe all of this connectedness has a price, and a big one. A loss of privacy. A loss of free time. A loss of touch with the people who are nearest and dearest to us. A loss of everything except work time.

Leaders need to be aware of the power of e-communications. Leaders do a great deal of communicating electronically. In fact, most people will have more contact with the leader through email than face to face. The ability to express a leadership point of view in words only is essential. When used successfully, e-communications will help lay the foundation for a virtual community. The hub of the e-community is the web site. The lifeblood of the e-community is email.

Email also has its perils. Most of us are inundated with too much email. Leaders need to limit their use of it when sending leadership messages; otherwise it will not be read. Also, email cannot be a substitute for face-to-face encounters. There are times, such as in coaching, when only face-to-face contact will do. You can follow up a coaching session or a team meeting with an email, but only after the personal connection has been made.

Forming the Leadership E-message

Email facilitates the day-to-day commerce of an organization. It is used for this purpose in nearly every organization. Since people receive so much email (50 to 100 emails per day is common), you need to be selective. Choose your moments.

The leadership message, as always, must be rooted in the values of the organization and must be of significance to the recipient. It must be designed to further a sense of trust. Therefore, keep the messages consistent with your culture and your values. When Jack Welch used email to keep in touch with employees, it was an outgrowth of his habit of sending written personal notes.[2]

Here are some examples of effective leadership emails and their purposes:

Furthering the vision

Brevity is the better part of valor with e-leadership messages. No one has time to read a lengthy message, and if the message is too long, people probably will not read it at all.

Note: Be careful when you send. Check that you have clicked the correct recipient. Do not copy people on e-coaching sessions. To do so may be a violation of trust between you and the employee.

Facilitating Two-Way E-communications

Think of virtual communications as a great way for leader and employee to have a conversation. While nothing can, or should, replace the dynamism of the face-to-face conversation, virtual communications through email is an effective way for the leader to share his or her thoughts and to reiterate the leadership message, provide guidance and direction, and keep abreast of changing conditions by listening to feedback. Email invites response. With the exception of broadcast emails, which go to thousands, the email to a direct report typically carries with it the demand for a response. The leader needs to know, "Did you understand what I wrote?" and the leader needs to hear, "Yes, and let me offer my thoughts on this." When used in this way, email facilitates dialogue.

If both sides pay attention to what the other is saying (and keep in mind that the leader is communicating with more than one follower), you increase the capacity for trust to develop, which should always be the ultimate outcome of leadership communications.

Building a Web-Based E-community

A web site devoted to leadership topics can be an invaluable resource for refreshing or extending the leadership message. The site can serve not only as a communications center but also as a place for posting leadership resources related to development and evaluation.

The secret to building the successful e-community is to give people a reason to visit. This means keeping the information lively and pertinent. It also means giving people a reason to return again and again. This requires keeping the content fresh and up to date. The center of the e-community is the web site.

Leaders also need to keep in mind that in an e-community, transparency (openness) rules. As Rosabeth Moss Kanter puts it, the days of "mushroom management . . . keep[ing] employees in the dark, cover[ing] them with manure, and when they ripen, can[ning] them" are over.[3] In an e-community, information is everywhere and is freely shared. Such a community diminishes the opportunity for bosses to lord it over underlings because they have knowledge that no one else has. When people know the bigger picture, as happens in a transparent culture, they can make better-informed decisions for the organization and for themselves.

A note about access: You may decide to restrict access to members of the team or employees of the organization. You can also have levels of access, with everyone able to see the home page, but sections of the site being restricted. In this way, you can set up virtual workrooms where team members can collaborate. In this virtual space, members can share documents, edit them, and post new findings, with the information restricted to members only. Many corporate universities are doing this for their participants, enabling "students" to collaborate in virtual time and space.

Telephone and Voicemail

In our age of e-communications, we sometimes forget to use the telephone. Often it is more appropriate to make an initial contact with an individual on the phone and follow up with email, or vice versa. Telephone and voicemail, as mentioned in Chapter 4, have the advantage of personal warmth and one-to-one connection. Also, a telephone conversation is a dialogue; the parties to the call can go back and forth quickly, amplifying and explicating in 30 seconds points that might take three or four rounds of email to sort out.

When leaving a voicemail, think about what you want to say first. Make your points quickly and in reasonable order. The person retrieving the message will thank you for your clarity and brevity. And, if you cannot think of exactly what you want to say, send an email. The time it takes you to compose the message will give you an opportunity to develop and organize your thoughts.

Maintaining Personal Boundaries

In our chapter vignette, Bill does a good job of building an e-community, but he ultimately goes too far. E-communications is a Janus-faced proposition. (Janus, you will recall from Roman mythology, was a god with two faces.) On the upside, email permits the boss and her or his team to exchange ideas at any time of the day or night. On the downside, all this emailing back and forth can erode personal time.

While it is true that for many the boundaries between work and home are blurred, the leader needs to respect the personal lives of her or his followers. A relentless flurry of email from the leader can set up the expectation that employees must do the same. The leader not only has to set limits on his or her own messaging habits, but also must make it clear that followers do not need to emulate them. In other words, just because a leader does email at two in the morning does not mean followers need to do so. Unless the leader is explicit in setting limits, employees will naturally assume that he or she expects people to be monitoring their email in the wee hours. For example, the leader can say, "I do my email in off-hours because it is my choice to do so, but I do not expect you to be waiting around for my messages. Nor do I expect you to work at those hours unless you want to." In this way, the leader sets limits and maintains a differentiation between work time and personal time.

Peter Drucker - Management Unbound

He was known as the Sage of Claremont, referring to the school in southern California where he lived, taught, and wrote. He was still vigorous in his early nineties, and people came from around the world to hear him. And he came to the world via satellite lectures. "I like bigness," he said. He split his consulting time between fee-paying and pro bono clients. For seven decades he persuaded, nudged, and cajoled organizations to regard workers as resources and management as the enabler of organizational effectiveness. He is Peter Drucker.

Pioneering Management Writer

Born in Vienna in 1909, Drucker recalls his earliest memory at age 5 as someone in his family referring to the "end . . . of civilization."[5] It was the beginning of World War I, which ended the spirit of the nineteenth century and ushered in the modern age, complete with its own horrors but also its possibilities. Somehow it seems fitting that Drucker, the creator of a new way of viewing management that would destroy an older form, would have this as his first memory.

First and foremost, Drucker considers himself a writer. In fact, he had been an accomplished financial writer prior to his emigrating to the United States from Germany as Hitler was coming to power. While his views have evolved over the decades, chiefly under the influence of behavioral scientists like Abraham Maslow, Drucker is noted for the significance of his work, the constancy of his message, and the frequency of his messages. He is a leadership communicator par excellence.

New Ideas for a New Age

His exploration of the management scene began with an assignment from a senior vice president at General Motors who wanted to find out what made his company tick. The result was The Concept of the Corporation. Alfred Sloan, the chairman of General Motors, hated the book, but he did not discourage Drucker from publishing it. Fortunately, Drucker did so. American management was never to be quite the same.[6]

The Concept of the Corporation made a strong case for a reexamination of the social contract between labor and management. Workers should be regarded as a "resource, not a cost," and they should have a role in the corporation's governance. Drucker also examined the dehumanization that occurs in large industrial corporations. At the same time, as his biographer, Jack Beatty, points out, Drucker was not a "Bolshie"; he argued that profit was "the pre-condition of industrial society." Furthermore, this was the book that introduced Sloan's concept of decentralization; over time, this concept was adopted by more than three-quarters of American businesses.[7] And while Drucker may have been unwelcome at General Motors, he emerged as a leading consultant to American businesses. (It is worth noting that General Motors has repaired the breach and now maintains good relations with Drucker.)[8]

Management Unleashed

Drucker's seminal management work - in fact, the work that many credit with inventing the field of management - is The Practice of Management. Appearing in 1954, this resource quantified the role of the manager as the person responsible for goals (management by objectives) and concerned with the accomplishment of results through others, as well as having a total perspective on the business and its place in the competitive landscape.[9]

What Drucker did in this resource, and 20 years later in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, was to quantify the manager's role, not in some learn-by-rote, restrictive way, but rather in a Churchillian neo-heroic way that would cause the manager to see himself (and later herself) as one who can accomplish things, and in so doing aspire to something greater. That theme of aspiration for something better - a new system, a new management discipline, a new social order - is inherent in all of Drucker's work.

Leadership Communicator

From where did Drucker's ideas spring? He learns as he talks to people, and he also discovers his point of view as he teaches or writes about it.[10] Curiously, Drucker credits a course in admiralty law, which he took as part of a doctoral program in Germany in the twenties, with giving him his management insights. To Drucker, management is "an integrating discipline of human values and conduct, of social order and intellectual inquiry . . . feed[ing] off economics, psychology, mathematics, political theory, history, and philosophy. In short, management is a liberal art."[11]

Drucker was as much a social philosopher as he was a management consultant. His canvas is not limited to the boardroom, or even to the spans of a global corporation. Drucker had a wondrous ability to link the issues and challenges of modern management with history, be it ancient Greece, Rome, or China. He dropped in historical anecdotes the way other writers use punctuation. The effect is to place management squarely within the entire span of human history. And lest we forget it, Drucker is a teacher; his books are his lectures, his visions, and his arguments for adopting new ways of thinking and doing.

At the same time, Drucker knew how to keep it simple. He loved organizing concepts into easy-to-remember paradigms, e.g., "The Ten Rules of Effective Research . . . The Five Deadly Business Sins . . . Two Cores of Unity."[12] The contrast between the grand themes and the plain and simple gets to the core of Drucker's influence - he is relatively easy to understand. He is not simplistic; his words, images, stories, and paradigms are used to make the abstract seem vivid and accessible.

Listener or Reader?

One of his later essays, Managing Oneself, applies his management insights to the individual. In the article, Drucker makes a striking insight into leadership communication styles with another of his historical allusions. He relates how General Dwight Eisenhower was loved by the press for his crisp, succinct responses to their questions. A decade later, President Eisenhower was reviled for his mumbling responses and his butchery of the language. The reason, writes Drucker, is that Eisenhower was a reader, and he read specially prepared briefing papers prior to his wartime press conferences. As president, Eisenhower tried to rely on give-and-take with the press and wing his answers; it didn't work. Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman were listeners and could roll with the reporters' questions. For Drucker, it is a matter of knowing how you process information, orally or printed. Knowing what you are will enable you to communicate your point of view more effectively.[13]

Drucker devotes a chapter to managerial communications in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. He draws a distinction between information and communication. Information is data - "formal" and "logical." Communications is perception - how we interpret the data. Communications then becomes, as Drucker says, "the mode of an organization," meaning how the organization uses communications to function. Commands (e.g., information) flow downward, but genuine communications (perception) stands apart from hierarchy; it is peer to peer or person to person.

In The Concept of the Corporation, Drucker writes that "Management is the organ of institutions, the organ that converts a mob into an organization, and human efforts into performance." For Drucker, it is management that tames the wild beast of anarchy and enables people working together to achieve great results. And it is Drucker's words and teachings that have made the topic accessible to generations of managers.

[1]Rosabeth Moss Kanter, E-Volve!! Succeeding in the Digital Culture of Tomorrow, p. 7.

[2]Carol Hymowitz and Matt Murray, "Management-Boss Talk: Raises and Praises or Out the Door," Wall Street Journal, June 21, 1999.

[3]Kanter, E-Volve! pp. 27-29.

[5]Jack Beatty, The World According to Peter Drucker, p. 3.Ibid., pp. 49-68.Ibid., pp. 56-60.

[6]Ibid., pp. 184-185.

[7]Stuart Cranier and Gary Hamel, The Ultimate Business Library: 50 Business Books that Made Management, pp. 75-81.

[8]Peter Drucker, "Managing Oneself," Harvard Business Review, March-April 1999; and Beatty, World According to Drucker, p. 30.

[9]Peter Drucker, Landmarks of Tomorrow: A Report on the "Post-Modern" World, 1959, pp. 141-142, and Peter Drucker, The Frontiers of Management, p. 227, quoted in Beatty, World According to Drucker, p. 14.

[10]Beatty, World According to Drucker, pp. 25-26.

[11]Drucker, "Managing Oneself."

[12]Peter Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, pp. 481-493.

[13]Peter Drucker, Concept of the Corporation, (1945), p. 132, quoted in John Micklethwaite and Adrian Wooldridge, The Witch Doctors: Making Sense of the Management Gurus, p. 77.

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