Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Business Needs Automated Workflow – Lets Be Careful!

(Let me start by saying that as a business process oriented person, workflow is critical to the success of any business, but not in the context about to be discussed. A future post will begin the subject of business process management and business process modeling.)

In his article “Businesses Need Automated Workflow” Will Kriski writes in a newsletter that regularly drops into my in-box called the IT ToolBox ( ) that;

“…to get my work done on a day to day basis I frequently require information or tasks to be performed by other people. Options to communicate these needs include email, phone calls and in-person discussions.

When deadlines are looming and stress is high I usually find that it’s very difficult to get people to respond to my email questions or directives in a timely manner (or at all). …I think an automated approach would help.

Instead of emailing someone and having them read it and forget about it you could register a task in a workflow which notifies the party and will track if they respond. After the time expires, their manager could be notified for example.”

Mr. Kriski closes by saying, “…what I have been thinking about lately is how poorly email and other methods fail to achieve the desired result”.

How poorly email and other methods fail to achieve the desired results. Interesting statement given today’s levels of technology, email, flex-time, disbursed work forces, with scope and scale that spans the globe. Technology for everything, … except people.

Think about email for a moment. It consumes a large amount of everyone’s work time and is misused and abused in the worst kind of ways when it comes to business effectiveness. In a study done not long ago (spam is excluded) it was found that 1/3 of the email a person gets has absolutely nothing to do with the work going on. The second third is ‘nice to know’ information but adds no real value to the work at hand. The last third of the email actually has something do to with the job and getting it done.

As well, people have not learned reasonable email protocols. As has been previously posted just common courtesy would make email more productive. How many of you have had arguments with people by email?

Technology has allowed us to avoid personal contact and has grown a culture of detachment. Technology has brought us great enhancements but it has also depersonalized the workplace. This detachment has been growing long enough in some places to have become a tradition and traditions harden companies, employees and customers into a culture of remoteness and indifference.

My suggestion to Mr. Krinski is to pick up the phone. Walk over to the other person’s office or cubicle and speak to them about what is needed. To have someone do something for you, you need to show some interest in them and they need to know that what they are being asked to do has value. It’s the human need to ask WHY? and as managers we have a responsibility to answer that why!

Some workflow automation that will notify someone’s supervisor that they did not respond to a task on time is NOT the way to get the outcomes that are needed.

There is no substitute for “face time”. At a minimum a few minute telephone call would work. This used to be called MANAGEMENT. Let’s not think that we can actually manage people by email and other technology. Technology can be part of our management toolset but they are only successful when mixed with large helpings of personal interaction, ‘face-time’ and telephone conversations.

A couple of interesting other references give some perspective to this subject, one is a class syllabus from CCSU ( from the department of English (somehow I missed the class title but Professor Barnett teaches the fate of ….culture in the era of digitalization, the crisis of virtual culture and the ‘presence of absence’ which I believe says well what business is calling detachment.

Another good place for learning about this issue is reading “Human Performance Technology: The End of an Era” by Fred Nickols ( where he says that “Democracy is on its way into the workplace.” Human performance needs the answer to why, and the leadership, management and mentoring to deliver.

Next time the email you received ticks you off, don’t fire one back, pick up the phone and you will probably find what you read in to the note is not what the writer intended. Or better yet, go see the person and find that they are on the same team you are and want to work together. Don’t let your relationships be based on the emails you send to each other and don’t let your work be known by the technology used, but by the personal interaction you had.

Now, turn off “Reply to All” …



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