This Technology Is The Crack Cocaine Of The Middle Market

Run–fast as you can–away from this value destroying habit. Here’s how.

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BY Walter Simson - 21 Feb 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There's your valued employee, a customer service rep, in action. She's asking questions, making inquiries, following up. All in a flurry of typing so fast your eyes can't even follow.

You find it heartwarming? To me it's frightening.

Because she's fully habituated to the crack cocaine of the middle market: instant messaging.


The Habit

Say your company has a customer service rep, a factory manager and a billing department. They use IM to stay in constant communication:

1. Billing suggests via IM that the factory hold off on manufacturing a customer order. They say that the customer's last bill wasn't paid. Factory manager doesn't reply, but hey, she's a busy gal.

2. Customer service IM's the factory: "Mr. Smith wants his job delivered on Tuesday and not Wednesday." Also requests that the color be changed to red, not white.

3. The factory IM's customer service that the Jones job will be late.

You, as the proud entrepreneur, love the employee engagement. Look how busy everyone is. Great, right?

Let me fit you with these special spectacles that help you see where you've just lost money.


Loss-Making Communications

1. Billing says don't send out an order because of non-payment. Well, the factory didn't get the message until the order went out. Wave bye-bye to your first load of profit for the day.

2. The color change requires an up-charge. Billing never got that message. Also, predictably, the rush order was neither acknowledged nor made. The customer is peeved. That's years' worth of sales work endangered by poor communications.

3. The late job was never communicated to the customer, who decides to withhold payment.

You, my friend, are going to need someone to drill a larger drain for your lost profits.


Value Destruction

It's not only about your lost money. It's about a loss of company value. Here are three reasons why this is happening:

Learning. When staff uses instant messaging as a quick fix between departments, you lose an opportunity to recognize a business problem, and address it. As I say at least 100 times per week, problems are easier when you've seen them before. Instant messaging is private messaging. So no one sees the problems, and they remain difficult.

Accountability. If billing is supposed to credit check orders, this should be done at the time the order is received, not when it is already on the shipping dock. And if a customer needs new specifications, it should be part of a work order.

Process. W. Edwards Deming, the great statistician who became a hero to the business world, once said "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you are doing."

Does instant messaging help your process? Or does it hide that you don't know what you are doing?


The Answer

What should you do to break the IM habit?


Have a stand up meeting each morning to discuss all the issues that would have otherwise come up on instant messaging. Keep notes of next steps, and review yesterday's next steps today. Did everyone do what they were supposed to do? What can we do as a team to maintain accountability and responsiveness?

You may say that you are busy. You don't have time to meet!

My response: your job as a manager is to work through others.

And you don't have time not to.