I just sat down and opened my email and watched with amazement as 85 messages were downloaded.

Now I know this is Monday, and I dare say that people all over the world have been spending the weekend just desperate to get in touch with me, but looking quickly at the first lot of subject headings I wondered desperately “Do I really need to know all this?”

I read somewhere that organisations really believe that they are communicating much more effectively with their staff, but it appears that all they are actually doing is overloading them with information which may or not be relevant to their actual requirements.

I think this may be an unfortunate outcome of the agonising we went through in the 80’s and 90’s about organisational structure.

Before then, most companies or government departments were structured with a hierarchal chain of command. The various functions of the organisation were often compartmentalised and communication was mostly downwards.

Such organisations had the advantage of knowing who did what, and who was required to know what and those charged with the running of the whole were – to an extent – able to keep their fingers on the pulse. They were highly formalised and their communication structure was clear.

Communication in this format was top heavy with the General Manager passing information onto the various managers who were in turn responsible for disseminating it further down the chain. On paper it looks good, but when it comes to communication there are some hidden (and not so hidden) problems.

To begin with dissemination depends on the exact information being passed on – exactly; and we all know about Chinese Whispers don’t we? When information is passed through a chain it becomes distorted, subtly changed and sometimes essentials parts are inadvertently left out.

The problem is epitomised in the old army story about the General who sent out a signal saying “Send reinforcements I’m going to advance’ but when it reached its target it read ‘send three and fourpence, I’m going to a dance.’ – I said it was an old story!!

Then the organisational structure got an overhaul and we all bought into the looser formation thinking the problems were solved. We spoke enthusiastically about communication networks and debated vehemently whether the wheel network outperformed the circle network – and decided that it didn’t.

And it was around about here that I noticed a strange refrain beginning to make itself heard “Do I really need to know all this?” With the more effective communication structure, people within the organisation were certainly beginning to receive far more information but much of it was superfluous to requirements.

And then came the internet revolution and emails. Now with the mere touch of a key I can send information throughout the whole organisation without any regard to the position or responsibilities of the receiver. And what I can do – I often do do!

And so millions of people throughout the world face the daily onslaught of information arriving in their in-box and they conscientiously attack it with religious fervour.

Enough I say !! For heaven’s sake let’s take a step back and see what we are doing. In the 85 emails I received today there were perhaps five that really needed my attention; ten that I probably needed to know about. Another dozen or so which were nice to know and could safely be kept for perusal later and the rest … well the rest were rubbish.

And do you know how easy it is to press the delete button?

The problem comes when faced with an in-box of dubious relevance we give in to the temptation to hit Control A and Delete! Oh the relief when we survey that blank screen; followed by the moment of sheer terror when we are absolutely sure we saw something from the CEO before it disappeared into apparent oblivion.

Now I have a terrible choice to make – do I swear that I never received it or do I now waste time by sorting through everything in the deleted folder just in case.

Organisations wedded to electronic communication devices now believe that they are communicating effectively with their staff when all they are creating is an “Information overload.”

May I pass on a small idea that I carry with me from my military days. Due to the nature of their purpose information in the military is often ‘sensitive’ – There are some things that it not necessary for everyone to know. This type of information is shared on a ‘need to know’ basis. So before disseminating information commanders, officers and NCO’s asked themselves “Just who needs to know this” and when they have made that decision they release the information only to those that actually need to know.

A possible solution to those organisations who automatically think that everyone should know everything whether they really need to or not.

And now – back to my emails, I see another 24 have just arrived *Sigh*

Michele @ Trischel

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