K Street Newsletter :: Directions

June 2018    |    VOLUME 16, ISSUE 6

Things My Father Knew

KM types have long warned of the loss of business know-how that we'll see as the baby boomers retire. The first of this generation turned 60 in 2006, and more than 25% of the US population is at or near retirement age. Companies are facing a huge loss of institutional knowledge, and according to AARP, 60% of them are setting up programs to bring retirees back into the workforce.

If you bring this down to a more personal level, you'll probably see that a lot of basic life skills are also being lost in time. We've forgotten how to do things our parents did as a matter of routine, and the next generation will know even less. In a post at everything2.com, one blogger writes that 20-somethings are generally at the mercy of hired help. Where Dad had practical knowledge of carpentry, plumbing and electrical repair, the kids have knowledge of video games and ramen preparation. 

It's said that you only know a thing when you need to know it, and unnecessary skills always fade away. When was the last time you met a Hatter? However, it might be worthwhile to acquire some of that old hands-on knowledge, while you still can. Build a bird feeder, hang some wallpaper or buy a Sawzall. It's one thing to know how to find a plumber on line. It's something else to unclog a toilet. (Reprinted from Directions vol 6, #8, in honor of Father's Day.)


Microsoft Teams

Microsoft released its Teams application in May 2017, staking a claim in the group messaging space that's dominated by Slack but also targeted by Google and Facebook. The objective for all these apps is to boost productivity by giving workers an alternative to email, and Microsoft has described Teams as the digital representation of an open-plan office. It's positioning Teams as the hub for all communications and collaboration within Office 365, and has announced that it will ultimately replace Skype for Business.

Teams supports group chat rooms with threaded conversations, as well as private person-to-person messages. A conversation can be escalated from text to a video call with one click, and it's easy to add more users to chats in progress. It's also a powerful collaboration platform, thanks to its close integration with Office applications and OneDrive. This article notes there's some potential confusion about how Teams works with Yammer, also owned by Microsoft, and suggests that Teams is better for smaller, close-knit work groups. Yammer is better for company-wide engagement. Like any new technology, part of the challenge will be in deployment. Employees who are comfortable in the email world will need to be coaxed into new ways of working. That means training will be necessary.


Street Smarts 176: Pick up the pace.

The very quotable Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, famously observed that when the rate of change in the outside world exceeds the rate of change within an organization, "the end is near." Internal communications tend to be seen as less important than external communications, so they're slow to evolve. There might be a newsletter and some email updates, but the basic infrastructure is probably the same as it was ten years ago. Even 20 years ago.

This article has several suggestions for picking up the pace of change in employee communications. If you haven't made video part of the mix, it's something to consider. Most of us are carrying full-blown video production suites around in our pockets, and video is a great way to engage with employees. A video message option can have broad, cross-platform reach that is stronger and more persistent than email. If you know your audience well, you can develop targeted content so that employees see the kind of information that's of interest to them. Not everyone wants to get an electronic Mother's Day card. And since we love our apps, you might even develop an internal app store to promote smart phone tools for improving communication. If you want to stay relevant, you have to change with the times.


What We Got Here

The need for communication in business is a classic no-brainer. If your employees don't understand what's expected of them, your business will ultimately fail. And if your customers don't understand what you're selling, you'll never get off the ground in the first place. When communication breaks down, it leads quickly to poor morale, strained relationships and lost profits. In an About.com survey, the top three reasons people cited for being unhappy with their jobs were all communication related. A lack of direction from management, poor communication overall and changes that were never properly explained.

Despite having more channels, more ways to reach out to each other and more content to consider, communication failures are still a problem. With more virtual teams, too much of what workers do is based on assumptions rather than specific conversations. Email overload is also a factor. Surveys say that workers can receive as many as 150 messages a day. The delivery technology is pretty reliable, but on any given day there's a good chance a person will misplace, misunderstand or delete one those messages. That meeting request for next Wednesday, say, that's misread as a request for a meeting this afternoon. There's no magic bullet here. Good communication is a matter of doing a few things well. Be clear about your message, push it out over multiple channels and listen closely for how people react. Good communication is always a two-way street.


The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Have you ever noticed that people who are genuinely talented are often unsure of themselves, whereas folks with only entry-level skills are supremely confident? If so, you're observing the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a form of cognitive bias documented in 1999.  Culturally, though, it's been recognized for centuries. Shakespeare observed that fools think they are wise, but wise men know themselves to be fools. It's ironic but true:  the qualities that let people excel at a task are the same ones that help them recognize they're not very good at a task. So if people lack that kind of intelligence, they tend to remain blind to their ineptitude. Most people don't do very well at recognizing their own level of competence. That applies to all of us.

This article offers some tips for working through your own competence blind spots, based on an interview with David Dunning (for whom the effect is co-named). Tip #1 is the most obvious. Always keep learning, so you are always increasing your own level of competency. Recognize that when you're new to something, you are most likely to misjudge the details. Take the time you need to gather information and consult with any available experts. Also, be aware that impulsive decisions are more likely to be biased. People who jump to conclusions are the most prone to overconfidence errors.





Directions is an electronic newsletter about things related to KM & Communications, published on the second Wednesday of each month (check out the current issue above). It’s a double opt-in system, which means you’ll receive an email asking you to confirm that you really want it. Once you click on the link in that mail, you’ll be signed up. You can always unsubscribe using the same link (or by using the link provided in every issue). We will absolutely not give your address to any third parties. What are we, crazy?

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