You're bound to have come into one of those "email is dying" articles sometime. I've written a couple myself. For good reason too - email looks outmoded, email is slow, email is horrible for group conversations, email causes confusions, stuff gets lost in email. But email is going nowhere. It should. But it's not. 

It's just a damn software, but the sheer power it holds over our work lives is staggering. Just think about your own job. First thing you do is to check your inbox. The rest of the day consists of open, write email, send email. And a little something else in between. Or simply refreshing your inbox for the sheer pleasure of seeing a new email come in as it happens. Everything we do, is really one thing - emailing. Managing your team - email; pitching a big client - email; getting something done - email; motivating your team - email; reprimanding your subordinate - email. 

Entire careers are built on email. If you have the literary sense to write an email, and an instinct for when to send it, knowing who to insert in the "to" field, and cleverly dropping the right people in "CC", you're on your way up the corporate ladder. 

If they allowed software into the list of the most powerful people on the planet, email would come out tops every year. 

Here's WHY email wont die:

Email is one size fits all. There isn't much to an email. It's just a bunch of text. And there lies its power. You can use this bunch of text to communicate, assign tasks, finalize meeting times, collaborate document text, notify someone, have discussions, or almost anything else that needs to be done in a work context. Heck, people use email as their CRM system. The convenience keeps us addicted. 

Email is inclusive. Irrespective of the inefficiencies of email, the fact of the matter is, every email system talks to every other email system. Whether your prospective customers are on Yahoo, and you are on Exchange, and your partners are on some obscure email system only they use, you can still talk to each other. Social network's might claim to rescue you from the clutches of email, but they only work if everyone is on the same network. Facebook doesn't really talk to Twitter doesn't really talk to LinkedIn. They secretly want to trap you into their own world. Till data can be passed between social networks through standard protocols, they will never match the ubiquity of email. 


 
 
It is an ironical fact that periodically switching your companies is way faster for growing in your career than saying in the same company. The reason quite evidently is the reluctance on the part of employers to offer current employees higher salaries and better positions. The justification - "why should i pay the employee more for what he/she is already doing? I wont get 20% more work for a 20% hike will i?"

One can see the seductiveness of this view. But apart from the humane imperative of considering an employee's need for professional growth, it is also counterproductive to ignore it. If the employee feels that the have been on a flat growth curve, and the employment arrangement is skewed against them, they will leave at the earliest opportunity. They will also feel demotivated, and perform their work not out of a sense of ownership, but forced obligation. Especially in information work, which involves creativity, self motivation can make all the difference. 

Getting a new employee, and getting that new employee to the same level of productivity is a time consuming, costly, and indeed, risk ridden process, because the capabilities of a new employee are unknown. 

So, nurture your employees. 


 
 
In my many years of working, I have become a bit of a stickler for process, even process neurotic (which is a lot to say for some who is a disorganized bum at home).

The following are some some easy to digest reasons why process is important. I hope you will leave a believer:

Process saves time. In the absence of process, no-one is quite sure of what to do. When you are not sure of what to do, how you're supposed to do it, or even the importance of what you're doing, you end up wasting unimaginable amounts of time taking verbal instructions, annoying others with questions about what you're supposed to do next, finding your own way and getting it wrong, and then some. A classical "oh my god! oh my god!" headless chicken situation. Process lays out a clear template, and you can sure that you are doing the right thing, and your effort is directed to the right goals. 

Process is good for employees, and managers. In the absence of process, the blame game runs rife - You were supposed to do xyz!! (manager) How on earth could I have known! (worker) Besides I've got so much else to do!! (worker).

With process, managers know what their employees are working on, and when its supposed to be finished. Employees clearly know their responsibilities, and are accountable for them. All around transparency. Everyone is happy.

Process helps you track effort. Process helps you track effort, because tracking effort needs to be its own process. Process tells you what to do, and also captures how well you have done it. This needs to be analyzed periodically against targets and benchmarks, and processes, effort and targets need to be refined in case of deviations.

Process helps a company learn. Rather than expecting everyone to find their own best way, process universalizes best practices, which can constantly be improved upon. The company is in the process becoming better and more mature. 

Process is plans in action. The importance of planning in business cannot be stated enough (post on that coming soon). Plans allow you to step back, and assess short term and long term goals, and make sure effort is directed towards those goals. Process ensures that plans are implemented.

So process up folks!


 
 
You see a lot of talk, especially on the Ted Talk circuit, about the "future of learning". The growing consensus seems to be that the future will be a shift away from the classroom to the web. In many cases, it will simply be recorded video sessions where you can "pause your professor" and "rewind your professor". 

Most people who agree, don't see it just as a shift in dynamics (its easy, you have access to materials you otherwise never would, its often free) but as a desirable evolution of learning. Underlying all this, it seems to me, is the view that education is being usurped by stuffy professors and callous teachers, who want to inhibit the free dissemination of knowledge. 

I am not sure I agree. Learning, apart from the content itself, is also a human experience. It is about interactions with your teacher and your peers. When it is on topic, it helps you internalize and make memorable what was learned. Ideally, it is also about discussing things and opening new vistas, and taking the subject in a completely new direction. When it is off topic, it is still of value - it is about community. It is about an exchange of ideas, a spirit of questioning accepted principles, and friendships forged. 

It is true that much of learning today is regimented, and falls short of the aforementioned ideals. But online learning, which greatly lacks in this human element, is certainly not a substitute. An add-on maybe, but certainly not a replacement. 

I don't think people would want their children to learn from the computer screen.

 
 
Much as I'd hate to sound software-obsessed, one tool which I find indispensable in my daily effort is Powerpoint. What amazes me the most is the wide variety of things I can achieve with Powerpoint, much better than some tools which specialize in some of these tasks. And I can achieve it with extreme simplicity. 

In addition to gorgeous presentations, I can create infographics (example 1, example 2) and graphics, and website mockups, and even videos.

Sigh....Powerpoint.

 
 
It seems to me that a lot of "open workplace" initiatives are based on little more than the feel good factor. There will be no cubicles and closed offices, every unit will be a mobile unit, your CEOs office will be the computer chair right behind you - they tell you as they bounce a little. 

All these ideas rank high on happiness and fuzzy feeling but their practicability is highly suspect. The result will most likely be you trying to get your work done in a melee of people going every which way, making all sorts of noises, and indulging in all manner of office talk and you having barely a corner to escape to (we can only hope the open office initiative didn't extend to the restroom). Or holding your breath the entire day because the Big Boss sits right behind you.

So did all the money that was spent on the open workplace interior design, with its zany angles and post modern design, contribute anything at all? You might just as well as set up a bed in the office and let employees sleep for an hour at work. 

Companies bitten by the bug most likely move on to the next "open workplace" design. 
 
 
 
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So you think your boss is a doddering fool, and your subordinates are bunch of damn no-gooders. That attitude won't do. Some of us are quick to imagine ourselves as victims of a stupid world, and throw up our hands and sulk. 

Although this reaction to things might make us feel nice on occasion, in the end we hurt no-one but ourselves - work doesn't get done, relationships at the workplace, where we spend a majority of our lives, are frayed, and as a result, we find no joy in our jobs. 

In my experience, there are different sets of skills a manager requires when dealing with those higher up in the pecking order, and those lower. 

Those who manage you

Oftentimes, there are situations where you realize that you are in a better position to decide what course of action will add more value to the organization than your manager. There is something to be said about being closer to the line of work and being more in touch with your organizations needs. The danger is to fall in the trap of being passive (oh well, it's his responsibility to make decisions anyway) or reactive (I can't believe he manages me). The best way to react (I will resist the temptation to say "proactive") is something which may be characterized as give-your-boss-credit-for-being-reasonable-but-assert-yourself

I have seen this work wonders again and again around me. If you take the stance not of "my ideas conflict with yours" but "I have this great idea I would love to share with you". Your confidence and self assuredness rubs off on everyone, even your boss, if presented in a positive, impersonal and non obnoxious way. A strong magnet can align other magnets around it. I have seen people at relatively low levels of hierarchy take the company along with them merely on the basis of this ability. It may be summed up as being in control of your work environment rather than letting it control you.

The benefits are multiple - being more in control helps you enjoy your job more, your boss will be happy that you are self directing, your organization will meet its goals, and eventually it might result in professional growth. 

Those you manage

Organizational Behavior was one of my favorite subjects in MBA, and it is interesting that I see Theory X (employees are shirkers) and Theory Y (employees like work) played out at work on a daily basis. You see yourselves bounce back and forth between the two assumptions for the same person within a short span of time. While it is true that some people lean more naturally towards a Theory X or Y worker, you can definitely create conditions that your team leans towards Theory Y. 

The first thing is to assert yourself. It is natural for people to not want to work for someone they don't respect. Again, it is the same brand of positive, non-confrontational self assertion mentioned above. Once your team members have a sense that you are not someone who can be pushed around, you start to delegate, on the assumption that your teams want, and are capable of being self driven. No one wants to be micromanaged, but you need to set up systems initially that ensure that you have a way to track your teams' progress. After a point, you will likely see more trust build up, and your teams being increasingly self driven. 

Again, these are observations based on my experience, which may or may not resonate with you. But with positive vibes between you, boss and team, you will likely find you dread work a little less in the morning.