I’ve spent the last couple of weeks interviewing countless numbers of engineers, developers, marketers, and help desk candidates. Of all the lessons I’ve learned from talking to these folks, one stands out: CIOs and senior executives still do a horrible job of adopting new technology.

I thought some of the Stone Age practices had disappeared, but I’ve been consistently amazed at the frustration expressed by these “junior” members of the technology ranks in organizations of all sizes. So how do you know if you’re in the Stone Age or the Internet Age? Ponder these two simple questions. And take it personally.

Do you live on e-mail?
I’m not asking if your secretary lives on your e-mail. I want to know if you open, read, and respond to your own e-mail on a regular basis.

I met with one person whose boss (the CIO) had never opened an e-mail message personally. His assistant opens his mail, prints it out, and hands it to him to read. He then writes the responses on the printed mail and then has the secretary type a response.

When he’s really busy, he asks the secretary to read it to him, and he dictates responses to his messages.

What kind of message does this send to his staff? His secretary? Do you think his employees feel comfortable sending him messages that may end up being discussed around the coffee maker amongst all the administrative staff?

This may seem like an extreme example, but we all do little things each day that undermine the effectiveness of our electronic communications strategy. Each paper memo that you send out says you’re more confident in your existing interoffice people-based mail system than your electronic one.

I’ve heard the excuses:

  • “Well, everyone doesn’t have access to e-mail.”
  • If you’re a believer in the medium, you’ll give everyone access to an e-mail account.

  • “What if someone doesn’t get to their mail in time to respond to an important issue or question?”
  • If they know that you use e-mail for all of your important correspondence, then they will make sure they check mail on a regular basis. You also have to make sure that you have configured your system to allow anytime/anywhere access via Web interfaces.

  • “I can’t make our CEO, president, executive staff or (insert nonconformist executive title here) use the systems we put in place.”
  • Then you don’t deserve the title of CIO. Don’t ask the executive management team to invest in a technology that requires immersion to be successful and then turn around and not insist that they use it religiously.

    Does your business depend on your calendaring system?
    Businesses have always depended on calendars. We use project calendars, conference room calendars, vacation calendars, personal calendars, desktop blotters with calendars, personal planners, and so on.

    Why are calendars so important? Because they represent the only fixed resource in a company’s fundamental business equation—time. Unfortunately, people are also very possessive of their time. They don’t want to give it up or allow someone else to control it. This is the root of what I call the “calendar paradox.”

    When most businesses put in electronic calendaring systems, they give everyone a personal calendar that they can maintain. Sometimes they also provide resource calendars to allow scheduling of conference rooms, projectors, or other facilities or equipment.

    Normally, they also provide the ability for people to see free and busy times for other people or resource calendars. And here is where the problem begins.

    We naturally assume that if someone’s calendar shows up as “free” for a block of time, then we can schedule a meeting for that time. So we send out meeting requests to all of the involved parties and then wait for everyone to respond.

    Inevitably, someone declines the meeting because they “forgot” to put something on their calendar. So here’s the paradox—when is time on the calendar actually “free?”

    It’s only truly free when your calendaring system is set up to automatically add an appointment request if the time shows up as “free” on your calendar. If your system is configured this way, then everyone is forced to manage their time wisely.

    When you need to set aside time to work in your office without interruption, you schedule it on your calendar. If you think you might be out of town two weeks from next Thursday, you go ahead and put it on your calendar (perhaps as a tentative appointment).

    Making this simple requirement of your scheduling system and its users means that all of your employees become highly motivated to manage their time using the calendaring system. It also sends a statement about your commitment to using technology to manage the business’ most important (and nonrecoverable) asset—its people’s time.
    Do you work with an IT executive that refuses to use e-mail? Do you know executives whose offices are holdovers from the Eisenhower administration? Post a comment or send us an e-mail.