|by Nick Charney|
Imagine for a second that you are a Deputy Minister, a good one.
The demands on your time are relentless, your waking hours finite.
Through a combination of skill and luck you've managed to carve out time for both strategy and tactics across the policy and operational elements of your job while balancing the short, medium and long term health of the public institution with the which you were entrusted.
You are proud of your organization and actively want to set the tone of your organization. You want to be nimble, forward leaning, and innovative.
Now pause for a moment and think about what that actually looks like and more importantly what tools are are at your disposal to make good on that desire?
Whatever you are envisioning probably boils down in some way, shape or form to a means communicating; be it the vision, the conviction, or the burning platform, communication is key.
Now consider specifically the communication channels (tools?) that you have at your disposal: electronic communications (email, pre-recorded video and audio, social media, etc) and face to face communications (that in real life (IRL) type stuff). Each of which has their own strengths and weaknesses.
Where do you invest your effort? Tough question, especially when you think about the trade-offs with respect to units of inputs (effort) versus outputs (results).
Here's how I see it
Electronic communications channels are low cost channels. They can be easily delegated (sent on behalf of), do (should) not require significant effort, scale easily, have wide reach but are also incredibly ineffective. Electronic channels may have a low barriers to entry but they are also flooded with competition, subject to user filters and preferences, and poor attention spans. Moreover, the more these channels are used the less important they seem (akin to when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority).
IRL communication channels are high cost channels. They cannot be effectively delegated, the require time (our most precious resource), don't scale easily, have narrow reach (e.g. the room) but are also incredibly effective (body language is 90 percent of communication). IRL channels have higher barriers to entry but are far less competitive (there is only one Deputy in the department); they are still however subject to filters, preferences, and attention spans.
All this to say, that Deputies -- even good ones like you -- have terrible options when it comes to communicating leadership and vision to their organizations. Traditional management cascades may be easy to rely on but are akin to a game of telephone and break down easily (frequently). All it takes is one link in the chain for the messaging to break down or be misinterpreted. Time invested in IRL communications likely pays greater dividends but comes at the opportunity cost of doing other things and/or the reputational cost of being perceived as not doing enough of those the other things.
It's a bit of a rock and hard place, something that I hope savvy Deputies are paying attention to (they likely know this at least intuitively) and something that we all need to put more thought into if we want to turn the cultural corner that renewal initiatives like Blueprint would have us turn.