Accessibility... (by John Richmond)
Today I am going to write about accessibility. I remember when we were talking about what our core values were back in 2007, that accessibility was a very important core value to me personally. The reason I thought this was because it seemed to me at the time that a lot of problems could be easily diverted by a quick response. I was having a conversation the other day with someone who said exactly the same thing; how nipping an email conversation in the bud before it spun out of control was a key role that they had as a manager and saved no end of work for them on the back end. My own experience was the same but also the feeling that lack of accessibility was often used as a 'badge' for how important someone was; with degree of importance having an inverse relationship to accessibility: that sort of thing always gets my goat.
I still think that accessibility is a very important core value for us for both these reasons but realise now that it has its downsides. That downside is directly related to another of our core values: sustainability.
I think we can all agree that it is much easier to gain immediate access to someone now that we have email, facebook, twitter and no end of other social media inputs. In GTD (getting things done) methodology this means we have an ever increasing number of inboxes demanding our attention. There is also a psychological imperative within us all to a lesser or greater degree that that immediate access somehow demands an immediate response. So, with an ever increasing amount of input with an ever increasing expectation of response: we can easily start drowning in a sea of unfulfilled internal commitments. Commitments moreover that no one else is particularly aware of and certainly wouldn't expect you to be losing any sleep over should one of them be from them. This is going on the assumption that most people want other people to be happy (that's right isn't it?).
So there are definitely pressures within that core value of accessibility: some people might just decide not to answer their emails and rely on the fact that if it was really important then that person would talk to them; others might just drown. Both would think, I suspect, that they were right and that the answer lay outwith their sphere of influence. But both are occupying a position that others would not think was sustainable in our current work environment.
The rest of us live in between these two extremes and are more or less successful at managing their accessibility. However, this is a moving feast and needs a step back to make sure that systems are still fit for purpose. I am, for instance, trialling not having my work emails on my phone to stop me looking at them ALL THE TIME! This is intensely irritating for my family and also doesn't make a lot of sense when I expect my children to be paying attention to me when I am talking to them - pots and kettles and all that.
I know Euan Lawson, one of our docs in Blackpool, has specific times in the day when he looks at his emails and I think this is a good system, but requires a particular mental discipline. One of the key things about this method is that you have to separate the thinking about emails, from the doing of the actions that come out of them If you start going through your list and responding to every thing in them - they never get finished. The key is to identify what action is required from a particular email and write that down on a list for time in the day when you are going to be doing, rather than just going through your emails. Some of them are quick, of course, and can be dealt with lickety-split, but again a mental discipline is required to not get sucked into responding.
There is emerging as I type, an imperative for accessibility in order for it to be sustainable. Accessibility does not equal a quick response. All our responses as a professional organisation dealing with relatively weighty decisions should be measured, thought through and remain true to our other core values.
So, guess what, I have matured a bit since 2007, no longer do I think that a lot of problems can be diverted by a quick response. I now think that a lot of problems can be diverted by a measured response (although sometimes that can be quick), and by making sure we are accessible as individuals and as an organisation we can project that confidence that all problems will be considered and that a solution will be found.