Curing My E-mail Addiction: The Revelation

Recounting the exact time that I realized I had a problem.

MNR_squareExcerpted from my forthcoming book, Message Not Received: Why Business Communication Is Broken and How to Fix It.

Headquartered in the bucolic town of Cooperstown, New York, a stone’s throw from the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, Bassett Healthcare is a three-hospital network of primary and specialty care providers. The organization employs about 4,500 people and, in the late 1990s, began pushing the limits of its legacy enterprise system. In 2000, Bassett purchased and successfully deployed the Lawson Software enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

In 2007, Bassett decided to upgrade its time-and-attendance application. Lawson had launched a new application called Absence Management. This coincided with the eventual retiring — or, in industry parlance, the decommissioning — of its predecessor, Time Accrual.

Bassett needed someone to lead the upgrade and, as it so happened, I was a very experienced consultant with the Lawson HR suite. I had even helped a similar healthcare organization perform the same upgrade earlier that year. For four months in 2007, Bassett contracted me to do the same.

Over the course of my time at Bassett, I worked on-site for four days each week. I trained employees in the new application, configured it, tested it, created user guides, validated results, loaded data, investigated issues, called in support requests, participated in meetings, and ultimately hit the switch. You could say that I was a jack-of-all-trades, a human Swiss Army knife.

Once I activated the new Lawson Absence Management module, there was no going back. (The specific details aren’t terribly important here.) Bottom line: That bell couldn’t be unrung.

Bassett consisted of three disparate legal entities. Because of that and some system considerations, I had to perform the final data conversion and system activation three times, each in a separate production or live environment. In so doing, I would be generating hundreds of thousands of transactions that would affect the holiday, sick, and vacation time of more than 4,000 active employees — and twice as many former ones.

Adding to the complexity, I would be activating Absence Management during business hours. IT certainly wasn’t about to revoke everyone’s system access just for me, and therein laid a problem. Because dozens of Bassett’s HR and payroll employees could concurrently access Lawson with me, they could unknowingly create issues that would complicate or even derail the migration altogether.

I knew that timely communication would be essential for a successful upgrade, a point that I made during the final few meetings before we went live.

It’s Go Time

I arrived in the office before 7 a.m. on activation day. I was prepared to face the challenges that lay ahead. Over the course of the eight-hour conversion, I did my best to keep everyone informed, via e-mail of course. I diligently advised Bassett senior management and anyone remotely involved of my progress. My long, incredibly detailed e-mails explained how the last step went, what I was doing now, and my next course of action. In short, I tried to follow the Golden Rule. I wanted people to know exactly what they were and were not supposed to do — and when.

I thought that my e-mails were as clear as possible. In reality, though, I was only confusing people. They simply couldn’t handle the volume of detail-laden messages I was sending. At one point, a Bassett employee named Julie visited my desk, unsure about the current status of the migration.

I thought that my e-mails were as clear as possible. In reality, though, I was only confusing people.

“Didn’t you get my e-mail?” I asked, a bit perplexed at how she could possibly be in the dark after my exhaustive communications efforts.

“Which one?” Julie chuckled.

At that moment, I had my revelation. Julie was absolutely right. In two words, she showed me the error of my ways. Yes, my heart was in the right place; I was just trying to keep everyone informed — really informed. In doing so, however, my actions were having the precisely opposite effect. I vowed from that point onward to change how I communicated. I would send less e-mail.

Just to finish the story, the upgrade went off without a hitch. Everyone was happy, and I returned to Bassett a few years later to do some additional work.


Originally posted on Medium.

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