Under New Management

"At first blush, all of the ideas in this book will seem odd compared to business as usual, but the truth is that business isn't usual anymore."

- Under New Management, page 10

David Burkus is calling for a revolution. Burkus, the author of the wildly successful book The Myths of Creativity, acknowledges that many of the ideas in his new tome, Under New Management, may appear to be counterintuitive, but he wants you to hear him out.

The tantalizing chapter titles will give you a good indication of the changes Burkus wants you to make in your organizations: Put customers second, lose the standard vacation policy, pay people to quit, make salaries transparent, ban noncompetes, ditch performance appraisals, hire as a team, write the org chart in pencil, close open offices, take sabbaticals, fire the managers, and celebrate departures.

While many of these may seem farfetched if your organization is still running “business as usual”, give them a chance. As the venerable management thinker Gary Hamel so aptly reminds us: “If human beings could invent the modern industrial organization, then they can reinvent it.”

This summary focuses on something that we all struggle with on a daily basis–winning the battle against email pollution.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Email pollution

"In 2014 over 108 billion email messages were sent and received every day. Email occupies 23 percent of the average employee's workday, and that average employee checks his or her email 36 times an hour."
- Under New Management, page 17

It’s a safe bet to say that we all know the feeling of trying to conquer what often feels like an insurmountable mountain of email that is our daily Everest. When was the last time you saw a clean inbox? Can you even remember that far back? (Kudos to you if yours is empty now!) Thierry Breton, the CEO of Atos Origin, coined the term email pollution to describe the more than 100 billion emails sent every single day, the majority of which are business related. “The volume of emails we send and receive is unsustainable for business,” Breton said in an interview with Burkus. “Managers spend between 5 and 20 hours a week reading and writing emails.” Research has shown that email is not only distracting with a negative impact on productivity, but it also raises stress levels considerably!

“Think about what your inbox is,” says the CEO and founder of Evernote, Phil Libin. “Your email inbox is a list of things that you’re behind on, sorted in the wrong order. It’s not how you want to work.” Part of the reason we’re unable to get a grip on email is because, according to Jay Simon, president of Atlassian (a software development and collaboration tool) email wasn’t intended for the way we’re using it and wasn’t designed for “meaningful discussion”.

So how do we do cut down on email pollution and find more effective tools for communication in our organizations? Read on…

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Outlawing email

"When the company surveyed employees, it found that the majority of them felt that they couldn't keep up with their emails, that the time spent trying was time wasted, and that the effort to stay current with email kept them from dealing with more important tasks."
- Under New Management, page 14-15

Atos’s employee survey confirmed to Thierry Breton what he already inherently knew: that email just does not work. So he got rid of it. Outlawing email sounds pretty drastic, but it’s not. To be clear, Burkus isn’t advocating the outlaw of communication, which isn’t viable, but rather finding an alternative social networking tool.

“Unlike email,” Burkus says of social networking tools, “these communities are totally transparent, so newcomers can see all of the communication about particular issues. Like email, conversations are threaded so that newcomers to the community can see the past history of the discussion. Unlike email, however, conversations are not digitally pushed to employees’ inboxes, interrupting their focused work time. Instead, employees can choose to enter the discussion on their terms.”

He goes on to write that it “also makes it easier for employees to find needed experts, share knowledge companywide, and, most importantly, collaborate better.”

Here at Actionable Books, email has been a bit of a hot topic as of late, especially at our recent leadership retreat. As many of you know, Actionable operates entirely as a virtual business, so there is a lot of text based communication. While we haven’t moved to an “email-zero” policy, we have implemented Slack for internal messaging. While none of us would agree that is a perfect solution for our needs (unlike Atos we don’t yet have the resources yet to tailor a social networking tool to our unique needs), it has cut down dramatically on time previously spent responding to emails and I think most of my colleagues would agree that it has increased productivity.

Still not convinced on a total email ban? Why not implement a one week ban on email and see what happens. Or try insight #2.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Limited access

"Interestingly, other research suggests that limiting email checks to certain times is just as effective as banning it completely. A policy of moderation in email use might be enough to bring about the same decreases in stress and increases in productivity."
- Under New Management, page 20

This is good news if committing to completely outlawing email makes you nervous or just isn’t possible for you or your organization right now. You can still flirt with the idea—and achieve similar results—by limiting your access to email to a certain time each day.

A recent study by the University of British Columbia discovered what happens to employees when there is a limited-access vs. unlimited-email condition and the results were startling. “Similar to the no-email study, these researchers’ findings showed that participants reported significantly less stress when they were working under the limited-email condition than under the unlimited-email condition.” But the good news doesn’t end there: “When in the limited-email condition, participants also felt much less distracted and better able to focus.”

Limiting access to email is a practice I’ve been intentional about for awhile now. I tend to comb through my emails at the beginning of the day and respond to anything that requires my immediate attention, and then save the rest for the end of the day. While there’s certainly still room for improvement on my end (I do leave my inbox running in the background during working hours, for instance, which is a no no according to the book) I have found that it’s a big help.

The idea of outlawing email is only one of many innovative ideas David Burkus outlines in Under New Management to disrupt the 21st century workplace. All of the tools included in the book have the potential to truly transform your business if you’ll allow them.

To paraphrase the book’s subtitle, it’s time to upend business as usual.

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Andy Budgell

ABOUT Andy Budgell

Andy is the Managing Editor at Actionable Books. A graduate of the University of Waterloo's English Rhetoric and Literature program, Andy brings a love of words to Actionable, and complements the team with his distinct writing ability, amazing customer service, and a passion for film.
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