Culture & Competency

The car manufacturer that sells highly desirable vehicles that most people will never own, has a highly undesirable email culture that most organizations would prefer not to own (Telegraph, Stuff). Ferrari is attempting to do something about it, and all kudos to them for attacking the problem. I question, however, whether it is going to do enough or take the right road.

When facing an ineffective email culture, one potential strategy is to minimize emails use for group discussions, which is the pathway Ferrari is planning to take. The intended mitigation, I read, is to encourage staff to talk more. I have no inside information about Ferrari’s plans, but I offer the following observations and raise the following concerns.

First, the mere sending of lots of email messages or email to many recipients isn’t necessarily a problem. If it is a problem – because messages are sent to people for whom there is no relevance – there needs to be a discussion about responsibilities, accountabilities, and sensibilities. Responsibilities because Ferrari staff are obviously unclear about what they are responsible for. Accountabilities because staff are also unclear about what information or decision deference they owe to other people. And sensibilities because a meeting with the right people in attendance, with a clear agenda, and a good facilitator will almost always yield a better result than a haphazard email sprayed on surrounding and unsuspecting co-workers. In other words, Ferrari first and foremost needs to increase the clarity of what people are responsible for.

Second, methodology and process count for a lot. If people are wasting time and being inefficient in email, removing email won’t magically resolve the wasting time and being inefficient piece. Do staff have a great way of getting things done? If not, a healthy dose of David Allen’s work should be ordered. Do staff know how to run highly productive meetings? If not, meeting training should be on order. What are the key methodologies required to create a great working culture at Ferrari? These need to be trained on.

Third, Ferrari is a commonly heralded case study for Microsoft regarding its effective use of SharePoint to power Ferrari’s public web site. While it doesn’t have to be SharePoint, Ferrari should place much more emphasis on creating new ways for internal people to collaborate without using email and meetings. In both cases, information is locked to an email thread or to the hearing of those in the meeting. With products / platforms available like SharePoint, IBM Connections, Yammer, Jive, NewsGator, and many others, there’s an opportunity to pull Ferrari’s people together in a way they can’t do currently in email, nor will they be able to do by resurrecting meetings. If done correctly, an enterprise collaboration platform (“social business platform”) would enable more people to know what’s going on in areas of interest / passion, as well as having better capabilities for running projects and keeping up with their responsibilities.

Finally, what IT prevents internally may just force a move to the outside. If Ferrari staff can’t use internal email to send a group message, perhaps they’ll just start using Gmail. Technologically-imposed limitations that don’t address the heart and soul create resistance that shifts the problem elsewhere.