No, it's not another bean counting column.
At the risk of using an overused word, it's about accountability.
We're fortunate to be living and doing business in one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world. And although our industry isn't known for its cutting edge use of technology, it still abounds with examples that make our daily personal and business lives more productive and easier.
Cell phones, assorted Berries (that I can't keep track of), wireless this and that, remote work stations (I'm writing this from home), electronic calendars, organizers, messengers, assistants, ad nauseum — I wonder, though, if sometimes this high-tech world breeds a bit of low tech reversion.
What happened to the simple times in business where documents and calendars were something you could put on one page, with no links and no reminders? I often tell the story (and I can't believe I'm old enough to be in the "story telling" population) of my first days in business in a rural enclave of South Dakota, when virtually everything we did was on a handshake and a nod of agreement. When you said something, you did it, and when you did something you admitted to it. (Attorneys were not allowed in South Dakota until this century!)
I believe we need to look seriously at what's happened to our personal accountability to ourselves, our associates and our customers. I don't believe it's okay to excuse any action or inaction by saying "I left you a voice mail" or "It was on the fax" or "Didn't you get my e-mail?" (although even that can be verified nowadays). What happened to looking someone in the eye, or at the very least, speaking to someone on the phone and saying "I understand and can do that" or "I know what you mean and will get that to you" —and then actually getting it to them! Actually demonstrating that understanding! Texting and e-mailing take civility and humanity out of communication; there's no inflection, no tone, no audible emphasis.
I ran a construction business in the aforementioned rural enclave, and guess what — no cell phones, no faxes, no instant messaging, no pagers. We made commitments. We did what we said. We kept appointments because we knew someone was counting on us. Sure, we were just simple farmers, but a word was a word, a commitment a commitment. We just did it.
I'm the first to admit that I am an e-mail adherent and love its ease of use and accessibility. But we shouldn't make the mistake of hiding behind it when we don't want to face an issue, threat, client or associate. Simply leaving a voicemail is not the same as getting an acknowledgement or acceptance. Entering the date on your PDA is not the same as committing the time. A text message response is not a handshake.
I'm not advocating a return to Pony Express and an indelible "X" as your marker, but I am advocating affirming and confirming things in person — bringing humanity and emotion back into transactions and relationships. And I'm all about doing what you say, and saying what you do. But go ahead, e-mail me a response!
I remember a plumbing trade I used to work with, and his favorite (and only) response when I notified him (in person) of a meeting or a job start was "OK, I should be there, but call me again." The again was either in the morning, or a day later, or the next afternoon. So, if he got the message, why did I have to call again? So he could make a commitment!
It became my job to update his calendar to make and meet commitments, with the excuse implied that with a cell phone, there was no need to make a scheduled appointment.
That to me is a classic example of technology making us mentally lazy and irresponsible — and shifting our own accountability to others.