The article my group read this week was entitled ‘What Email Reveals About Your Organization’ by Peter Gloor. As you may have guessed, the primary purpose of it was to show the kinds of insights managers can learn by studying how their employees use email and some of the best practices associated with it. Peter has worked as a researcher for fifteen years studying various organizations through their social networks. His goal is to develop enterprise software that will allow organizations to track informal knowledge flows in the same way that existing software is able to track things like financial information or business process flows.
Since his studies often dealing with mining large email archives, he first pointed out the steps they take as researchers to quell privacy concerns:
- Commitment to doing anonymized analysis
- they aggregate results by team or business unit, only individuals can see their own communication patterns
- Restrict most content of our content analysis to email header information, which includes the sender, receiver, subject line, and timestamp
- Machine learning software analyzes message content for sentiment and emotionality
- Commitment to transparent communication with research partners and management
The article then went on to reveal the several indicators of effective collaboration the researchers discovered as a result of their analysis:
Type of Leadership
Instead of everyone in a group acting as a leader, for creative work it is more effective to have strong leaders that take charge of a group. Even more effective are groups of leaders that rotate depending on the specific project involved. Conversely, when dealing with work where reliability is more important than creativity, steady leadership is more effective than rotating.
There is a difference between information consumers and producers. Teams whose core members contribute a similar number of e-mails are more creative than when just a few members produce information. However, sometimes customers prefer to communicate with just a few members of a team rather than many.
The speed of response and the number of ‘reminders’ required to get a response tend to be good indicators of employee satisfaction and mutual respect. Happier customers tend to answer emails faster.
When analyzing message sentiment and emotionality, they found the more positive language a salesperson used with a customer, the less happy the customer. Employees likely to leave their jobs became less emotional in their emails, contributed less leadership in months leading up to departure.
High functioning teams define their own language. The more complex language a salesperson used, the more dissatisfied the customer. The more successful someone was in introducing new words to a team, the more influential that person was in the context of the group.
Finally, the article outlined a four-step process to improve the performance of organizations:
- Define social network metrics and communication patterns
- Compare structural attributes with business success
- Correlate indicators with success and failure metrics specific to the organization
- Mirror behavior back to individuals and teams
- Help improve employees, show them how they can improve
- Devise a plan to optimize communication for greater success
- Help managers figure out how to change employee communication behaviors to lead to better success in the future
Discussion and Analysis:
Personally, I didn’t really think the article was that groundbreaking. To me it seemed that the five ‘indicators of collaboration’ were all essentially common sense. Additionally, the article qualified each indicator to work in specific situations but several times said the opposite would work in a different situation. For example, in terms of participation level it said creativity is higher when all members of a team contribute equally but in certain customer service situations the opposite was true.
Going off of this, a point that came up during our group discussion was that no work situation could 100% fall into either a ‘creative’ or ‘reliability’ label. Every job would include aspects of both creativity and reliability, meaning the article’s findings are sort of moot.
Another point that came up in our group discussion was the study was leaving out the most valuable aspect of the e-mails. While we understood the privacy concerns associated with analyzing the actual content of the messages, at the same time we felt this content could reveal a lot more about the effectiveness of an organization’s social network and even an individual employee’s productivity. Going beyond just analyzing the messages for things like emotionality, we felt the study could have revealed a lot more had they not left out the message content.