We believe that continued use of email is undermining Boards’ ability to Govern effectively. Whilst email isn’t going to disappear, the move by teams in forward-thinking companies to more efficient and purpose-built tools for business collaboration, has already happened.1
So what’s wrong with email and what’s the next move for Boards in the post email era?
In a recent discussion paper the PLSA (Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association) state that inputs (namely resources and structures) rather than outputs (processes) should be the focus for improving governance within trustee boards.
“Skilled trustee boards, with a rounded set of collective knowledge and experience and the cognitive diversity that this brings, supported by a properly-resourced executive function, are the foundation of good governance.”2
Indeed the need for boards to evolve is paramount – something we touch on in our recent article It’s time for Boards to fully embrace digital transformation. Yet underpinning all of these resources and structures remains a shaky foundation.
We are all frustrated with email, whether we realise it or not.
Email is the major artery of communication amongst boards and advisers but it is well understood that the platform was never intended to be the backbone of business collaboration. Most people, knowingly or not, hate it yet it has become irreversibly intertwined with our lives – as the psychologist Larry Rosen states “we may despise our inboxes, but we’re neurochemically compelled to make sure that there isn’t something potentially important lurking in there”.3
Inefficient and time wasting, it undermines the board’s resource
Checking email has become an exceptionally time intensive task: a McKinsey Global Institute study found that the average person who uses email for their main mode of business communication, spends 28% of the working week reading, answering and triaging messages.4 Unfortunately over half of these may not be directly relevant to them – think ‘catch all’ addresses or thoughtless cc’ing.5
A further 19% of the working week is then spent searching for and gathering information within the inbox. Combined, this results in only half the week left for their own specific roles and tasks.
Inefficient and endless inboxes, waste trustees' time and impact good governance.
Additionally the incessant distraction of incoming email can result in 16-20 minutes of unproductive re-focussing time. With an average 600 emails received every week and a tendency to check email multiple times a day, this amounts to 10s of hours of lost productivity, thanks to the ping of a notification.6 As historian and author Yuval Hurari notes, “in ancient times having power meant having access to data. Today, having power means knowing what to ignore”.7
The attention grabbing, newest first, experience of email inevitably impacts an individual’s ability to perform and just as workers are finding more efficient ways to collaborate, so must boards.
Information overload and memory loss are undermining a board’s structure
Undoubtedly the information that resides within inboxes is critical for the board in both the short and long term. Everyday information is being transferred and the amount of information flowing into inboxes between trustees and from advisers is only increasing.8
Indeed, today’s clichéd notion of ‘information overload’ is perhaps most pertinent to boards. Trustees are overwhelmed by emails, documents and decisions, grappling to determine what to prioritise, particularly when catching up on board activity in the evenings or on weekends or switching focus from one board to another. Arianna Huffington describes it best – “we’re drowning in data but starved for wisdom”.9
Ever increasing information across numerous systems and inboxes is unscalable and inappropriate for modern governance.
By its design, Information in email is also scattered across individual inboxes and increasingly now across WhatsApp and adviser implemented secure messaging or document storage platforms. Reliably searching for information is unsurprisingly getting hard but perhaps more detrimental is the long-term memory loss caused as people, whether a director or advisers, leave or are switched.
Inboxes are individual silos of information and therefore move with each person rather than with the board. This leads to loss of information and knowledge or ‘board amnesia’, where the memory of decisions and important junctures in a board’s history are misplaced or forgotten.10
It is in response to these issues, which undermine a board’s ability to leverage its resources, that we created Knowa.
In the second half of 2018, Knowa delivered nearly 50,000 messages to people through its platform. This is 50,000 fewer interruptions and 50,000 fewer emails sitting in an inbox needing to be sorted, archived and searched for resulting in a 10x increase in efficiency and collaboration.
The PLSA suggests that if the Trustee Board is filled with “the right people, situated within an appropriate and accountable structure, this maximises the likelihood of good decision-making, leading to good outcomes for scheme members”.11
We suggest that if boards and advisers ground themselves with the best foundations for long term efficiency and structure, this goal for better governance becomes attainable.