The disruption is prolific! I see its troublesome nature while walking my 2-year-old beagle, dining both at friends’ homes and in restaurants, in the workplace, during webinars and virtual meetings, even while on the road driving. It’s a relatively new disruptor, maybe two decades in the making. It significantly impacts social and professional engagement, concentration and focus, reality and truth, synergy and continuity, and emotional stability.
Much like the COVID-19 virus and how it progressed in our nation and the world, its reach is global. However, there is no vaccine to quell its disarraying effects and no life-saving medical procedure or drug to reverse its disruptive course. This technological virus is none other than the cell phone!
I contemplate in fascination how the cell phone and its peripheries have evolved and become permanent bodily fixtures or accouterments to our day-to-day attire. Earbuds and synchronized watches extend the cell phone’s autonomic reach. Surrounding each of us are its electronic sounds consisting of chirps, dings, pings, dongs, or when suppressing the noise, vibrations and banners kick in, notifying us of an urgent message that calls for our immediate attention.
Just like Pavlov’s dogs, we salivate, break concentration, and attend to some form of response, however trivial. I’ve been the cause of this disruption as well as the victim.
There are no doubts cell phones and their peripheries impact our individual and combined productivity. From a positive standpoint, they are information and communication accelerators. Message velocity in today’s world is exponential compared to my college days. At the hand, you can research and either affirm or deny critical information, map future geographic adventures, watch videos and televised breaking news, and play an endless archive of games and tunes. This message velocity and knowledge at hand increase the potency of our decision-making and the fidelity of our actions — organizational productivity and performance benefit, which results in better delivery of products and services to customers.
However, with this positive comes a significant negative, which is the disruption these devices are causing. I’ve sat with peers at board meetings where several executives have their cell phones at the ready, silenced but on vibrate, constantly checking and responding to messages. I’ve presented at in-person and virtual events where the audience casually checks, disengages from other speakers and me, and often responds to the anxious party on the other end of the communication link. And most disappointingly, I’ve observed families and friends at restaurants, theme parks, movie theaters, so intently drawn to their devices they ignore those they intend to spend time with.
Your cell phone can indeed be a significant disruptor to you and your organization’s productivity and performance at the workplace. It may disrupt your employees’ focus and concentration. What takes 15 minutes to perform a procedure as part of a production process extends by minutes because the employee responds to messages. If the incoming message stirs emotion, then the respondent’s mind is formulating and emoting over a comeback instead of the tasks at hand. Multiply that by 10, 20, 30 employees and that equates to hours of lost productivity over a day’s time.
Quality suffers, as does performance.
Organizational leaders are not immune from the disruptor. They, too, keep their device at hand and fire off nonstop prompts to their team members, checking, probing, questioning, and interrupting and disrupting the operational tempo and synergy of the company. They stop briefers mid-sentence so they can respond to a chirp, ding, ping, or dong and unsettle not only the briefer but also the audience in attendance. This behavior happens all too often, becomes a nasty habit, is mimicked by the leader’s subordinates, is inculcated into the organization’s culture, and productivity and performance suffer.
CEOs and organizational leaders leverage all the benefits of the cell phone and control not only your poor behavior but also establish standards that control the behaviors of your team. A directive like this is no different than stating you can’t nap or eat during a company meeting or use foul or lurid language when engaging teammates, or wear cutoffs and T-shirts at the workplace. Put the disruptor in its place. Silence it, turn it off, pocket or shelve it when you need to concentrate and focus on the task at hand or when you are enjoying the presence of family and friends.
People do as they see, and if you’re broadcasting poor cell phone use behavior, those who follow you will most assuredly do the same.
Cell phones and their peripheries impact our productivity and performance. They can be growth accelerators and decision-making enhancers when we control their use. Conversely, when uncontrolled, they disrupt and interrupt the upbeat operational tempo of the organization. Make cell phone control protocols part of your standard operating procedures and document them in your employee handbook. If you’re the CEO, by example, pocket or shelve your cell phone when engaging your constituents.
Model the behavior that inspires your team and others to thrive. This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now let’s get after it!
Retired Col. Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. Paul and Lisa mentor and coach business owners on leadership and management principles in achieving and sustaining their business growth and profitability goals. He can be reached at [email protected].