Third Phase Coaching | Blackberryitus – The malign influence of smartphones on staff and leaders


Blackberryitus – The malign influence of smartphones on staff and leaders

25 Aug 2017, by Dave Paton in Harrison

Remember back in the 90s, before we all had email and internet access at our desks? What did managers and leaders do before they went away on holiday? There was probably a frenzy of trying to clear their desk – often by delegating with a brief and hurried explanation of what was needed.

Probably still at their desk long after other staff had left, the few remaining tasks would be put into the internal mail with scribbled instructions. With a satisfied look at their miraculously pristine desk it was out to the car park with a sense of accomplishment and the freedom of knowing they were out of contact for the next 14 days.

And what was the effect on the lucky recipients of all these critical tasks? Well – always assuming they actually wanted to support their boss rather than sow a minefield for their return – they pretty well had four options.

Do what they had been asked to do and put it back in the boss’s in-tray.
Find they didn’t know what to do and put it to one side and wait for the bosses return.
Use their initiative and see if they could solve whatever the problem was.

And they had exactly the same choices with new problems that came up while their manager was away.

What was the critical factor that decided which option they chose and how successful they were if they used their own initiative? Not experience, not qualifications, not even pay grade. The crucial factor was how well they knew and understood their boss – and particularly how much that boss trusted them.

All this comes back to the way we recruit or promote staff in organisations. Most of our efforts are put into finding the right qualifications and quantifiable experience that matches the need of the role. How eligible the applicants are for the post. Yet the new hire, regardless of the job, needs only three things to fit in.

They need to have the basic skills essential for the job. (No good hiring a bus driver if they can’t drive)
They need to be self motivated and able to work things out for themselves. (You took them on because you were all flat out, who has the time to nursemaid?)
They need to have the wit to know when their out of their depth and to ask for help. (A need that should decrease rapidly as they gain experience)

In other words it’s not eligibility that determines their success. It’s suitability. Attitude will trump qualifications every time.

What’s the risk with initiative? That they’ll get it wrong. Or more probably – won’t do it the way the boss would have done it. (they might have done it better – but how many superiors will want to admit that?) If you get things wrong your bosses trust, your confidence and even your career can suffer.

And then along came the Blackberry. With it’s incredible ability to let you read and reply to all your emails wherever you were in the world. The perfect tool to reinforce the bosses hero image of himself as the only one with the answers – and for staff to cover their backs by asking for direction or just using the malevolent cc box when writing their emails.

A serious Blackberryitus outbreak will stop staff growing their skills and confidence, make sure there is only one way to do things – the bosses way – and stop the manager learning how to delegate successfully. Not to mention the affect on holiday and family life that having this irreplaceable person checking their emails all day long will have.

There’s an old story about the Director of a large firm who came back of holiday to find that one of his managers had taken a decision that resulted in a significant financial loss for the department. Calling him into the office the Director asked him to explain himself. And he was very specific about what he wanted.

  • What were the circumstances?
  • What did you do and why?
  • What have you learned?
  • What would you do in these circumstances next time?

After a pretty intense 45 minutes the manger was sweating heavily and expecting the worst. When the Director told him to go back to work he burst out ‘aren’t you going to sack me?’ To which his boss replied-

‘Why would I do that – I’ve just spent £8,000 training you?’

If you want both managers and staff to become more self-reliant please contact us

And if you’d like to know how to recruit staff with both the eligibility and suitability for the role, please download this white paper from Harrison Assessments.


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