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Here’s a little irony: Our attempt to set up an interview about changing an email culture to a SharePoint culture came via … email. We couldn’t resist. 

And now we’ve scored another point for the king of electronic communicators, which every day steamrolls the competition by billions of messages:

  • Tweets per day in 2012: 400 million
  • Facebook likes: 2.7 billion
  • Email messages: 144 billion

It’s not a fair fight. 

Organizational Culture Change

Robert Bogue, the SharePoint Shepherd, cited those numbers in his presentation at the SharePoint Technology Conference in Boston this week. We followed up with Bogue after his session, in which he called on organizations not to do away with email but use it -- and SharePoint -- effectively and in better harmony.  

That, Bogue says, means creating a major organizational culture change that involves many company stakeholders, and not just IT.

“This is about using email appropriately and using SharePoint appropriately,” says Bogue, who adds that our email to set up a follow-up conversation for this piece was “perfect” because it established a connection.

“Using it to pass documents back and forth?” Bogue adds. “Less perfect.”

Recognize the Email Addiction

Email addiction is no different from an alcohol addiction or organizations. It’s compulsive behavior, one that controls you and often cannot be stopped, Bogue says. However, steps to recovery exist, and that starts with accepting and identifying that you have a problem.

What are the signs? Do you see email chains with more than 10 “reply all”s and no meeting established? Do you pass around documents at random via email? 

“If you have an email thread with more than 10 replies you should have a meeting,” Bogue says.

Organizational Expectations

And what about the organizational message? Does your organization communicate an email response expectation? No expectation means erratic communication and unpredictable response rates. Or, perhaps even worse, the perceived organizational expectation for email response may be instantaneous.

What then? You’re buried in email all day. Is that the most productive scenario?

“Any time you’re interrupted, it costs you 15 minutes,” Bogue says. “It takes you 15 minutes to recover. As it pertains to email, corporations have failed to set up and establish guidelines to what responsiveness to email should be. For me, email is to be responded to within a day. If you need an answer in an hour, don’t use e-mail. The core problem is we use it for everything. … It’s become impossible for people to manage these interruptions.”

Steps to Recovery

For CIOs, organizational changes are not a forte. Are they for anyone, really? The first step when trying to encourage a SharePoint environment vs. an email one is to build a coalition that will communicate and share a vision and get people on board. Get HR involved, and develop a plan for increasing employee productivity.  

“Most people are not trained in organizational change,” Bogue says, adding that should be an initial step for the top stakeholders. “Go seek out help.”

Establish communication expectations -- and execute them. Perhaps ban Blackberries in C-level meetings to send a message to stay focused and to reduce the responsiveness expectations. Communicate to managers that expecting email responses within an hour is not part of the organizational policy.

Be Helpful During Shift

To help establish change, Bogue cites "Diffusion of Innovations" and how it says change can occur when something is easy to adopt, not too complex and compatible with what people are doing already. 

“If I’m going to transform behavior, I need to get the barriers out of the way,” Bogue says. He distinguishes these barriers by “initial” and “friction,” citing the book “Demand.” Initial hurdles are easy to get over. They are basics like getting users started.

However, “friction” barriers drive users away from new tasks because they are cumbersome. If they’ve tried to upload a document to SharePoint for 20 minutes, they may jump overboard and go back to an email attachment.

Avoid the Friction

It’s up to organizations to advocate change by making things easier, Bogue says.

“The more friction you have, the greater rate of abandonment,” Bogue says. “It’s not that people aren’t using SharePoint; it’s that they didn’t stick with SharePoint.”

Talk about the benefits of using SharePoint; i.e. one document for major proposals, acquisitions, etc., rather than the risk of multiple documents being emailed from here to Australia.

“You’re never going to send an outdated version to a client with SharePoint,” Bogue says.

No Easy Task

Email and SharePoint -- one isn’t better than the other, Bogue says. Rather, it’s up to organizations to implement a “shift in thinking” that email is about communication, whereas SharePoint is a repository. Email’s a push. SharePoint’s a pull, he says.

“What percentage of the last 50 messages in your inbox could be better served in SharePoint?” Bogue encourages organizations to ask.

Ultimately, if you’re trying to reinvent the dynamics of email and SharePoint use in your organization, know this: “Don’t believe it’s easy to change the culture, because it isn’t,” Bogue says. “It’s not easy at all -- but it can be done.”