Connected or addicted?

CIOs should turn their PDAs off once in a while

CIOs frequently invite me to give presentations to their management teams or to facilitate retreats. When I do, I'm always amazed by how many of the managers in those sessions feel compelled to answer their cellphones or monitor their "crack-berries" during those few short hours.

I could tell you that this is the cost of competing in the blistering marketplace of the 24x7 economy, that it's the inevitable result of globalisation or that the participants in those meetings are just important people. But I don't believe that pathological connectedness is caused by any of these things.

I suspect the managers stay glued to their phones and blackberries for several reasons:

1. Neediness Their staff needs constant access in order to to remain at peak productivity. They need immediate decisions and the boss needs a constant flow of information. Without access, work stops.

2. Responsiveness If the boss doesn't respond to the staff quickly enough, he will be viewed as aloof, uncaring or disengaged. Remaining in constant touch symbolises the value that the boss places on the staff.

3. Relationships The boss is at the centre of a network of relationships and must constantly monitor and manage the expectations of all the stakeholders. New technology has raised the expectations of the speed of communication, so he must respond to everyone immediately in order to maintain productive relationships.

While each of these has some validity, I suspect that they are more excuses than explanations. This sort of behaviour is really a symptom of a deeper problem: connection addiction.

This connection fixation has a number of causes. They include:

1. Ego What's better than having a constant line of people waiting outside your electronic door? It's very satisfying to be needed.

2. Mistrust of staff Many managers fear that if they are out of touch, their staff will be either unable or unwilling to continue working.

3. Sense of importance That feeling of being the indispensable man is a great high. It's great to be "in the loop" and constantly "in the know."

4. Confusion about the real role of a manager Too many managers have adopted the mentality of the preindustrial foreman. They think that the role of the manager in the age of knowledge work is the same as that of the overseer on a plantation: to stand watch over the workers and make sure that they're productive.

OK, you might say, hyperconnectedness isn't particularly useful, but where's the harm?

This addiction has costs for everyone involved — for the manager, the staff and the organisation.

For the manager, it leads to an unbalanced life. Everything takes on an unnatural sense of urgency and relaxing can be difficult.

For the staff, it creates a constant dependence on the presence of the manager and kills their desire to take initiative. They become much more concerned with carrying out the boss' orders than with meeting the goals of the organisation.

Finally, the organisation becomes fragile. If key players go missing, the productivity of dozens of people may suffer.

If you can't disconnect the electronic bands of connectivity for a couple of weeks or even for a few hours, you need to rethink your management approach. Hyperconnectivity could be a symptom of an important problem. Great managers create organisations that are resilient enough to keep moving ahead, no matter who is out of touch.

Glen is the author ofLeading Geeks. He can be contacted at

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