On a number of occasions some graduates appeared to think that just sending emails was a sufficient means of communication to get things done. And then appeared puzzled and not a bit irate that their requests were ignored. Some graduates had to be badgered to go and meet people in person or, failing that, pick up the phone and talk to them so that a two-way flow of communication can be established.
By the time I retired, I had a well-established routine for keeping communication channels open, which meant that before I got to work on a project with another person or group of people, we had at least one meeting with the specific intent of establishing the framework of the project. In the end this was the only type of meeting I still attended – as far as possible I tended to avoid general meetings where you only were participating for part of the meeting and be a passive audience for the rest.
After the initial setting of the meeting, subsequent communication was either verbal (person-to-person or over the phone, depending on whether you were in the same building or not) or by email – the latter either to confirm the detail of what had been agreed, or if you couldn’t get hold of the person at the time. And if you didn’t get a reply to your email, then you followed up to make sure it hadn’t got lost in the other person’s in-tray.
It wasn’t always like this. Especially making the transition between leading a team in Iscor and doing the same at Tinplate R&D (during the intervening period at Allied Steel & Wire I had no such responsibilities) was a bit of a culture shock. This was all before email became ubiquitous (at Tinplate R&D only the manager and the team leaders were granted a works email address), and my habit of sending memos and landing them on people’s desks (which for some reason or another appeared to be an acceptable way of doing business in Iscor) came across as overly official, rather than as documents for discussion. Also, the weekly meetings to keep track of various projects, which worked so well in Iscor, were seen as repetitive, boring and not very inspiring – in fact, just the type of meeting I would later avoid as being a waste of time.
I assume that I must have gradually altered my ways when in Ebbw Vale, because once I started work in Llanwern I had already established my modus operandi as described earlier. I’m not aware that I fully understood what I had done wrong in my first years in Tinplate R&D, but something must have sunk in in the background because now on reflection I can see that merely transferring what worked in Iscor to a different environment and culture was at best rather naive.
The lesson I’ve learnt is that talking to people gets things done. It may be supplemented by something in writing, but without the personal touch you just make things hard for yourself.