Your Responsibility to Communicate?

When is a problem ‘your’ problem. This is a very big question for whose of us, likely everyone, who work in groups. Most organizations will have some kind of hierarchy for reporting, but does this always represent the hierarchy for communication?

For instance, today Westlaw Canada, and according to some tweets Westlaw in the US, is having some technical difficulty. [Note: This is not a criticism. Anything delivered with technology will have some downtime.] Should this information be shared, with whom, when, and by whom?

My answer to the question is: Yes, with the people who use it, immediately, by me.

Why share information about temporary technical difficulties?

  1. It is important that people know why they are having a problem. Is it our internet router, it is a service provider, is the problem on the far end of the pipe
  2. People should know when they need to start with an alternate source
  3. Why waste users time having them try, fail, and report when you can easily inform them of a problem. If you tell people what is going on, you won’t here “I wish I had known that before my time was wasted”
  4. You never know how long a temporary problem will last
  5. If you tell someone what is going wrong today, they will be more likely to share future pain points that you may be able to solve for them

Who to tell? I tell anyone who used product in the last two months. A general email blast interruption is frowned upon at my firm. If a problem carries over a day, we have a daily email that is received by everyone and is intended as a catch all for communications. I repeat the problem message there.

When should you tell people there is a problem? My perspective is when it will have an effect on their work. If some thing is going to interrupt a persons normal workflow, they should be made aware of it.

Who should be the communicator? This is totally dependant on who ‘owns’ to piece that is having the problem. For today’s example, I am the account administrator for Westlaw Canada. The library ‘owns’ the product, we are the training point, the helpers with search terms, we share expertise with users. The library asks people to tell us when things are not going well as opposed to our IT Helpdesk support who have to deal with everything else. It is under the library responsibility umbrella, so I share bad news.

Here is my sample communication:

Sorry for the interruption.

Please be advised that Westlaw Canada is reporting slow page loading and white screen problems when delivering search results this morning. They are aware of the problem and are working on a solution.

If you would like to be advised when this problem is resolved, please click on the Yes voting button and I will let you know when it is fixed.

Thanks, Shaunna

I will also share the good news when it is back up, since this vendor will send me an email when things are working again. Thanks to those groovy Outlook voting buttons, I will share only with the people who care about this problem today rather than interrupting everyone with my good news.

As of 10:30 a.m. MST Westlaw Canada is stabilized though they have not received the All Clear from West.

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