Less Is More: Dr. Diane Gayeski and Information Overload

The National Association of Government Communicators’ (NAGC) 2011 Communications School is a unique training event dedicated to helping government communicators hone their skills. The event will include featured speakers with diverse expertise in the field of communication.
Diane M. Gayeski, Ph.D., Dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College, will be giving a keynote speech at the NAGC Communications School called “Less is More: the Threat of Information OVERLOAD.”

Doctor Gayeski is internationally recognized as a scholar, speaker, consultant, futurist, and educator in strategic communication and learning. She is Dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College where she has been Professor of Strategic Communication since 1979. She is the author of more than 100 articles and 14 books, some of which are the principal texts used in undergraduate, graduate and corporate curricula in corporate communication, human resources, and instructional systems design.

I had the opportunity to learn more about Doctor Gayeski and her topic of information overload:

1. Could you tell us a bit more about your topic of information overload and your experiences with it?

I’m a consultant, scholar, and professor of communications and in my experiences with many clients, I’ve found that so much of the great information that gets produced never gets processed well — or in some cases, even seen at all. So not only is a lot of communication wasted, it’s actually DETRIMENTAL to organizations. Much current research says that mistakes and poor performance happen now more frequently because of info overload than from a LACK of info.

2. How have you seen information overload impacting an organization?

In may organizations, employees become overloaded and make mistakes, get distracted from what they should be doing, and get mixed messages. It leads them to ‘shut down’ or in some cases actually quit.

3. Can you tell us a bit more about your “performance engineering” technique? How did you develop it?

My Ph.D. is in educational media which is based in proven theories about how people learn and why they behave the way that they do. My degree and consulting work also focuses on management theory and organizational communication. From all of these, I’ve been able to develop techniques to rigorously define performance gaps in measurable and objective terms, and to analyze the root causes of those gaps and then find appropriate solutions. Generally, for significant challenges in organizations, there are multiple causes and a coordinated “suite” of interventions is necessary.

4. What are examples of this tactic’s success?

One of my clients was having performance problems with their phone customer service reps not being able to correctly understand the customer’s problem and interpret rather complex governmental rules that would apply. By the time I was called in, they had increased their training to 16 weeks before a rep could actually get onto the floor and start working. I sat in on about an hour of the training, and was completely overwhelmed myself.

The underlying problems were several: first, they were hiring the wrong people for the job. The most significant job screen was a typing test. Although the reps DID need to use a keyboard to access info on the computer, an ability to empathize with customers AND an ability to read and solve complex problems was much more important. So the first thing we did was to revise the employment ads and screening processes. Second, the policy manuals were complex and very difficult to access and update. We developed a much more user-friendly method of indexing and finding related content. Third, we needed to get reps onto the floor more quickly since many of them actually dropped out part-way through their training class. We instituted a way to gradually let them work on easy tasks while being mentored, and we developed a checklist of job duties for them to watch and then practice with a mentor– so at least they could be successful at completing some basic tasks immediately.

We were able to get people up to speed more quickly, reduce turnover, and reduce the training time — all adding to the bottom line of making this agency much more effective in terms of customer satisfaction and cost.

5. Could you tell us more about Gayeski Analytics?

My firm helps clients to analyze and adopt new methods for communication and training to improve organizational performance. Although I am the project lead, I work with a group of long-time professional colleagues who can work with me on certain aspects of client engagements. I’ve been doing this for 32 years and have completed more than 350 projects for clients including the US Navy, Bank of Montreal, Sony, General Electric, IRS, Abbott Diagnostics, the Sacramento Dept of Public Works, and Fiat. I also have always held a full-time academic appointment — first as a professor and now as the Dean of the Roy H Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. I tell people that through Gayeski Analytics I’m able to practice what I preach.
Be sure to check out more information about the NAGC and the NAGC 2011 Communication School.

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