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Effective Communication By Bandwidth

Choose your communication channel wisely.

Cerner Corp. CEO Neal Patterson probably wished he had when he fired off a message to senior managers at his medical software maker berating them for their work habits.

Cerner CEO Neal Patterson's Slip on Netiquette

Cerner CEO Neal Patterson's Slip on Netiquette

Excerpts of the email include:

“The parking lot is sparsely used at 8 a.m.; likewise at 5 p.m….

…As managers — you either do not know what your EMPLOYEES are doing; or YOU do not CARE.”

“You have a problem and you will fix it or I will replace you…

…What you are doing, as managers, with this company makes me SICK.”

The e-mail promptly leaked out onto the Web. Two weeks after Mr. Patterson sent the message, Cerner stock lost more than a quarter of its value (tens of millions of dollars) after investors became concerned about the company’s prospects and employee morale.

That story reminded me that when you are communicating in business (or for any reason), that you should pick your communication medium based on the sensitivity of the topic. The higher the sensitivity, the higher the bandwidth of communication.

Here are four examples of channels of communication and their relative bandwidth

  • In-Person (highest bandwidth)  — Use this for your most sensitive topics.
  • Telephone (medium bandwidth) — Use this as a backup for sensitive topics in the event you can not meet in-person with your audience.
  • Instant Message (lower bandwidth) — Use this for lower-sensitivty topics
  • Email (lowest bandwidth) — Reserve this for your lowest-sensitivity topics (unless it’s accompanied by a higher bandwidth in-person meeting)

Amazingly, Mr. Patterson is still CEO of Cerner today (8 years after the slip-up) — my hat is off to him for surviving such a firestorm.

What a survivor! — And Cerner generated $188 million in pre-tax profit in its most recent year on sales of $1.67 billion so I imagine he is doing something right!

1 Comment

  • The Dude

    /quote

    What a survivor! — And Cerner generated $188 million in pre-tax profit in its most recent year on sales of $1.67 billion so I imagine he is doing something right!
    /qhote

    “You’re not wrong Walter. You’re just an asshole. ”