The People / Fax Innovation Index (PFII) - Organisational Pace


I entered the corporate scene at a pivotal point in office communication technology. As an organisational psychologist it was a great opportunity to watch the impact technological change has upon people in a large organisation. The year was 1997 - the very point in time that most organisations lurched from the omnipresent fax machine into the brave new world of email (we called it 'electronic mail' back then). The fax machine burst onto the office scene years earlier with its seemingly magical ability to take a piece of paper and transmit it to anywhere in the world (provided the other fax wasn't engaged). 

I had often wondered whether the fax machine was inspired by Willie Wonka's chocolate factory - where an enormous chocolate bar could be sent across the room to a television set, from whence it could be retrieved, albeit at a smaller scale than when it went in (interestingly this is a very similar premise to "The Biggest Loser"). But then I looked it up on wikipedia and found out the fax predates the telephone (the fax patent was lodged 30 years before the telephone - makes you wonder what they plugged the fax machine into before phone lines).

Work was much simpler prior to the fax machine. Prior to faxes a typical day in a large organisation involved waiting for the internal mail to arrive, opening the three envelopes that did arrive, dealing with the three issues raised by the internal mail, typing up responses, and then dropping these back into internal mail envelopes (perhaps the same ones that came to you) to then become someone else's problem. 

The fax machine sped the whole process up, so problems could be distributed to others at any point during the day (again, provided the other fax machine wasn't engaged). You would simply queue up behind others, feed your page of problems into the machine, wait five minutes for the fax to connect and send, return to your desk, and then receive a call from the intended recipient to let you know that a blank page just turned up on their fax machine. You would then re-enter the queue for the fax, feed in the problem page again (face down this time), and your problems would travel along copper wires to become someone else's issue. 

Then along came email - effectively a fax machine on speed (albeit it speed running on Windows 3.1.1, but there was the very promising 'turbo' button on the front of the computer). And so came the death of the fax machine... or so you would think. But they still seem to be hanging around offices - gradually turning yellow and gathering dust, but still there. 

And so here comes today's challenge. I need you to gather two pieces of information - namely the number of people working on your floor, in your department or in your organisation, and the number of fax machines available to these people. The level at which you do this will depend on the size of your organisation and how "free range" you are allowed to be in your job before others miss you. A handy hint is to tell your manager that you've read about a new innovation index, and want to see how your organisation stacks up. That should confuse them long enough to buy the time you need. 

 Once you have this information, the PFII is relatively easy to calculate. Simply take the number of people and divide it by the number of fax machines available to the same people.

Figure 1 - Calculating the PFII: Impressive diagram stating the obvious
Once you've calculated your PFII, you can use the following table to work out what it means for your organisation.
Figure 2 - Meaning of your PFII score

So all of this highlights the increase in pace within organisations - from a handful of communications a day 15 years ago, to often 100 or more emails per day now... and yet organisations still hang onto fax machines. Similarly, while organisational pace has increased exponentially, our approaches to leadership and getting the most out of our people have remained pretty constant. In the coming blogs we'll continue to explore organisational change and what it means for leaders. The fax machine has moved - have you moved too?