Neen James

James: Technology Both a Valuable Tool and ‘Incredible Distraction’

The omnipresence of social media makes it harder than ever for CU professionals to use their time effectively.

October 26, 2015

Many years ago, the average adult attention span was seven minutes. Today it’s nine seconds

Productivity expert, leadership mentor, and motivational speaker Neen James cites this startling fact as an example of how new technology has changed how we learn, think, and work.

James, who’ll address CUNA Experience Learning Live! in Las Vegas Oct. 25-28, doesn’t discount the many ways new technologies benefit our society.

She cautions, however, that technology can also dramatically affect productivity for leaders, trainers—and the entire credit union.

James says the ability of technology—social media in particular—to divert our attention is the biggest threat to achieving productivity. She says we all need to pay closer attention to each other and our members.

“It used to be that people would go to the credit union, do their work, and go home—almost like an on-off switch,” James explains. “Now, people are connected 24/7, and while social media is a fabulous tool, it’s also a big distraction.”

The omnipresence of social media in modern life—coupled with our shortened attention spans—makes it harder than ever for credit union professionals to stay focused and use their time effectively.

James says distractions have become so pervasive that, in training sessions she has sat in on, even the trainers were checking Facebook during instruction.

“Technology has changed the pace at which we work,” James says. “Time frames have shortened and expectations have increased,” a phenomena which makes staying focused more important than ever.

James places the duty of establishing a responsible technology culture on credit union leaders. “One of the jobs leaders face is to role model productive behavior and not be connected to their devices or email all the time.”

A supplement, not a replacement

Training is another area where James believes technology might be unproductive if not well facilitated by professionals.

She says trainers’ must be able to combine technology with a personal approach to appeal to all learning styles. Some people prefer conversation, others prefer role playing, and some enjoy online learning modules.

“I always ask trainers to investigate before they start, to understand how their students learn,” she says. “Are they visual learners, kinesthetic learners, audio learners, experiential learners?”

James says trainers need to develop their instruction around participants’ learning styles instead of relying solely on one form of learning, such as a seminar, online courses, or group work. Most audiences require a combination of all delivery styles.

If students are inclined towards online training, James says these programs are a great value add and will increase learning if access to live facilitators can be provided.

“You’ll never be able to replace face-to-face learning,” James asserts. “Learning is about more than just content. People learn through the experiences, the stories, the body language, the signs and the networking with others. All of those different cues are important.”

This human interaction, James says, is a fundamental component of learning. In her view, computer-based training doesn’t provide the personal dynamic between teacher and student that facilitates great learning. But it is an efficient tool, especially for remote locations or for programs that require compliance and consistency.

Because people spend so much time at their computers, online training can feel less individualized than face-to-face instruction. Facilitators need to be aware of this to ensure it is a strong compliment rather than the only delivery method.

“In my experience, people who are learning online might check boxes rather than really engage with the material,” James explains. “People occasionally put off completing online programs until their bosses force them to do it—and then they just rush through it!”

In this case, training is just another task rather than another learning opportunity.

James doesn’t deny the positive attributes of technology. She says online learning is powerful and productive because it reduces costs and time commitments.

Ultimately, James advocates a measured approach, one that effectively uses new technology without allowing it to become a productivity-killing distractions. For her, it all comes down to one key issue:

“What we really need right now is discipline,” she says. “People simply need to get into a habit of setting priorities and meeting them.”

James will discuss “The Super-Productive Leader” at CUNA Experience Learning Live!, which runs Oct. 25-28 in Las Vegas.