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Email Writing

Message from the COO

Posted Apr 17, 2012, by Roy Speed

[This blog was inspired by the plight of a friend who works in a large IT services company: she's drowning in email, much of it poorly written or irrelevant to her job, and her management seems indifferent or oblivious. -- If you work in a large organization plagued by the kinds of email behaviors described below, feel free to share this blog with your management.]

A need for email leadership
To All Employees:

We have listened. We have heard you. From this day forward, our company has standards for all company email.

Many of you are wrestling with a daily influx of 80 to 100 email messages, some of you even more. Equally important, a significant percentage of that daily volume is either 1) unnecessary, or 2) poorly conceived or poorly written, shifting the writer's burden onto the shoulders of the recipient.

Poor decisions
I've heard from many of you about these matters, and what seems undeniable is that in email, we are routinely making poor decisions.

Poor decisions in email lead directly to unnecessary drains on our most precious and limited resource: the time and energy of our people. To illustrate:

  • Replying to All on routine meeting invites. In most cases, such replies are properly directed only to the individual coordinating the meeting. Replying to all invitees simply swells the inbox volume for all those people, obliging each person to make one more unnecessary decision: Is this important? Do I need to know this? Can I delete this?
  • Poorly written emails. All too often in our company, routine emails become a deciphering effort on the part of the recipient: What does this person want? What is she asking for? Is there something I'm supposed to do?
  • Incomplete information. In email, we routinely make requests of one another. But when such a request omits critical details, like a customer's account number, the omission delays our timely action on the request. It also forces the recipient into a new round of emails, replying to request whatever's missing, and then waiting for the critical information.

Bottom line: We're not investing adequate thought or care in our written communication. The result is wasted time and effort on a large scale.

New standards
We will soon be announcing new guidance for all company email. We will also provide training for both better writing and better decision-making in email. In addition, your performance in email from this day forward will be included in your performance review, and the colleagues with whom you routinely correspond will be given a voice in that review.

At the same time, I have an immediate request: Do not wait for these actions.

I'm asking that, beginning today, you begin to take better care of your colleagues. I'm asking that when you write, you --

  • give thought to your colleagues' need for clarity and completeness;
  • be mindful of how your message must be dealt with, make plain what you seek;
  • cc only those individuals with an actual need to know the contents of your message.

In our company, there's scarcely a project or a business process not dependent on the emails associated with it. Improving those emails will not only benefit us all, by speeding up our work and reducing our effort; it make this company an even better place to work.

Thank you.

The Chief Operating Officer (COO)



What actions would you like to see your management take with company email? What standards would you like to see implemented across the board? -- Leave us a comment, or contact me.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Our Email Writing blog is about getting your head screwed on straight about what it means to write effectively. It's also about getting more mileage out of email — using our time efficiently.

For issues related to email performance across organizations and business units, please see our blog on Email Leadership.

 

I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOURoy Speed

I'm eager to hear about your challenges with workplace email. I won't reveal anything shared in confidence without your express permission. Email me about any of the following topics:

  • the stakes — how costly email can be, what the stakes are in your job or in your company;
  • best practices — smart approaches, cool techniques;
  • academy-award-winning emails — messages you think embody effective communication (and it's okay if they were written by someone else);
  • email annoyances — things people do in email that bug you, and why.

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