You can put an end to email insanity at your company, and our experience has taught us a lot about what it takes to succeed:
1. Your training
Your initiative will succeed only if your email training tackles the following challenges:
- Address current behavior. You cannot simply slather email training on top of the hundreds of counterproductive behaviors that currently plague your company. Your training must first make employees aware of their current email habits — and what those habits are costing your company.
- Replace counterproductive habits. When employees become aware of their unconscious behaviors, an opportunity appears: you can replace the old habit with a new routine. So for every counterproductive habit, your training must provide a new email standard or writing tool.
- Focus on decision-making. Traditional writing training will get you nowhere, because effective email is less about "wordsmithing" sentences than about making good decisions. Your training must emphasize clear thinking about a host of issues, like:
— whether email is the right medium (A phone call instead?);
— whom to cc: on any given message;
— the kind of business record that's needed;
— the appropriate length and level of detail.
There are two things management must do:
- Senior executives: Communicate conviction. Your executive team must communicate that new email standards are coming and the problems the company is trying to solve. At bottom, what's needed from your executives is real conviction. Without it, employees aren't likely to buy into the initiative — and their belief in the new standards is indispensable.
- Managers & supervisors: Coach employees on good decision-making. Most managers know email dysfunction when they see it, and it's likely that you already have managers and supervisors routinely coaching employees on email situations — like pointing out when email is the wrong medium (Pick up the phone!). Your new email standards will vastly enrich your managers' arsenal for effective coaching, and the more reliant on email your company is, the more critical that coaching will be.
3. The roll-out
Successful roll-out depends on three things:
- Speed. Your implementation must be fast — the faster the better, a matter of weeks. Bear in mind two points:
1) To change employees' habits, you need momentum, and you will achieve that momentum if you have lots of people having the same insights at the same time, trying out new things, and seeing immediate results.
2) When you implement new email standards across an entire division or your entire company, employees will see immediate results not just in their own writing, but in the beautifully clear, terse messages that start showing up in their Inboxes — which, for long-suffering victims of email insanity, is nothing less than thrilling.
- No turning back. All communications, all materials associated with your initiative must be uncompromising in their presentation of your new email standards: the new email practices must be positioned not as "best practices" or useful email "tips," but as company policy, as performance standards.
- Everyone on board. The surest way to kill your momentum is for one of your VPs to consider him- or herself exempt from the new email standards. Key principle: No one is exempt — not even the CEO. In fact, the CEO must lead the charge.
You must reinforce your training in all of the following ways:
- Reference tools & job-aids. Employees must have at their fingertips easy-to-use reference tools — reminders of the key email standards and writing tools.
- Refresher training. You'll need periodic "refresher" training that reviews the key principles and extends them to changing business conditions.
- Training for new hires. You must integrate your program on email standards into your training for new hires.
- Performance management. Email performance must be completely integrated with your performance management system. Expectations for email performance must be clearly set out in job descriptions, and email must be addressed in annual performance reviews.