Judy Dobles, General Management Consulting YOUR TOUGHEST BUSINESS CHALLENGES SOLVED.

Recent Posts


  • Supervisors – help solve e-mail overload

    Recently, I have read with interest several posts about e-mail and how much of it is a waste of time.  The posts “griped” a lot about e-mail but failed to address the fundamental issue.  Supervisors must help their teams solve e-mail overload.  The role of supervisors is to understand the day-to-day operational issues facing their teams and, once understood, take the action necessary to solve them.

    To illustrate this point, I would like to share a real example from my time as the Regional Finance Director of Europe for a Fortune 500 company.  There were 500 people in the organization and I had 20 direct reports, representing every western European country.

    At one staff meeting, the topic of what an enormous waste of time email was came up.  The team agreed they wanted to tackle it.  I could have passed it off to the CIO or another senior executive but they have bigger fish to fry.  It was an issue for the finance organization and me.

    So, one person and I got together for 1 hour to develop a path-forward which would be approved by the regional finance leadership team [my 20 direct reports].  Although the e-mail issue was quite irksome, it did not warrant a separate workshop with a lot of people in attendance.  We created a list of e-mail issues, personal actions to take and permissions to be granted which was shared at the next team meeting.  With a few minor tweaks, we were committed to implementing our new guidelines.

    Here is a sampling of what we implemented and communicated through-out our organization.  My guess is with a few additions of your own, you would quickly have something that could make an impact on your organization tomorrow.

    Name and description of e-mail issue Individual commitment to action Permission granted by me, as regional finance director – meaning I take the heat if anyone got upset
    PING-PONG: The need to forward notes back and   forth between people resulting in very long notes that are hard to decipher If you are starting to reply for the second or third time, pick up the phone instead. Ok to reply back that you need to talk in person and will not reply via e-mail.
    RAMBLING PROSE:   A note that is written   in the stream of consciousness format, electronic babbling, no clear structure or purpose Start immediately composing notes clearly.  State the   purpose and action requested. Be brief.    Outline  facts crisply and clearly. List alternatives. Make it easy for reader understand it. Ok not to read the note.  You should not have to spend oodles of time figuring out something that the sender did not have time to organize.  Pick up the phone and call the sender or politely ask the sender to resend in a clear fashion.
    TELL   EVERYONE: the need to copy in many people, most of which do not need it and waste time reading it or worse, reacting to it Use .cc sparingly,  if the issue is critical it is probably better to have a quick 10 or 15 minute teleconference If you are on a .cc list, it is OK to toss the note right into the trash.  Either you need to take action or you  don’t.  If not, the day is too short to   read things that might be interesting but not germane to the work at hand.  I personally told my staff that I would throw away any and all notes where I was on the .cc list.  Ask yourself this, do you read each and   every piece of mail that you get at home?
    IT’S A BAD DAY   SYNDROME: using   words in a note that you would never say to someone in person.  These notes upset the receiver and cause them to lose focus on the issue at hand. If you have a negative   message that needs to be delivered, do it in person or over the phone.  Keep your notes fact based. If you are “upset” by a note do not respond immediately. In this case, as the leader of the organization I stated that notes such as these will not be tolerated.  They are like bullying and undermine the sense of teamwork we are working so hard to build.  All communication, whether it be electronic or in person, must follow the values of the company.
    IT IS WRITTEN   THEREFORE IT MUST BE TRUE: the tendency to read a note and assume everything in it is true Do not jump to conclusions.  Work to get the whole picture.  Get all the facts before taking action.  If you are the sender,   be sure to compose a clear and concise note about the issue you are raising.  Do not make it sound like it is the absolute truth when it may be part of a larger picture. No one knowingly writes notes to share things that are “untrue”.  However, some topics are very broad and complicated. This item causes a lot of energy to spent on “issues” that really aren’t issues when all the facts come to light.  Truth can be elusive and many times when you hear two differing views the truth lies in the middle.
    UNCLEAR SUBJECT   LINE: using   a very non-descriptive subject line Be creative in the use of the subject line.  It can help people prioritize and find the note at a later date.
    CRYING WOLF:  the   tendency to always mark notes as urgent Treat others as you would like to be treated.  Give people  realistic timelines for when you need something.  If you need it on Friday, do not say you   need it on Wednesday. I gave my staff permission to tell the individual when they would be able to respond.  Only if they could not work out a compromise on their own would I get involved.

    As leaders for the broader finance organization, we had a real day to day issue that was faced by all the individuals.  We owned it and solved it.  Shortly thereafter I shared it with our CIO, and it became part of an overall communication effort to improve e-mail.  We started small – and focused on our organization.  We developed a remedy that could be applied broadly and was.  If we had waited for someone else to solve our problem, people would still be complaining.

    Hopefully this discussion sparked some ways you and your teams can make e-mail more manageable.


    Published on March 2, 2012 · Filed under: Coaching, Leadership, Process Improvement; Tagged as: ,
    No Comments

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.