In my last post (The Problem with Business Communications), I made the case that contemporary business communication is generally broken. Its costs are significant. Any notion of collaboration via e‐mail is a contradiction in terms. “Reply all” is a particularly pernicious feature. Yet, almost all of us in the corporate world routinely default to our inboxes, sometimes several times per hour. Business communication is broken.
How do we get people to break the vicious cycle that is e‐mail? New technologies are certainly important, but they only get us so far. After all, as management guru Peter Drucker once famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In this post, I’ll offer four management tips.
Note that I’m not advocating the complete eradication of e‐mail. It still serves a vital purpose on a limited basis. This is doubly true when you need to quickly send discrete information to people outside of your organization (re: documents, links, and invitations). Here is 4 quick tips for better business communication.
E‐Mail Is Ephemeral, but Knowledge Should Live Forever
Have you ever tried to recall a key decision six months ago via e‐mail or handwritten meeting notes? Or what about why it was made? Odds are that you struggled to find what you were looking for.
Sure, e‐mail search has improved considerably from its early days. Filtering by date ranges, sender, subject, keyword folders, tags, importance, and the like can certainly help, but everyone has at one point or another struggled to find a critical message, including yours truly. Even the perfection of e‐mail search, however, doesn’t change the fact that institutional knowledge should not “live” in discrete inboxes. Rather, critical discussions, questions, answers, decisions, changes, product launches, and the like ought to exist in a truly collaborative and discoverable tool. What’s more, all employees — including and especially newly hired ones—should be easily access this knowledge sans a torrent of e‐mails.
Recognize That All Business Communication Is Not Created Equal
Foolish is the soul who believes that all messages have different life spans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most mobile notifications are read once and then promptly discarded. E‐mails about arranging an event this week are useless after the event concludes, so why save them? By way of contrast, consider discussions, questions, answer, and organizational decisions should be easily recalled at anytime and stored and categorized differently.
Abide by a Three‐E‐Mail Rule—and Don’t Be Afraid to Invoke It
I’m a big fan of limiting e‐mail interactions, so much so that I cut things off after three. The key to the rule: Invoking it.
Some people can’t get their arms around the idea of life without e‐mail. What if you made it more real to them? Individuals even at large companies have weaned themselves from their inboxes, and some companies eschew it altogether. Examples move people from theory to practice. They feel less “weird” about using a different tool.
Simon Says: Play the long game.
Changing an organization’s culture takes time. Don’t expect to cure e‐mail addiction overnight. To improve the way in which your company communicates, take the long‐term view and heed the advice in this post.
What say you?
In my final post in this series, I’ll discuss how to find a better way to work.