Today I will change the subject a little. I won’t talk about sustainability or the environment. Paraphrasing these issues, I will talk about more sustainable communications in the work environment.
When I worked as Director of large companies, always amazed me how many emails and electronic messages I use to receive per day. We are talking here of 300, 400 daily emails. It seems that the number of emails (supplemented by even more insistent text messages) is directly proportional to the individual’s position in the hierarchy. Manager, 70-80 emails. General Manager, and this account already rises to 200 and more. Director, and we arrive at the undigested figure of 300-400 … The thing is so unbearable, that once, I wrote an email to my subordinates, with some rules about the emails to be sent to me. I will share with you the ones I remember. I think that they may be useful for your professional relationships with your superiors (and with peers and subordinates too, why not?).
The first rule refers to what I call the “sausage-email“: that endless sequence of linked emails, in which the description in the “subject” box is preceded by a lot of “FW” (forwards) and “RE” (replies). In some of them you can’t even read this box, so many “FW: FW: RE: RE: FW: RE: RE: RE” come before the subject of the message. The most annoying in this type of email is that the last message – sent to the Director (that one who has other 300 emails to read!) – is usually boiled down to “FYI (for your information) and action“. The referred “information” is usually at some email there by the end of the “sausage”, and the suggestion for the “action” to be taken appears at a message somewhere in the middle… Hours must be spent to find out. My suggestion: NEVER send a “sausage-email” to your superior without taking the excessive “RE” and “FW” from the “subject” box, and without inserting – in the body of your message to the Director – an one-paragraph summary of what is relevant to this case, followed by a clear description of the actions that your boss is suggested to take, and when he/she must make this decision. If there is a very urgent decision to be made, I suggest replacing the pack of “FW” and “RE” before the “subject” by “URGENT DECISION:” (just like that, in capital letters, perhaps in red …), after which here comes the subject that headed the email that originated the “sausage”… Please, never send a “FYI and actions“. But if it is REALLY urgent, send your email for the records, but go talk to your boss – in person or, if not possible, by phone!!!
What sometimes uses to motivate the above cited behavior leads us to the second rule. It refers to what I call the “shield-email“. This is that email that is sent to the top for the sole purpose of “protecting yourself“. This is the email the subordinate hopes that the boss will never read, in order to say, later when charged: “Gee boss, but I sent you an email about this last week, Monday, at 11:48PM… Didn’t you see it?”… Few things are more irritating to the head than this behavior of the subordinate. “Shield-emails” often evolve to the “bomb-email” format: that one that brings in an alarmist (almost terrorist) way all the problems in detail refinements, without proposing any alternative solution. Regarding these two types of emails, be aware that what is expected of all employees who want to grow up in their careers is the ability to identify problems, analyze them, assess risks and propose action plans. Even if the proposed solution is not adopted by the boss, the fact that the subordinate had assessed the situation and proposed actions is always perceived positively by the leader. My suggestion: NEVER pure and simply “pass the buck“. NEVER use an email to try to cover your rear, “after all, the hole in the boat hull is not on my side…” No matter which side the hole is: leaky boats sink… Once again, sending an email does not protect anyone from losing their jobs. Nothing replaces talking to your superior, eye to eye or – at least – by phone.
The third rule is the most important. The famous “to copy” and “blind carbon copy“. I know many Directors that immediately delete any email that is not “to” him or her, but “Cc” or “Bcc” … In time, “to” the Director means to have his/her name in the first position in the box “to“, not in the middle of an endless list of recipients. There is no time to lose. The Director believes that, if it is important that he/she interferes, he/she will appear as the main recipient of the message. The rest of the mail will be interpreted – a priori – as general information, almost “corporate spam“. He/she will only read, for sure, those ones coming from the President or from the Board. The others will be filtered according to criteria of more or less interest of the Director on specific issues. My suggestion: ALWAYS direct the messages “to” those who have to decide. Think carefully whether or not sending “Cc”, and who is really necessary to be listed. ALWAYS avoid “Bcc”. A lack of attention and your “Bcc” recipient may “reply all”… Be clear in the text body about who needs to decide and in what time frame. Again, in case of a critical urgency, go to the Director’s table and talk in person.
Despite email is still a widely used tool in corporations, we need at this point “modernize” a little our conversation. The main stream flow of information of our times comes from social networks and text messaging tools (all acting now also with audio and video messages). Trough this, especially the younger executives – born and raised among the multitasking little windows of computers, and now of smartphones and tablets – developed the habit of keeping their gadgets permanently connected, bombarding them with online information – some pertaining to the work, others not so much … For a Director, it is easy to identify who is really on a meeting and who is stuck in his/her gadget without proper attention to what is being discussed. The classic sign is the overhung head pending from a neck angled 30 degrees or more, eyes on something between the navel and the intimate parts… The earphone also signals. But it is the mouth-corner smile that definitely denounces that the guy is navigating WhatsApp, or Facebook, if he/she is not logged in Tinder!!! If the boss scolds, the guy may say he/she is paying attention, and is even able to repeat one or two phrases newly spoken at the meeting. The guy argues that he/she is multitasking; his/her whole generation is multichannel… But there are several studies that show that the loss of concentration due to this multifocal behavior is a fact. If it is not so, advertising campaigns to convince people stop texting on their cell phones while driving would not proliferate worldwide. Statistics already show higher accident rates due to this habit than from drinking and driving! This also affects concentration and cognition at work. I had personally experienced the embarrassment of, in a benchmarking visit, accompanied by two colleagues (both hanging all the time on their smartphones), observing them asking for four consecutive times on issues that had just been addressed by our gracious host. Shame on them…
The truth is that we became so slaves of emails and electronic messages, all of us so connected, that we are turning ourselves into co’pain-in-the’nnected: progressively lonely and self-absorbed in our “Instagram smiling little worlds”, each time talking less personally, eye to eye. We’ve been increasingly allowing gadgets to suck our eyes, in a parallel competition for our attention during work meetings, when driving the car, when watching a movie or a theater play and – even – when talking in person with people of flesh and blood. Citing a friend and great Mozambican writer (also biologist), Emilio ‘Mia’ Couto: “we never had so many roads, and we never visited us so little.” The solution is in our hands. My suggestion: contact in person the most; connect through gadgets the less.
HS Blog will stop next week for the New Year celebrations. Happy 2015 to all!