Posts Tagged ‘rules’
During the last year or so, I listened to several speakers at content management and social media conferences suggest that business email will soon be a technology of the past. Judging by my inbox, and recognizing that people are still sending faxes, I think it’s safe to say that I will be getting email throughout what remains of my career. If that’s the case, I would appreciate it if the people who send me business email would take it upon themselves to improve the quality of the email that they send. If I thought everyone would give this topic the thought it deserves, and change their behavior accordingly, I’d stop writing after making the following statement:
Consider that regular business email, the stuff that I will read simply because you sent it, comes with an implied contract based on mutual respect. Then remember that once my respect for you has been earned, that you have to prevent me from losing it.
Since I get so much email, from so many sources, let me offer a few general guidelines to make those emails better:
Size matters – I had a chemistry professor who required written lab reports but thought they should be factual. In warning against long explanations in lieu of facts – he used to say “remember, the longer the wronger!” It’s the same with email. A single paragraph business communication will be appreciated. A couple of paragraphs will be tolerated and a multi-page monologue will probably be ignored.
Don’t be a jerk – This sounds like so much common sense, but it’s easy to look like a jerk in email. Unless you want to look like a jerk, reread your message before you click send. Think about whether what you wrote will be understood in the absence of facial expressions, tone of voice and that precious act of reaching out to touch my shoulder. By the way, if you don’t want to reread it because it’s so long, refer to the previous paragraph.
I have an inbox – After you send your email, continue not being a jerk by not calling me, texting me or visiting me to ask me: “Did you get the email I just sent?”
Some subjects are better left out of the inbox – If you are dancing around a sensitive issue, delete the email, walk down to hall, or pick up the phone and make personal contact.
Stop crying wolf – Remember that I can sort my email by sender, so I can see if there are patterns in the email that you send. If 2/3’s of your subject lines include “Important” or “Must read” maybe you need to think about the way you organize, schedule and prioritize your work/day/life.
If you find yourself saying “this is good advice for most people, but it doesn’t work in my situation,” maybe you need to think a little harder about your situation and about the nature of email.
One subject – one thought – I know it’s not a text message, but email shouldn’t be a sermon and it absolutely shouldn’t be a lecture. If you have three complex points to make about a subject, schedule a meeting to discuss your thoughts. This works better because I can communicate my boredom with my facial expression and I can point out when your first assumption is wrong and therefore you should stop blathering.
Email is not a presentation – Forget the “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them” mantra that is supposed to set you up to make a great speech. Just tell me what you want me to know in short, grammatically correct sentences – preferably less than 5. If you are thinking about including graphics, drop the “s” – limit yourself to one graphic.
Note: I added this next rule in response to Microsoft’s addition of the Screen Clipping tool into Outlook.
Remain in media – If you are reading my document, reviewing my presentation or testing my spreadsheet, use the features built into Office on the Review Ribbon instead of artfully crafting a treasure map of arrows and text boxes for me to follow. This should also help you comply with the ‘one graphic’ rule.
Oh, one last thought, particularly if you are still clinging to the notion that you or your emails are somehow special and should be exempt from these rules: If I wouldn’t need to be in the room when you told somebody this critical information in person, please leave me off the CC line.
The night before I started writing this, I Sound Hounded “Kind and Generous” as it was playing in my favorite bar. I didn’t need the information, I am a Natalie Merchant fan, but I wanted to see how much things had really changed in 18 years. Back in the mid-90’s, I asked my administrative assistant who was singing the song that was playing on her radio. My assistant was young, hadn’t worked very long for me, and apparently felt that I have given her a direct order. She called the radio station in a mild panic, telling them “my boss needs to know who was singing in that last song…” The answer was Natalie Merchant, and the song, “These Are Days” from MTV Unplugged is still one of my favorites. Who knew that in less than 20 years, I would be able to point my phone toward the speakers and get all that information delivered wirelessly?
This isn’t one of those “back in my day” kind of posts. This is more a lament about the lack of, and suppression of imagination. I chose the example above to lead into this post, because I wonder if I would have that option on my phone if it hadn’t been for Steve Jobs. I wonder how long it would have taken for the plodding stream of product development in other companies to bring us to this point, if Apple hadn’t raised the bar by an order of magnitude. Businesses like the modern day Microsoft seem to look at product lines like a bus route. Maybe they have an idea where all the stops are, but they aren’t in any hurry to get to them. Artists and scientists tend to think more in terms of the bus jumping a 50’ gap in the freeway like the one driven/piloted by Sandra Bullock in the movie Speed.
John Mancini, President of AIIM, wrote a really good piece on The Future of Work, in which he ponders a number of very valid questions about the disconnect between business and anything close to the leading edge of technology. I worry more about the question raised in one of the comments, the fact that we are witnessing a dramatic shortage of software developers to take advantage of this technology. I think that part of the problem is the lack of imagination among parents and the suppression of imagination in children. If you’re looking for the data behind that claim, you can stop reading, the best I have is anecdotal evidence collected, well, by me. I have plenty of stories, but I’ll offer just one:
When my daughter was very young, we let her join a play-group after church service. It was a nice group, run by sweet well-intentioned women, but Faith didn’t like it. It seems when they were allowed to take a toy, Faith took the “stacking cups” and began to play with them as she did at home, where they were among her favorite toys. The woman in charge admonished her for “doing it wrong” – the cups were meant to be stacked or nested, nothing else. Faith knew how they worked, but would often stack those cups in inelegant ways, hide things under them or use them for support structures with blocks and other “building” toys. Years later, she dug them out of a toy box to use as trestle supports for her Lego Train.
We didn’t object to Faith breaking the rules because the rules seemed stupid. My parents had never been strict enforcers of the rules of play, whether I was using Army Men on a chess board, randomly assembling Erector Set components or using Chick Peas as ammo in my slingshot. My father seemed to enjoy it when we would think beyond the obvious, except when it came to tools; he was rather anal about the proper use of tools. I remember though that he encouraged us to read, frequently reminding us that “if you can read, you can do anything.” I remember when I asked him if I could take a computer programming course in summer school between 8th and 9th grade. It wasn’t going to be an easy thing to coordinate, but he said “it looks like computers will be important in your lifetime” and he made the arrangements. That was 1967, and I have worked with computers ever since. I was amazed that I could dial-into a computer at the University of Pittsburgh from our Junior High School. I couldn’t imagine then that one day I would be sitting in my family room with a more powerful computer on my lap, but I actually think my father could imagine that. He was a mailman, and he would tell people who would ask me if I wanted to be a mailman, that he didn’t think that people would still be walking/driving around delivering mail in the future.
As technology becomes more advanced and as science unlocks more mysteries, it becomes more important for parents to help keep their children’s minds open to endless possibilities. Parents need to demand more challenging activities in public schools, not just for the high school kids on the FIRST team, but for every child, as early as kindergarten. Stop checking off the boxes on the bucket list of today’s college application. Let your kids explore, experiment and play and prepare for the tomorrow that you can’t imagine is coming.