Of Resolutions and Such, Part 1 – Email Sucks

Email Sucks 2There are several interesting articles that discuss the many reasons email sucks. From ambiguous etiquette rules, to poor expression of emotion, to the permanency of your heat-of-the-moment rants, email can be frustrating to the leader and the follower alike. From a leadership perspective, email can be a time suck that delays or even defeats your most important daily contribution to the team. As a leader, your personal relationships with each of your teammates, your peers, and your leader are the foundation of how you get things done, yet they often get placed well behind your regular rituals of “clearing your inbox”.

When I entered the workplace, there was no such thing as email. In my profession, the closest thing was a piece of dot matrix hell called a “memo-router” of which each of the many offices in my organization had a grand total of one; the use of which was confined to one support staff who knew how to use it, not break it and load the paper. Now at the end of my career, I am forced to create “email rules” and “folders” to ensure that low priority communications are sidetracked out of my immediate vision.

According to a 2011 article, companies then were losing up to 20 days a year per person because of poorly designed and executed email strategies, which often were unwritten cultural rules (better respond to Bob same day or he’ll be mad).

I have previously crossed paths on this blog with email but for 2014, I thought I would deal with it as its own thing while suggesting some potential New Year’s resolution fodder for all you leaders looking to start off 2014 with a new direction and a fresh look at your calling.  In this first part, let’s consider how email can undermine the hard work you have put into your leadership education.

Email Sucks 4Leadership involves education by teaching, coaching and mentoring, directly inspiring and motivating, and above all, communication.  You can communicate many things as a leader but chief among them will be direction and vision to those you lead. If those are the prime directives, how much of that is either facilitated or harmed through the tool that is email?

Emails can be useful tools in distributing large amounts of data, or notifying people about important events. However, studies do not support the cost benefit analysis – it takes on average about four minutes to write one and 30 seconds to read it. If the reader replies, same ratio.  And, if multiple people are in the loop, this is a death spiral of time wasting. So, for 2014, consider the email you are thinking of sending.  Would a direct conversation be a better substitute?  How about a phone call?Email Sucks 1

From the perspective of a leader, the most critical part of any conversation is you and the other person in it.  Involving a poor substitute for human interaction that no one had an end game for seems to ensure eventual miscommunication. Email is here to stay but it is a tool to be used, managed, and mastered.  The first step is to ensure that it is not a factor in the critical conversations you have every day as a leader. Think about the most important messages your organization has to deliver, or the most critical and valued cultural expectations of the team and the players.  How are those values transferred from one to another?  If email was the best method, then we could just do away with Navy Seal training and just email the candidates the workout plan.

For 2014, take a critical look at how you communicate, how you delegate, how you inform, how you inspire, and how you develop, and see how much of it is based on email.  However much that may be, put some thought into how you can decrease your dependence on it in 2014.Email Sucks 3