7 Effective Rules to Stop Email Insanity

We love to share information.  The world of social media; texting, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest have created a mindset that “Everyone needs and wants to know everything”.  The challenge for business is that this philosophy is attacking corporate email.  This effective mechanism for transferring critical information is being bogged down with stuff!

So let’s stop the insanity with 7 rules to improve email effectiveness.

Rule 1:   Be selective on email participants

Reality check time!  Not everyone needs to know everything.  Busy leaders appreciate team members who are smart in sharing information.  Be very thoughtful and selective about who really needs to be included in the email

Rule 2:   Use the To and CC correctly

The To line should include individuals that must action the information contained in the email.
The CC line is for individuals that need to know about the information.

As for the BCC there are very few reasons to use this line.  Use sparingly.
Best practice: Do not add individuals into an email chain without announcing that you have done so.

Rule 3:  Make the Subject line count

Use the subject line to make it easy for people to take action.  What is more impactful?  “Pricing issue” or “Pricing issue on invoice # 789032 for customer XYZ”.  Ask anyone who is in customer service which email they will open first and address, it is always the one with more details in the subject line.  Another bonus, better clarity in the subject line reduces the need for urgency flags!

Rule 4:  Be mindful of the tone of your email

Electronic communication can convey a tone and messages to the recipient that the sender never intended.  Be certain to make the effort to create a small salutation or greeting to start the email.  You would do this in a verbal conversation so make the effort in your emails.  Do not type your message in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.  This is understood to be shouting in the world of email etiquette.  Finally, avoid using internal acronyms with individuals outside the company.  This is a foreign language to them that can create confusion.

Rule 5:  Keep the message of the email brief.

No one has the time or interest to read long, convoluted emails.  Use this 3 step approach to share information effectively.  Step 1 – Identify the issue or subject concisely in an opening paragraph.  Step 2 – use bullet points to assign tasks to specific individuals OR identify key issues that need to be addressed.  Step 3 – Conclude with a single paragraph that outlines deadlines and next steps required.

Rule 6:  Do not clutter emails with information better shared in an attachment.

If your subject is complex or has multiple sources of information it is far more effective to share information with attachments.  This allows the reader to save the information to a different location and make retrieval of this information much easier.  Too much time is wasted trying to find information contained in an email that has a vague subject line.

Rule 7:  Know when to stop and start the email thread.

Nothing is more frustrating and ineffective than an email that was created to address one issue that gets hijacked. Suddenly it has taken a new direction that will not address the needs of the original subject.  Be bold.  Resolve the original issue and if the other subject is critical then create a new email that includes key stakeholders relevant for that subject.

One final thought about stopping email insanity.  If the issue can be solved quickly via a phone call or face to face discussion, do it!  You will be amazed how effective direct communication can be.

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Which Hat Do You Choose to Wear?

There is a distinct shift happening in the business world today. The historic model of “Command and Control” management is in direct conflict with updated performance management systems that encourage empowerment and self direction of their teams.  Management skills that may have served a leader well in the past may be limiting their current and future performance. Today’s leader must be an effective coach, mentor and manager to attract, develop and retain talent.

So which hat do you choose to wear?

The Manager Hat

This is the hat that most leaders feel comfortable wearing.  The manager hat focuses on the key functions of planning, organizing, staffing, directing and monitoring the area of responsibility. When a leader wears this hat they “TELL” the team what and how they want things done.  The manager hat is not a consultative hat.  This is the historic hat of the “Command and Control” leader.

The Coaching Hat

This hat requires the leader to think and act differently.  When wearing this hat the leader must consciously adopt a four step process to elevate talent.  Step one is to observe behaviours and actions without bias.  During the second step the observation is then discussed with the employee. “Are you aware that you have been late for work 3 times in the past two weeks?  Why is this happening?”  There is no assumptions in this statement, just facts.  It allows the employee to now join into the conversation stage.  No coaching plan can be developed until the employee is aligned that the observation is relevant and real.  Step three is to build a mutually acceptable plan.  This may be formalized with commitment dates and sign offs but often this is a verbal commitment to take actions to address the concern.  Step four is often ignored.  This is the opportunity for the leader to provide feedback and recognize the improved performance or address outstanding issues.

The coaching hat takes time to feel comfortable.  Leaders need to consciously look for opportunities to wear it and leverage the power of coaching moments.

The Mentor Hat

This is the hat you wear when an individual identifies a skill or talent that they would like to learn from the leader.  It is normally worn for a limited time until the specific request has been filled.   IE.  A new District Manager approached the Finance Director for support in understanding the financial reports.  This request will not take a long period of time but gives both parties the opportunity to share knowledge and build strategic relationships.

Everyday, leaders choose what hat they are going to wear.  To improve talent and elevate performance leaders need to make a conscious decision to wear the Coaching Hat!

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Listening – The Leadership Skill That Makes The Difference

It continues to amaze me how a leader can implode business performance by choosing not to listen effectively.  When a leader is myopically focused on achieving their personal objectives and vision they lean heavily on the management skill of “Telling” and believe that the team will just adopt and adapt.

Throughout my career I have witnessed the impact that new CEO’s and presidents have when leading well established teams.  The defining difference between those that were highly successful and those that failed was their ability to listen effectively.

Those leaders were mindful of the zone they chose to listen in.
There are four distinctive listening zones.

Zone 1:   Listening to be Polite
Remember Charlie Brown and the teacher… Blah, blah, blah… When you are in this zone you are not listening at all.  You can not repeat what the person has said and have clearly demonstrated to your audience that you do not value them. You have judged them as not important. This zone quickly disenfranchises the team.

Zone 2:   Listening to be Right   
You are listening with missiles in this zone.  Emotions are high and you are listening for trigger words.  You actively build your responses to the other party’s statements rather than listen to gain insights.

Zone 3:  Listening for Issues    
In this zone you are actively listening but have filters on your ears.  This zone is dangerous because you choose to listen to the information that aligns with your visions, values, business plan, etc. but eliminate critical information that might impact success.

Zone 4:  Listening to Understand
This is the most impactful zone. It takes a high level of commitment and energy.  This requires you to be completely focused on the message and the messenger.  You will know that you are listening at this level if you are asking clarifying questions and seeking to understand the other party’s perspective.  This level of listening demonstrates empathy.

The successful CEO’s and Presidents all demonstrated a strong ability to “Listen to Understand”.  They created opportunities to engage with employees.  They asked powerful questions and listened attentively to the responses.  They acknowledge differences of opinion and shared their perspective.  By “Listening to Understand” these leaders built trust and delivered bottom line results for their organizations.

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Success starts by asking the right questions.

“I never worry about the problem. I worry about the solution.” Shaquille O’Neal

It is amazing how many leaders get so busy working “in” their business that they forget to get “above” their business. By focusing on immediate issues they lose perspective. Their vision narrows to short term wins that may not lead to long term success. They spend their time focused on the problems, not the solutions. Leaders need to ask questions to gain clarity and focus.

Early in my career, I worked with a president who had three standard questions that he would ask customers:

Question 1: What are we currently doing well?

Question 2: If we could change anything what would it be and why?

Question 3: Describe for me what a successful vendor relationship looks like for your company? How do you rate our company?

These three questions provided him with a fresh perspective. He was able to identify opportunities for improvement. He challenged his team to find solutions that would improve customer satisfaction and company performance.

Asking the right questions, whether it be with customers, employees or key stakeholders is essential to building great solutions. Uncovering the real issues and adopting a creative “How Might We” mindset to solve these challenges is what leadership is all about.

We recognize that it is important to understand our client’s biggest challenges and by asking tough questions we help leaders get “above” their business. Identifying you organization’s real issues and needs is essential to building solutions that help your Lead, Inspire and Achieve.

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