Staff won’t read my email! Four tips for effective emailing.

"The communications gap within institutions and between groups in society has been widening steadily--to the point where it threatens to become an unbridgeable gulf of total misunderstanding." So said the guru of management, Peter Drucker.  This point can find no greater example than electronic communication. Today we have more ways to communicate with each other than any other time in history, yet broadly, say more and communicate less.

How many times have you had someone say to you ‘I was never told that’, ‘I didn’t know that’ in the days after a ‘company wide’ email went out? We spend countless hours every day, week and year at email and yet most organisations never teach staff how to do it effectively. Here are my top four tips for introducing good email practices into your organisation.

 

Communication is what the listener does: Interpretation and Emojis

At the root of every email is the desire to get a result. Often the message gets lost because we communicate the message how it makes sense to the writer, rather than thinking about how the reader may interpret it.

DiSC is by far one of the best tools that I have found for identifying communication styles.  Based on DiSC profiles and understanding staff tendencies when communicating, you can learn how to tweak your emails to your readers style to be more effectively received. Does the reader like to be addressed by their name? Do they always start with a warm welcome? Do they prefer short, to the point emails? Are they likely to read past the first paragraph? Do they want lots of additional detail?

Also remember that your relationship is likely to dictate the tone of the email. If you have a friendly relationship with your reader, they will assume positive intent. However, if your relationship with the reader is less than ideal, the reader may assume negative intent and an emoji is not a relationship builder or a supplement for a genuine smile and calm tone of voice. Generally, the more strained the relationship, the less email and more face to face interaction I recommend.

The final point in this section: if you are emailing to the organisation as a whole, emailing up the ladder or have no established relationship, emojis are not acceptable, period.

 

Email overload: Top three time wasters.

How many emails are you handling a day? How many are your staff? Depending on how your staff manage their email, it can represent a huge timewaster in the office. Three main timewasters to address, both personally and organisationally are highlighted below:

  • Email as a conversational tool: email is not meant to replace conversations. If you or your staff have gone back and forth more than twice on an idea, it’s time to pick up the phone or walk into their office
  • Email checking every ten minutes: having email open all day may seem like a good idea, but the constant interruption generally leads to less focus on work and deliverables. When working on key tasks, turn the email off, if it’s that important, you should be getting a call
  • Reply alls: these are a personal bug bear of mine. If you receive a mass email, unless the sender specifically requests readers to reply all, don’t. If you have an addendum or vital feedback, email the sender and the professional sender will follow up with the group. PS identifying mistakes in a reply all, top of the email faux pas list.

 

Email is not a form of management.

If you are using email as a way to hold staff to their word, as the primary method for identifying deliverables, or the main method of feedback and communication, then here’s the hard truth. You are not managing. The primary goal of management is to achieve results, this is done by a team and it’s done through getting your team to act. Your team is more likely to act if you have a strong relationship and relationships are built through face to face interactions. If you need to performance manage, provide feedback, give key deliverables or announce key policy changes, email should not be the primary way we communicate this message. Now I am not saying that email or electronic documentation can’t form part of this process, but it’s not the key part. Top three tips are included below:

  • If you are providing feedback or performance managing, only do this in person or if you have to via phone (preferably skype).
  • If you are providing a deliverable, never cc, always address the person directly in the email and put the deliverable up front in the email (not four paragraphs in), make it clear, short and concise. If you can’t do this, you need to pick up the phone.
  • If you are rolling out company announcements or policy updates, ideally preface (I myself struggle with this one), but definitely follow up with a phonecall to or meeting with key staff responsible for implementing the policy. Ideally, these things are rolled out in meetings but depending on the scale of your organisation, this may not be achievable.

 

Know your audience: BLUF and supporting documentation.

Mass emailing can be the most difficult form of email, we have to reach a wide range of people who most likely interact with email differently, we generally have a few key points around the topic, and there may be more than one outcome required. An example: Rolling out a new policy and procedure to a national team who are in turn responsible to roll it out to the rest of the organisation. The result of the email is to introduce the policy, provide opportunity for feedback and buy in from key staff and set up a meeting for a formal rollout.

This email can come out a few ways:

  • Too long- High C’s (DiSC- conscientious, cautious, compliance) generally end up with equivalent to three pages with ten pages of attached supporting documentation which is great for some by the High Ds and Is are likely to get to paragraphs in and move on
  • Too short- High D’s (DiSC- dominant, direct, demanding) One paragraph, no intro, little more than a meeting time. D’s like to get straight to the point but in the quest for ultimate efficiency, some people may feel a little run over and buy in goes out the window
  • Too personal- High S’s (DiSC- supportive, steady, stable) lots of ‘we feels’, ‘we believes’, ‘we want your support’ etc. In the bid to get buy in and make everyone comfortable with the upcoming change, the point can get lost. These general wallflowers are also often more comfortable providing information through mediums where there is less likely to be controversy, therefore email can seem like a safe alternative.
  • Too run on- As High I’s (DiSC- independent, influential, enthusiastic) we (yes that’s me) have a tendency to lose focus easily and often due to our extroverted nature, we get a lot of emails, and therefore when emailing, we can often sidetracked. (I’ve been sidetracked at least a dozen times while writing this article, I have three other pages open, LI up on another screen and the TV on). What can start with the best of intentions can turn into a bit of a stream of consciousness if we aren’t careful. Little hint, the more commas and run on sentences, the more likely you are dealing with a High I.

In order to cater for this mass spectrum of communication stick to these three key rules:

BLUF, attach supporting documentation and start and end with a friendly note.

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front)- This is two to three key points in the first paragraph that get across the NEED TO KNOW. For some of you reading, you will be saying, but it’s ALL need to know. It may be, but we don’t all interact with email the same way and the idea of reading a ten page email is repulsive to some of us (sorry High C’s but it’s the truth). A BLUF may look something like this:

“Hi team,

 As some of you would know we are rolling out policy/project x over the next two weeks. In order to make this work, we need to achieve the following:

  • Get feedback on the initial policy (by 2pm Tuesday, date)
  • Identify key staff this will affect
  • Organise a session for key staff to role this out.

We want to have a meeting on Friday at 8am for preliminary discussions. I will be calling everyone shortly to go through this in a little more detail.”

For some staff, they won’t read any further at this point (High Ds and Is) but will likely come back to the email prior to the meeting or after you’ve given them a call.

Attach supporting documentation- For those that need the detail (High Cs), add the supporting documentation. You don’t necessarily need to go into the detail in the email but point those who need more info in the right direction. This is a follow up to the BLUF and goes something like

“For those of you that would like more detail, I have attached some supporting documentation including the feedback from audit/legislation/etc which gives some background as to why we have made this decision.”

Start and finish with a friendly note- most people fit on a spectrum from people oriented to task oriented, those of us that are people oriented are more likely to read/be interested in/buy into your email if there is a human level of communication. Starting with a “Hi team” and finishing with “I look forward to working on this with you all on this exciting new initiative” is more likely to encourage your Ss and Is to participate. Getting and I on board is particularly helpful as we like to champion causes and we love talking to people about changes and new initiatives!

 

So that’s it, four simple rules for starting to be more effective with your email! I look forward to hearing everyones feedback, if you have other helpful hints for email, please do comment! Let’s share and hopefully we can all start to email more effectively!


 




Bea Chambers
Bea Chambers

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