Monday, June 03, 2013

Can You Forward This?

An interesting article once appeared in the Harvard Business Review about an exchange of emails.  I thought the article useful, practical and sensible, so here is a short summary:

A busy executive crafted an excellent email response to an important query posed by her subordinate. Thoughtful, useful, and personal, her answer cut to the heart of the issue while presenting an effective approach for managing it.

The only problem was the executive's note was too personal and, as written, couldn't be shared with anyone beyond the original recipient.  Yet it offered a thoughtful response to a business issue that would impact the behaviour of literally hundreds of employees.  After another email exchange, the executive and her direct report recognised that, as useful as the message was, it could not be shared with other employees.  They spent a quick half-hour editing the original note into a more formal directive.  This revised communication had the desired organisational impact.

A happy result?  Not exactly.  Senior people should (almost) always write emails as if they would be — and should be — forwarded to key players in their organisation.  Rewriting and revising individual emails into more scalable missives is time-consuming and inefficient.

If you're editing even only three emails a week into a forwardable focus — particularly in collaboration with a colleague — then you're arguably wasting 10 hours a month on communications rework.  Why not write it as forwardable in the first place?  Every single significant response to a serious query should be written as if it can and should be forwarded.

This is the happier and healthier corollary to the "Never write anything you wouldn't be comfortable seeing on the front page of the New York Times — or WikiLeaks”.

The downside of this approach is that when you write only in a style to be forwarded, you inherently throttle back some of the personal touches in your communication.  Indeed, this approach insists that communicators be a little less intimate and individual.  That is a loss.

On the other hand, many executives personalize their communications in ways that get in the way of information sharing and, in reality, blur the professional focus of the message.  While efficiency shouldn't always be prized above personalisation, personal flourishes that undermine efficiency waste time and attention.  Those are resources that effective executives are reluctant to squander.

No comments:

Post a Comment