Let me take you back to a time when what we term now ‘snail mail’ was the main form of communication. Those of us who lived during those times never envisaged email and all the benefits it brought. However, as one of those from a generation that has seen the evolution, I can say that I have also seen the flaws in the modern way of communicating that is costing each organisation thousands of euros per employee per annum. So, let’s examine the evidence and look at how we can achieve greater productivity with a few small changes. I call this method the 3 R’s, Recognise, Respond and Review.
A little bit of history but not enough to bore you. Before email, letters were sent from one organisation to another daily using some simple rules that needed to be followed.
- You had to identify the purpose of the communication.
- Who the intended recipient was (were they positioned in the organisation to make decisions or to reply?)
- The letter had to be short and to the point and not some ramble. In other words, it had to be thought out. (the next point explains why)
- The draft of the letter went to a typist who then typed out the letter. Any mistakes or corrections meant that it had to be typed out all over again.
- It was expected that a local letter could take up to two days to arrive at its destination, take two to three days to be considered and a reply may take another two days in the post. In other words, the time from posting to getting a reply could be five to seven working days and that was typical and expected.
- Letters arrived once per day, usually, in the morning and went out once per day in the evening.
- Letters written by those not authorised to sign such communications went to a manager for their consideration and signature.
The incoming post was managed in the following way.
- On receipt letters were separated into departments. Sometimes department heads scanned each incoming letter to identify problems or urgent actions that needed to be taken.
- Letters that needed no response were filed, those with a simple reply went out that day and others were held over for consideration.
- If a document needed to be enclosed only one was included.
- Outgoing post was usually collected in the evening.
You may be looking at this and wondering how any business was done with such a convoluted system, but business was done and very effectively. In our rush to adopt email we have overlooked some of the good principles that could make a huge difference to productivity, better communications and morale in todays working environment. We see it happening around us every day and in fact we maybe the person with the bad habits. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we are all guilty of bad habits. Let’s look at this in more detail.
Imagine if every email was looked at in the following way.
- Do I need to send this, for example, someone has sent me an email, do I need to tell them I received it?
- What am I trying to convey, have I thought it out clearly, is there a clear call to action if one is required?
- Am I sending this to the right person(s), for example someone who can action it?
- Am I including other people that do not need to be cc’d? In other words, I am covering my back by including people who now must read it and any attached document.
- Am I using reply all when it is not necessary?
- Is my reply a reactive one or a clearly thought-out response?
- Do I need time to consider my response and have I sent a simple email to manage the recipients’ expectations?
- Am I replying to random emails which should be deleted or Unsubscribed?
- As you can see there are a lot of simple questions that need answers and within those answers are the foundations of a more productive and happier organisation.
So, we have the first of the 3 R’s – Recognise the challenge. Now to the second R – Respond. What could you do to change the way your organisation uses email? Start with yourself and identify the habits that have crept in and remove them. You should see very quickly an improvement in your management of emails and the time reduction needed to handle them. Now meet with Managers or your employees and explain what you are hoping to achieve and the benefits to them and the organisation. They will agree with you and implementing the new practices should be easy. All you must do now is put into action the third R – Review. Review the changes on a regular basis and make sure old habits do not creep back in.
Alec Drew is an international speaker, past President of the Professional Speakers Association, Ireland, an Emcee, radio show host and host of The SME Business Show, an online station for SME business Owners.
This is an extract from a keynote talk called ‘Better communication, higher productivity – the intergenerational solution’ which is suitable for conferences, seminars, and internal corporate meetings.