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A Healthy Diet of Email

Here is the question: How does Email communication fit into your 2012 corporate diet? Specifically, is there such a thing as a healthy diet of Email? Within your organization do you encourage email use, discourage it or leave well enough alone and go with the flow?

I know some would like this to be a really simple answer, but it isn’t. With New Years resolutions top of mind (back to the gym, lose weight and all that), if someone asked you to associate Email to a food group, which one would it be? How about: “Email is the carbohydrate of the corporate diet”. We could say that there are good carbs and bad, right? We could easily talk about reducing carbs, but not getting rid of them completely (Atkins anyone?). Many (corporate) citizens are addicted to email (and M&Ms), clutching their mobile devices in cars, meetings and trains, turning them on instantly when their plane lands, wondering (hoping?) if someone sent them something very important.

We could label Email to be Fats (Think Burgers, Fries and Ice Cream). Again, there are some good, necessary, fats as well. We could talk about Email weighing us down and clogging our arteries (disrupting the flow) some even causing our blood pressure to rise. Does Email help or hinder the information flow in the modern corporation? Every once in a while, something awesome comes along in Email, just when you were ready to toss it. Ice Cream, for example; ah now there is something to sink my teeth into! I would love to be blind-copied on a Ben and Jerry’s delivery, wouldn’t you? (Blind copying, by the way, is the devil, never do it, it will come back to haunt you I promise).

Email is definitely not protein – Hard Stop.

As you can tell, I have been doing a fair bit of thinking regarding Email (communications in general really) and the impact on my day-to-day world. Maybe I have been thinking too much about food as well. My conclusion is that for all the power it provides, Email is the single biggest necessary evil that exists in the modern technological world. Try as we might, we are not going to get rid of it, even internally, not for a while, too many people use it, like it and that is that. Our kids will be having the exact same conversation in 20 years – tell me I am wrong.

Email for Companies of all Sizes

The framing of the conversation about email has changed in the past few years and will change some more; email, has split into a channel with multiple purposes, maybe even multiple sub-channels. In other words, the problem will get worse before it gets better. At the moment, here is an incomplete list the different personalities of email:

1 – A messaging / notification channel – Alerts, reminders, very simple, not really 2-way communications; “Honey, pick-up some milk on the way home”

2 – A (mis) communication / conversation channel – This is that multi-person, let’s talk email, with threads hard to decipher.

3 – An information / marketing channel – Here, read all of this great stuff I aggregated just for you!

4 – The best way 90% of the population know how to share a file – Within the corporation, this is getting better – but we are a long way from solving the problem.

5 – The ‘I have lost my password’ recovery channel – With the number of sites we all use, come-on admit it, this is a once a week use case for you.

6 – The ’10 best ways to get the best use of this new all social platform’ message/aggregation

For those of you who have Gmail, this is basically what it is now. The filter allows us to put the important messages up top; those are usually the communication type of messages. These are conversations, usually with people or contacts of some importance. The messaging channel often lives up on top of the heap as well, especially this time of year. These are short notifications; maybe an SMS type message or an order confirmation. The actual length of the message might be a little longer, but the essences is that of a short notification, with supporting data. Finally, it is what people use to share files – there in lies its greatest strength and its greatest weakness – and why we cannot seem to stop using it.

So, What is all the fuss about?

The core issue is that the channel is misused and often abused. Email is a lousy collaboration tool, but the use of email for collaboration is extremely high, much higher than people want to admit and certainly higher than it should be. This is the area where people would like the predictions to come true. Sometime this past week, I sent out a note on Twitter where I challenged myself to reduce my personal use of email by 50%. Some of my network peers challenged me back asking what if a prospect wants to email me; or all prospects want to use email? Well, the answer of course is that will certainly not be a problem, I will use email as the channel that my customers want to use.

Going back to my point above that Email is really going to be further split into multiple channels, no question. Do not confuse the technology with the functional job getting done. Let me ask a question, if I am looking at something in an email client, does that really mean that I am using email? If you read a Twitter DM using the Twitter interface, then it is just that a DM, but what if you read it using Gmail (like I do?) Does that make it an Email. The key point is that for the next number of years, we are each going to find our own balance, we will all be different, and it will change quickly. Many platforms start with email notification, hoping to drop them and keep you within the platform (think Facebook, Twitter). Some of the best, latest and greatest social (CRM) platforms have begun to use email to encourage usage (Nimble, Linkedin).

Why is Email such a challenge?

My point was reinforcedrecently, regarding the complexities of email and the need to consider best use. A long email is like someone talking for 3-5 minutes, going through multiple points, often building upon each other without the opportunity to ask questions and request clarification.  We have all read (or most have anyway) that emotion does not translate in email. What about culture, that is completely lost in many more ways than emotion. The approach someone takes to communication of an idea or concept might simply turn people off (which I have seen). If the email goes on and on and the reader stops – that is a problem, no?

Another example is something as simple as trying to coordinate a flight and schedules. In my mind I had communicated what needed to be done, and what the potential issues were going to be. The recipient responded with some thoughts and ideas that did not align with the potential issues – they were issues. Who has the problem here? Me, not really a question. In the end, it is the perception of what was communicated not the design (sounds like customer service now). The answer was simply to pick-up the phone, problem solved.

BTW – You cannot answer just one email, you have to go through the whole list, I mean have you ever tried eating just one M&M?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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