Don’t click ‘send’ and other career-saving email tips – Jason Kilgore

He really thought we should go with “A.”  He was wrong.  “B” was the only viable option and I replied to his email as such.  In his passive-aggressive tone, he emailed me back to say that we could go with “B” but we should give fair consideration to “A.”  Some people have nerve!  I stewed over it for a day and then told him our plan would go down the toilet if we didn’t choose “B”.  Now, it was all-out war.  He replied in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, “GO WITH ‘B’ THEN.”  He did NOT just send me an email in all caps. Oh, but he did.  That’s it.  My conversation was over with him – forever.  We will never speak again….

….But we did.

At church.

The next Sunday.

He said, “Yeah, Jay, I think you’re right. We just need to move ahead with ‘B’.”

I was confused. “But, your email seemed to indicate that you were sold on ‘A’,” I replied, trying to look as if I had genuinely considered his opinion.

“Not at all.  It’s a big decision.  I was bouncing ideas off of you.”

And about the ALL CAP’S EMAIL?

“I just got a new smart phone.  Still can’t figure that thing out.”

Lesson learned.

Email is a great tool for communicating, sometimes.  Here are ten simple rules I have developed for myself regarding the use of email.  Use them wisely, my friends.

  1.  There is no such thing as a confidential email.  What you put in writing lasts forever.  Always assume the entire company will have access to what you write.  Gossip is best left to potlucks and prayer meetin’s.
  2. Never read any emotion into an email, even if it is in all caps.  Writing styles vary greatly.  Some people express themselves well with the written word.  Most do not, so don’t assume they do.
  3. Do not press ‘send’ if the back of your neck feels hot.  How many times have you fired off an email when upset or angry?  How many times have you regretted doing so?  No email is so important that it can’t wait 1 or 2 or 24 hours to send.
  4. Proof-read your emails.  Spell check only ensures that you spelled a word correctly, not that you used your intended word.
  5. The “subject” line is there for a reason.  Use it.
  6. Complex concepts cannot be communicated in an email. Readers become quickly bored with long emails.  Email is a quick, “catch up with me later” tool. (If you cannot resist, use bulleted points.)
  7. Only use email to coordinate simple tasks, summarize conversations, ask questions, or communicate basic facts. Esoteric concepts are best left to other forms of communication.
  8. Large attachments are the devil.
  9. Cute backgrounds are not cute.  Backgrounds were a fad back in the 90’s.  Now, to the tech-savvy, email background screams out, “Look what my 9 year old grand kid showed me how to do.”  Not cool.
  10. If in doubt, pick up the phone or make an appointment to speak in person. (Remember that device in your pocket used to update your status?  You can also use it to talk to people.)

Communication technology is forever changing.  So are the rules in how we use that technology.  How you choose to communicate in personal emails and via social media is up to you.  However, teamwork in the professional world relies on effective, efficient collaboration.  Violating these ten email rules distract and detract from meaningful communication.  Follow these rules and you will be a more valuable member of your team.

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Process Improvement – Getting the Right Details Right by Jason Kilgore

If a symphony performance is to be truly exceptional, each musician must master every note within the selection.  Each instrument must be finely tuned.  The venue’s design must enhance the look, feel, and sound of the event.  The “team” must function as a unit, keeping rhythm and timing.   Well-designed processes are much like a symphony performance.  There are a million details that must be considered, vetted, and executed.  Process improvement is a disciplined approach used to synthesize random details into a cohesive series of desired events.  Here are three reasons why improving processes depends on getting the right details right.

Reason #1:  Details are the difference between success and failure.  John Wooden said it this way, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Even the casual sports fan recognizes that games are won and lost by doing the basic fundamentals correctly.  Play good defense, don’t turn the ball over, use proper technique, pay attention to the out of bounds lines, keep your eye on the ball – the list is almost endless.  The same is true in process improvement.  Mistakes in our business, as in sports, compound on each other to the point of complete system failure (our team makes mistakes, the other team scores; the other team scores, our team loses).   Success depends on doing the little things right – each person on the teaming do his or her job precisely, on cue, every time. Ignoring the details makes us average at best.

Reason #2:  Understanding the details requires building relationships.  As project groups come together to decipher data and map processes –activities necessary for improving processes – relationships are built.  Poring over details focus our minds on the common goal, encourages lively debate, and pushes our team toward consensus.   Each person learns to appreciate the talents, contributions, and motivations of every other team member.  Teams focus on the opportunity to the point that personality flaws are overlooked and connections are made with people who share a common passion for improving the status quo.  Subconsciously, we build a robust database in our minds of who does what well.  Our success depends on our ability to leverage our collective strengths and overcome our collective weaknesses.

Reason #3:  The ability to discern the important details fills the leadership vacuum.  Finding people who can lead process improvement projects is difficult.  There are those who obsess over every detail, unable to discern the critical few from the trivial many.  (They become paralyzed by indecision and are ultimately ineffective.)  Other “big-picture” thinkers make universe-altering decisions without giving careful consideration to the tactical details.  (This type of person quickly loses interest in the project altogether.)  It takes both of these people to make a project successful.  Yet, a third type of person existing in the narrow middle, is able assess entire systems, identify key triggers, and initiate improvements.  It is critical to have a person the team with the ability to act as funnel, ensuring proper focus on the details that really matter.

Shuffling through mountains of details is seldom fun, usually thankless, and always time-consuming.  However, uncovering and acting upon the nuanced opportunities will transform your business.  And that is truly rewarding and worth the time and emotional investment.  The details do matter.

Selling Extended Warranties Sends a Mixed Message

I know it is the Christmas season because I am bombarded with extended warranty offers on everything I buy.  One sales person in particular asked me if I wanted to buy an extended warranty on a television.

ME:  “What does the warranty cover?”

HIM:  “It covers the cost of repair or replacement if something goes wrong.”

ME:  “Like, if I drop it or something?”

HIM:  “No, it doesn’t cover that.”

ME:  “Oh, you mean if there’s a power surge and the electronics get fried?”

HIM:  “No, it doesn’t really cover that either.”

ME:  “Then, what does it cover?”

HIM:  “The warranty covers any repairs needed as a result of an internal failure.”

ME:  “Internal failure, meaning defective?”

HIM:  “Yes.”

ME: “So, there’s a good chance this TV is defective and I will be screwed unless I buy the warranty?”

HIM:  “Ummmm….”

ME:  “I’ll pass.”

The logic behind selling extended warranties is fundamentally flawed.  (Yes, I recognize warranties are sold because consumers buy them and the retailer makes money.)  Selling extended warranties sends mixed messages to consumers.  On one hand, retailers depend on their customers believing in the quality of products offered and the reputation of the organization to deliver that expected level of quality.  On the other hand, customers are asked to pay a hefty fee in anticipation that the seller will fail to live up to the standard of excellence it is trying to portray.  This is the reality, but does it even make sense?  Carefully consider the following before offering to sell your customer an extended warranty.

  1. Extended warranties contradict the consumer’s sensibilities about the meaning of “fit-for-use.”  As consumers, we expect the products and services we buy to be fit-for-use, meaning those products and services will function as intended in the normal environment of its use.  For example, we don’t expect our pet fish to survive an afternoon of playtime with our pet kitten.  We do expect our snow boots to keep our feet warm and dry in the snow.  We expect our kids to be kept safe at school or camp.  Extended warranties contradict the consumer’ core belief in the product or service– the same core belief that drove the consumer to purchase the product or service.   Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer for a moment.  When we are offered an extended warranty, there arises a brief contradiction to what we believe about the product (the product is fit for use) and what the seller implies about the product (the product is not fit for use).  Alternately, when the seller of a product offers us a free bumper-to-bumper extended warranty, our core belief about the product is reassured.
  2. Extended warranties presume a lack of quality.  Why do consumers buy extended warranties?  Because consumers assume the product or service will fail sometime within its useful life.  As consumers, the more we are asked to pay for an extended warranty relative to the initial product price, the more we become convinced the product might be defective.  If we were to buy a computer for $1,000 and shamelessly pressured to buy an extended warranty for $250, we could assume one of two scenarios exists.  First, there is a 25% chance the PC will fail.  (Why else would the warranty be 25% of the purchase price?)  Alternatively, we could assume that there is a much lower chance of failure, the seller knows it, and is just trying to make extraneous profit on the sale.  Either scenario creates distrust between the buyer and seller based on the presumption of the lack of quality in either the initial product or the subsequent customer relationship.
  3. Extended warranties reduce the incentive to build quality products.  Extended warranties are often backed by a third party (excluding most automotive and Apple warranties).  So, if the product is defective, it is NOT the manufacturer taking the financial risk for failures.  In fact, the manufacturer may never see its lack of quality.  The third-party backer will repair or replace the product from the funds collected from the 75% of consumers whose products do not fail.  The cost of the poor quality is not transparently passed back to the entity responsible for poor quality in the first place.  The extended warranty, in effect, insulates the guilty party from fully feeling the pain of inferior products.  The producer is numb to the “improve-or-die” incentive inherent in companies that stand behind the quality of its products.  [This reasoning should encourage consumers to give preference to products and services backed by the manufacturer directly.]

As a practical matter, there is a time and place for extended warranties.  It is always wise to weigh the risks and reward of such offers before any major purchase.  The philosophical dilemma is in the message extended warranties send.  As you think about your business model, consider every single message you send to your customers, whether expressed or implied.  We know that extended warranties generate revenue, but what do they say about our product or service?   What quality statement is made by a surgeon offering to sell you life insurance just prior to performing your surgery?   – Jason Kilgore