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.

What Lean and Six Sigma CAN’T Do

By now, you have probably realized that I am a process innovation nut.  I must have a mutated gene, for I see everything in life as a process – a series of steps marching to a rhythm and flow toward some objective.  Tools such as Lean and Six Sigma serve as lenses through which I view my surroundings.  When I go to a restaurant, I calculate the number of steps taken by the waiter.  Then determine which of those are value-adding and value-robbing.  I spend dinner time trying to figure out a more efficient pattern and route the waiter could take to maximize his or her table turns.

In recent months, I’ve noticed, my experiences do not always fall so neatly into my highly pragmatic internal classification and problem-solving framework.  I battle with questions like – Why are the chicks at Chik-fil-A so freaking friendly?  Why does Apple call their tech support the “Genius Bar” and Best Buy calls theirs “Geek Squad”?  Why is Disney World the “happiest place on earth” and the Denbigh Wal-Mart the eighth level of Hell?

Several months ago, I was introduced to Jake Poore and Integrated Loyalty Systems. Jake preaches a new process gospel – the excellent customer experience.  (I am trying to reconcile his concepts with the Lean and Six Sigma concepts into a nice, neat little philosophical package.)  Jake espouses two tools useful in evaluating the customer experience.  1) The Customer Compass – understanding the Needs, Emotions, Stereotypes, and Wishes of the customer (Get it!?  N-E-S-W, like on a compass).  2) The Touchpoint Map – dissecting the customer experience in light of the customer’s compass.  These add a dimension to process improvement that Lean and Six Sigma totally neglect.  Jake’s system addresses feelings, a topic I am not generally comfortable discussing.  I am, however, learning to place more and more significance, not just on how processes benefit the consumer intellectually, but how those processes make the consumer feel.  And research shows that we make purchases based on how and what we feel.

Lean and Six Sigma guide us in assembling the nuts and bolts of our business.  They identify the operational details, parsing waste from value.  But, they don’t force us to emotionally connect to with our customers.  While we invest a ton of resources in gaining efficiency, how much do we invest in creating relationship-based loyalty?  I would propose that if process innovation, improvement, and control form the foundation of the “house of quality,” then the customer’s experience is the lawn, front door, exterior, furniture, widows, and kitchen sink.

Lean and Six Sigma in 5 Minutes or Less

Lean and Six Sigma (sometimes combined to into the term Lean Six Sigma) are two methodologies for identifying and resolving process related inefficiencies.  In this blog post, I would like share with my readers an overview of each and how my book, The Elegant Process ties in.

First, What is Lean? Lean is a series of process flow principles based on the Toyota Production System.  Lean, depending on the application is sometimes referred to generically as Lean Thinking  (in the non-manufacturing environment) or Lean Manufacturing.  Its claim to fame is that by following the [Lean] process principles, the producer can greatly reduce the time it takes to deliver value to the customer.  A by-product of this just-in-time delivery is the elimination of waste — waste which adds significant cost to produce the product or service.   By reducing delivery time and waste, and thus maximizing value, both the consumer and the producer benefit through lower costs (producer wins) and higher quality (consumer wins).

Second, What’s up with the book? I often describe The Elegant Process as a prequel to Lean.  Before we can become fully enlightened in the ways of Lean, we must begin to think in terms of process.  I call it box-and-arrows thinking (ability to see what’s happening and draw a flow chart in your head to describe it).  In order to take full advantage of the Lean concepts, we must be able to describe or map our business as a series of processes, known as the Value Stream.  Lean principles can then be used to make judgments on the value of the individual actions that comprise those processes.  The book explains all of this using real-life examples and practical applications.

Third, Six Sigma – Never heard of it. Six Sigma is a statistics-based, problem-solving methodology.  This disciplined approach traditionally has five phases: define, measure, analyze, improve, and control.  Those certified in Six Sigma generally fall into three categories of increasing skill level:  Green Belt, Black Belt, and Master Black Belt.  There are other “belts” that many training companies sell, but, I, personally think much of the belt terminology should be reserved for the Six Sigma elites to debate in online forums.  (Full disclosure: I am a Black Belt, maybe a Master by some definitions.  However, Dave Bell calls me a Six Sigma Ninja and that sounds much cooler!)  Six Sigma’s usefulness is in its ability to reduce the variation in a process.  Example:  The Wendy’s in Hidenwood should use Six Sigma to figure out how to get my drive through order right, even just once.

Lean and Six Sigma contain a ton of useful and nifty tricks for evaluating and troubleshooting business, operational, or manufacturing processes.  Both sets of tools can be leveraged to lower costs and increase the quality of goods and services.  The down side of both Lean and Six Sigma is that they are full of nuanced terminology, flow charting, and, worst of all, mathematical analysis.  Many savvy and intelligent business people get turned off by all the geekdom and either dump the idea of Lean Six Sigma or hire a Ninja.  As I work with groups to solve their process problems, I take great care not to go Star Trek on them. Ultimately, my goal, both in the book and in life, is to help businesses succeed, not impress them with Minitab.