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.

Liberal Timelines and Our Failure to Meet Them

In retrospect, the question was probably rhetorical. A colleague asked me, “Why do we under-promise and then under-deliver?”  Despite my less-than-coherent answer, the question is worthy of some thought.

The question restated is, “Why do we set liberal timelines and then fail to deliver results?” The poignancy of the question should not be lost in its sarcasm.  First, why are we overly risk-averse when it comes to making commitments?   And secondly, given the fact that we under-committed, why do we STILL fail to deliver the results on time?  Logically, hedging on a timeline would give ample opportunity to deliver on time.  So, when both happen (over-estimating and failing to deliver), there exists a perfect storm of futility.  Why?

Now that I have had time to reflect, I may have better answers.

  1. Inexperience – If we do not know the amount of work involved in completing the individual tasks of a project, there is a 50-50 chance we will overshoot the project timing.  Solution:  Always identify tasks and estimate the workload as a team.  Team buy-in to the project’s deliverables creates a solid foundation from which to build the project plan.
  2. Pulling a fast one – Be honest-why would we put ourselves under the gun to commit to a timeline if we don’t have to?  In the absence of a hard deadline, we tend to give ourselves an excessive amount of time to accomplish the goal.  This lackadaisical attitude in committing to the project carries over into our ability to execute the project.  Lazy is as lazy does.   Solution:  If the project is important enough to take on, put together a solid timeline and execute the project.  If not, don’t bother.
  3. Poor performance – Sad but true.  Even the best timelines require a project manager who can keep the team on task, mitigate risks, and manage resources.  If the project owner will not own the project, the project will fail.  Successful projects have an accountability structure that expects projects be on time and on budget.  Who’s to blame if poor performance continues to exist?  {Insert definition of insanity here.} Solution: As the leader, hold yourself accountable to keep the project manager accountable.

As leaders and stakeholders, our businesses depend on getting results.  In order to escape the hamster wheel of ineffectiveness, we must determine the root cause and take action to correct.  Give your team the opportunity to succeed by committing to critical projects and delivering the results.

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.