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Step Away from the Email: Putting an End to Email Abuse

How email became the communication everyone hates to love

Ask any cubicle dweller, telecommuter, or white collar worker, and they will tell you they hate email. But ask them how they want to receive large-distribution pieces of information – give them every option from a phone call, to a community message board, to social media – and they will pick:  email.

The hate-to-love-it mentality is frustrating for us communicators, until you consider that so many senders of email use it incorrectly.

But how can you do something wrong that you do every day? After all, just about every breathing person who spends a portion of their day in front of a computer both consumes email and produces it.

Email has become the lazy manager’s preferred communication.

It’s a push that requires no pull. It’s a way to check something off your to-do list without verifying that the message was received or the follow-up action completed. As a result, too many middle and upper level managers have become over reliant on email as a means – sometimes the only means – of communication with their employees.

The result is a lot of messages being sent, but very few messages being read, understood, and acted upon.

Disconnect to reconnect: a fundamental change to employee communications

Picture1We helped a global enterprise software leader capture employees’ attention by pulling the plug on the most popular electronic channel. That’s right: we shut down bulk email messages from executives to employee for a while.

The over-reliance on email messages was causing the executives’ messages to get ignored. An email from an executive to employees should receive heightened attention. It should be disruptive. The employee should have a strong desire to read the email. The “from” name alone should create a sense of urgency: “something is happening that I need to know”. This wasn’t the case because employees had become accustomed to receiving operational and mundane announcements from the same people who should have been strictly communicating strategic and high-priority information.

The first phase of our plan created radio silence by shutting off email between executives and large groups of employees. It was intended to dramatically capture some attention. It did that. At the same time, the temporary policy forced a shift in the executives’ – and employees’ – views of email. Executives were educated about the availability and effectiveness of other communications channels. During this period, employees were also trained to gather information from sources other than their email inboxes.

Next came a carefully orchestrated return to “the new normal,” which served to re-calibrate the tone, tenor, and tempo of communications. We recaptured the aura around executive communications, ensuring they would again be as effective as possible at conveying important messages that needed eyeballs and action.

Shutting off email for a time was just the beginning. We also opened up opportunities for dialog, trained mid-level managers, and gave our communications channels a face lift. The rest of the program and its impressive results were detailed in an article by Melcrum.

What would happen in your organization if leadership could no longer send mass emails to employees?

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