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Golden Oldies: Real Email Can Be as Bad for Your Company’s Health as Spam

by Miki Saxon

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Although the focus was elsewhere, Friday’s post mentioned that Zirtual CEO Maren Kate Donovan chose to notify her 400 employees that they were and laid off by email. Definitely not good management. Way back in 2002 I wrote that you can’t mange by email; in 2016 I’d add text, Twitter and all social media to that list. Some things you just need to do face-to-face.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

Hooray, I’m vindicated! And in Business Week, no less.

The article (now a 404 error), about the importance of reducing email reliance and encouraging face-to-face meetings, is a must read for every manager who is looking to boost productivity, spark innovation, and improve retention of both employees and customers.

Recognition of the problems and misunderstandings email causes is finally gaining a higher profile and being researched and documented by top academics and consultants.

My November 27th post contains a link to an article on the dangers inherent in how one choose to sign-off at the end of an email.

Google “dangers of email” and you’ll get back nearly five million results.

As to my vindication? Here’s an article I wrote for a client’s company newsletter in 2002.

You Can’t Manage By Email

Email. Some people can’t live without it and others refuse to live with it. The debate as to whether it’s a blessing or a curse may rage on, but one thing is for sure: You can not manage by email.

As a manager it is your responsibility to encourage, motivate, challenge, and develop every person on your team. No matter your style, you must be teacher, mentor, coach, cheer leader, and fan for each individual for whom you are responsible! (Hey, you wanted to be a manager, remember?) That said, it should be obvious that these functions aren’t particularly email friendly, any more than they were memo friendly in the dark ages before email. Further, even those that seem as if they should work are dependent on writing skills that are beyond most people’s ability.

Now, don’t get defensive. Look back at email you’ve received from just one person with whom you are close and count how many times

  • you asked for clarification;
  • you found that actions predicated on your interpretation were either awkward, or downright incorrect; or
  • your understanding of what was written left you questioning/confused/annoyed/angered/ hurt/etc., which was not the intended effect.

If that’s the batting average of someone you know well, how much more likely are misunderstandings to happen between two people who not only aren’t peers, but where one possesses substantial leverage over the other? (By definition, managers have leverage, whether or not they use it.)

Email is good for such things as

  • quick alerts (The meeting starts in 10 minutes.);
  • a public thank you (Thanks, Lucy, you gave a terrific presentation today!); and
  • simple, clearly worded instructions (Please collect everybody’s project notes and be prepared to discuss them with me at 10 AM tomorrow in conference room A.)

Although there are rare occasions where it works, in most instances using email to manage (encourage, motivate, challenge, and develop) is similar to driving blindfolded—you’re going to have an accident. Lower productivity and higher turnover are the results of management accidents, and neither is likely to give your career a boost!

To succeed at management you need to recognize some basic facts:

  • You are managing people (AKA, wetware), not androids (software) so you must lead, not program, them.
  • Living entities respond best to personal interaction, so spend the time willingly.

Your people do not interfere with doing your job, they are your job, so nurture them and they, in turn, will guarantee your success!

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