One of my clients and I were talking about effective and ineffective email use in EMS program management and it seemed like a good column for my blog. So, here are some thoughts.
From an EMS program management standpoint, email has several advantages including:
- Provides written documentation of customer conversations related to a project
- Provides a timely and convenient way to communicate with customers, the project team and other relevant stakeholders, particularly when distribution lists are set up
- Provides a fast way to look up past history on account decisions.
But email also has some potential negatives:
- Can create information overload when distribution lists aren’t appropriately tailored to topics or when list members continuously hit “reply all”
- Doesn’t provide tone and may appear insulting or abrasive to some readers
- Allows for creation of endless feedback loops that might have been better resolved with a quick phone call
- Can “enable” avoidance behavior on tough issues
- May create archives that are out-of-sync with internal records retention policies
- Disorganized message storage may make critical information hard to find
- Poor backup discipline combined with too much reliance on email as documentation may result in permanent loss of critical information
So what can make email a more effective tool?
- Think about distribution lists and create lists that are tailored specifically to relevant subgroups of the project or customer teams vs. the entire team.
- Consider use of collaborative computing software with shared folders for recurring meeting information such as agendas or pre-meeting information distribution, rather than sharing via email. Use of “pull” systems for this type of information can cut down on overall email volume and ensure the team has a central point for keeping up to date on each customer.
- Make sure project team members understand records retention policy and have an organized method for storing email related to each project. Work with IT to ensure adequate backup is in place. If a collaborative computing strategy is in place, make sure new team members learn how to use it as part of orientation.
- Before starting an email consider whether or not a phone call with email backup would be more efficient.
- If you find yourself emailing to avoid a difficult conversation, make the phone call.
- If you find some customers are overly sensitive to abrupt emails either change your writing style, or interface via phone with email backup.
- Be sensitive to communication misunderstandings when emailing to people who may have limited comprehension skills in your preferred language. Also, recognize that sometimes people who speak a different language actually prefer emails because a written document may be easier for them understand than a phone conversation.
Properly managed, email is a huge timesaver. However, while some people are intuitively brilliant at using email efficiently, others use it without developing good organization strategies. That latter group creates information overload. If you fit in that latter group, start thinking about how you can improve. Your email recipients will thank you and you just might find you have a little more free time on your hands.
By the way, if you have thoughts to add on this topic feel free to comment. Email organization is something that many people have good thoughts on.