Tackling email overload and creating better internal communication habits

17 February, 2012 - 11:14
Sophia Cheng caught up with David Grossman, CEO of The Grossman Group, to chat about the ever-hot topic of email overload. Expect the email backlash to continue well into 2012.

By Sophia Cheng

In our one-on-one interview, Grossman discusses the effects of overuse of the popular internal communications channel, the best times to use it, and also introduces his 2012 Workplace Diet: how to tackle ineffective communication by breaking issues down and targeting them one by one, month by month.

SC. Common thought is that email overload leads to inefficiency and a loss of time but are there any other drawbacks?

DG: Email distracts people from what is important. In this 24/7 world where we’re bombarded in many cases with information, in order to be effective and productive in the workplace we need to be able to cut through all the clutter and get to what’s important so workers can do the good job that they want to do on behalf of their organisations.

SC: Is there ever an appropriate use of email in internal comms?

DG: Emails are best used when you need to share prescriptive information or details where a written record is important. It works well when you need to direct someone to a source of online information. Or when you need to provide a brief. The best use of email in many cases is as a follow-on to a meeting or phone conversation, when you’ve already had the conversation and you’re summarising what has just been discussed. The beauty is, since it’s a summary, it ends up being brief. In general, email messages are long and complex and hard to wade through.

SC: How does email compare to using the new enterprise social media tools such as Yammer?

DG: The internal social media tools such as Yammer are used best for employees to collaborate their ideas and to receive updates. My experience, in working with clients who are leading globally in the area of communications, says that there is a place for many of the tools in the toolbox; for a tool like Yammer, for face-to-face communications, for email communications. The challenge and opportunity is helping people use these tools effectively, understanding the appropriate messages and situations in which to use each kind of tool. There are different benefits and drawbacks to each.

I believe face-to-face communications is on life support inside so many organisations. We see people hiding behind email, afraid of having tough conversations, so they have them electronically. This leads to really poor use of email and it doesn’t resolve the problem quickly.

On email, conflict escalates faster and lasts longer. Instead of just picking up the phone or walking down the hall our natural instinct is to immediately use instant messaging or email. More thought should be given to when we should be picking up the phone: when it’s a complex conversation, when it’s a tough conversation, and when there are questions or perspectives you need where dialogue is going to be especially critical.

Why are we so afraid to talk to people to be really social, instead of communicating via social technology?

SC: Do you think the email backlash trend will continue this year?

DG: I do think we’re going to see more organisations limiting email as a means of helping improve employee’s work-life balance and productivity. It’s very much a win-win. It’s not going to work inside every work culture but in many it could be very successful.

SC: Speaking of 2012, you have introduced a special Workplace Diet for the New Year. Tell us what it’s all about.

DG: The Workplace Diet is really designed to conquer confusion, apathy, lack of motivation and the cost of ineffective communications. At a time when many of us are making resolutions or thinking about goals, it’s the perfect time for every leader to think about how they could be more effective when it comes to communicating with others.

For so many leaders this feels like a daunting task to improve, so I thought of the idea of a workplace diet, where there are specific skills that leaders could work on once a month, that together over a year could have a bigger impact on their results, on their team’s results and overall on their organisation’s productivity.

So I’ve pulled together the most common and challenging issues that leaders face.

SC: So what is the focus for this month? What can leaders implement right away?

DG: February is about sharing expectations. Many leaders think they’ve articulated their expectations with their teams. They often think a certain way and assume their staff will think the same way, when the reality is one of the toughest challenges leaders face is regularly sharing their expectations.

Research shows employees want to rise to their boss’s expectations; we all do as human beings. The key to that achieving that is knowing and understanding what the expectations are. So this month I am sharing some tips and techniques around the need to share your expectations as a leader.

There are some things leaders can do right away. The first is to make a list of your expectations and share them with your staff. At a staff meeting spend time to think about what your employees can expect from you as a boss and conversely what you expect of them.

The second is to be as specific and descriptive as possible when making expectations, so people know exactly what you mean. When someone is meeting your expectations, make sure you are letting them know and be specific in your feedback in order to reinforce behaviours.

And lastly, when your expectations aren’t being met use it as an opportunity to clarify your expectations, to teach and help employees to know how to do better next time.

SC: And what feedback have you had so far?

DG: The early feedback has been very positive about the concept itself. People like the idea of thinking about tangible things you can do every month for a year and breaking down the big, challenging complex issue of communication into smaller components that are easier to tackle.

For more information on David Grossman’s 2012 Workplace Diet, go to:

http://www.yourthoughtpartner.com/blog/bid/50856/Workplace-Diet-2012-Take-5-to-Share-Your-Expectations