“Do as I do, not as I say.” (Or something like that anyway…)
I’ve realised just how much I used to be driven by email. Now I get a relatively manageable 50 or so per day, but it used to be more like 300 and it meant I couldn’t do my actual job. Email became my oracle; feeding my workflow while also demanding to be fed, and containing every audit trail of every piece of work I’d ever done.
I truly believe that there is an art to constructing an email, which takes its lead from the more ancient and dying practice of writing letters. My first summer job was working at an investment company writing letters to customers who wanted an account balance (this was last century folks!) or who had changed address. We had templates, but more often than not you needed to extemporise. I graduated to answering complex enquiries and communicating good/bad news (e.g. “we found a £5,000 trust you didn’t know about”/“we haven’t found the £5,000 policy you swear you took out”) which, looking back, really helped my skill-set.
But email stops being a communications mechanism in the presence of extreme volume. Then it’s just processing. You don’t write them well, and you don’t read them well either.
Yammer: Making it stick
A great way to kill email is by using an enterprise social collaboration platform like Yammer. An easy quick win with Yammer is to railroad certain types of email into this Facebook-like social network that only your colleagues can see. Cakes in the Kitchen, Lottery Money Please, I’m WFH Today, Running Late, LOL Cat Being Sick – all that crap stops showing up in your email overnight.
I recently gave a training session to a national housing group about how to successfully implement Yammer for better internal communications and collaboration. I’ve used Yammer since the beginning and it’s a great tool for saving time as you work together on defined projects and general work stuff alike. The objective wasn’t to show them how to use the platform, but how to get it adopted consensually and make sure it ‘stuck’.
(Incidentally, my timing couldn’t have been more ominous. I’d unwittingly picked the launch day of Facebook at Work for the training session. If anything is going to end up knocking Yammer off its perch, it’ll be FB@W)
We covered everything from email offload and basic document management, to brainstorms, version control and team empowerment. But the thing that will make the difference to that organisation – any organisation – won’t be the training they receive or the platform structure they adopt. No; it’ll be the leadership they demonstrate.
Leadership needs to happen at two levels to change communications behaviour: (a) the very top, and (b) in and amongst the user community.
So we appointed Yammer Champions to go forth and spread the benefits of the new system and offer support to colleagues. We equipped them with stick and carrot and urged them to be part careworker and part vigilante militia (AKA “The Yammer Police”). This will ensure that the majority who haven’t been converted to the faith slowly and incrementally become the minority.
But people look to their leader in times of change. They have to hear that they’ve bought in to the strategy, but they have to see that they’ve bought in too. We remember the great leader-orators like Lincoln and Churchill; but words are nothing in leadership without deed.
If you’re a CEO or Managing Director who wants to kill email overload, ensure the success of an expensive software implementation or change communications behaviour, you can’t just want it to happen. You have to take the lead; you have to BE the change. Do that and the hard work of others will pay off.