He was a big man. Big build, big character, big boss. I previously knew something of his standards, his productivity and the results he was delivering to the business. His reputation preceded him.
I now knew how he operated in our time and workload management with Outlook training workshop a couple of weeks prior to this meeting, which I was now with him to support on a 1-2-1 basis.
We entered his office where his laptop was open and his Blackberry was buzzing beside it on an otherwise clear desktop. ‘I have only one question for this meeting Richard’ he said as we sat down together, ‘How can I manage the 300 emails that demand my attention every day even better?’ He was clearly a master of the matrix he managed for this large, complex business.
He took the lead again and he quickly ran through all the new decisions, process steps and Microsoft Outlook manipulations that he was still finding useful from the training 2 weeks earlier. It was an impressive implementation! I could have easily felt nervous but I chose not to be ‘OK, let’s start with the basics’ I said ….
Why do you manage 300 emails a day?
He stood up, walked to his whiteboard and he drew out the management matrix – inside and outside his team that he has direct communication with, as he spoke. He then wrote a very large Dollar number on the top and said ‘That’s why!’
‘Yes, and why does it take you 300 emails a day to manage your matrix?’ I asked.
He sat down, pushed the laptop to one side, pulled his notebook from his drawer and said ‘It’s going to be about me isn’t it?’
Here are the 3 main areas this manager took decisive and successful action on, in addition to all the other email management decisions, behaviours and processes he implemented from the training programme:
Email Behaviour breeds Email behaviour
The more we reach out to our team and others by email – as opposed to other communication channels – the more they will see it as our preferred communication medium. He did so they did!
The more we chase for early replies to our mails, and pride ourselves on our quick reply times the more people will reply immediately – developing bitty bits of asynchronous email conversations that rarely allow us to conclude an issue in one step.
The more emails we send, the more will be replied to. Especially when we are not careful enough with who we include in the conversation and how we include them. He started questioning his team on their ‘Distribution list’ ‘To’ and ‘CC’ usage
Insist on using other Productivity tools and processes better to replace internal Email
Building better information input and output into our CRM / ERM / Project Management / Collaboration tools and encouraging, training and rewarding the team in best practice usage can dramatically reduce internal email traffic and puts critical information where it belongs.
Create Calendar capacity for conversations to replace email
‘Management by wandering around’ MBWA is not easy to achieve when you manage within a matrix of geographically distributed teams who also have other priorities from other influencers to juggle every day. Difficult but not impossible.
Creating and protecting ‘Surgery Hours’ in your calendar exclusively for your team, in addition to routine meetings, to batch up issues for discussion can be a better substitute for MWBA than tapping a keyboard.
Creating a regular meeting with other key constituents can be very useful, especially when combined with a one-click template email reply along the lines of ‘Thanks for your mail, I suggest we deal with this in our regular phone meeting and I have already added it to the topics to be discussed. If you need an earlier resolution please let me know’
Driving these 3 change initiatives dramatically reduced this guy’s internal email traffic and improved the impact of his conversations and his sense of engagement with his people. What can you take away from his experience?