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Email mis management causes priority conflicts

Have you ever been on the receiving end of this type of poor email management? I have just put the phone down on a support call for a client who raised this issue from his inbox and worload management immediately prior to our call. It is hard to believe that a sane manager employed by a leading organisation would do such a thing!

This manager had sent an email to 6 people requesting the same high priority action on an issue that everyone in the business knows is consuming a lot of management focus and attentaion at the moment.

It gets worse – The task involved a lot of investigation and pulling together of information from disparate sources.

Worse still – 2 of the recipients spent almost an hour each on pulling information together because ‘the boss wanted it urgently’. 1 person had already spent almost 15 minutes on it before asking one of the other two if she could help, then backed out of the task. 2 others were out of the office so did not get around to it.

The guy I was supporting was going through his triage and execute process on his inbox from our training about an hour after the email was sent by the boss and replied asking who should do what aspects of the work requested (Clever guy!). It was only after sending the mail and speaking with the others he discovered the appalling productivity impact of this poor email management.

It reminds me of my 12,992 pointless cc and bcc mails story  So many lessons to learn here!

  1. Effective and productive communication in business is rarer than we think it is!
  2. Because an email is so easy to create, it can cause confusion and priority conflicts too easily.
  3. Tapping words into an email form is no substitute for the process, skill and art of effective delegation that all leaders and managers should be living and breathing on a daily basis.
  4. It is always preferable to delegate work via an email to one person only
  5. If we have to delegate work via email to a team or a number of people in the ‘TO’ box we MUST set out specific task actions to each person in the first few lines of the email body so that all recepients can triage and execute affeciently and effectively.

What else do you draw form this story? Do you have any experiences that match it?

Until next time,

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Robbie April 27, 2011, 3:23 pm

    I have just picked up on this Richard because I sometimes use your idea on counting the number of emails my people send to demonstrate how ridiculous it all can get! The numbers seem to get the message across more effectively than my ‘pick up the phone’ mantras sometimes.

    I must be careful what I say here but that’s all too common in my experience.
    Sometimes it seems to me that many managers manage by email – usually with a high urgency and high priority attached to it.

    Once, in a previous company, I had to confront a maniacal emailing manager. I’m sure he thought he was delegating but the truth of the matter was that he had no idea of the practical impact of his endless missives and modifications on earlier missives!

    In fact, when I showed him a timelined list all the things he expected me and my team to deliver he looked genuinely concerned (this despite the workflow status being a regular item on our weekly meeting).

    Borrowing your ‘Worst still’ structure, Richard, he was unable – or unwilling – to work with me on prioritising the list, saying that ‘Everything is a priority and it was my responsibility!

    He was a nice enough guy but a very poor manager who did not last in post too long.

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