Email has been a truly transformational tool in the business world. Information sharing is fast and much more efficient than anything that came before it. Some of you can think back to the days of faxing documents with hand-written changes back and forth to update materials in development. Email is also a great too as you can select every word and know it will be delivered exactly as you want.
But, will every word be *read* and interpreted exactly as you want? Probably not. Every recipient of an email has a unique perspective based on their role, their relationship with the author, and environmental factors including whatever else is happening in their world. It can be a challenge to effectively use email with larger groups to deliver a message that you’d like received and understood in a singular way.
I had an interesting experience discussing this issue based on how members of a group read the same message with entirely different interpretations. While email is a simple tool, before blasting out that next message to a large group, remember to consider a few essential elements to avoid pitfalls within your audience.
- Timing: Be mindful of the timing of the message as one sent at a time that can be viewed as inappropriate can create significant problems. If sending a message to a large team, the day before a deadline isn’t going to endear you to them. If the message is in response to something that happened recently that should be done differently in the future, be aware it may be viewed as a direct correction to someone who took action and it can generate a response akin to “ooh, who did that?” or “Dave’s in big trouble for that one.”
- Role of the author: Every organization has a different culture but there are some core similarities. If the president/owner sends out an email, it is viewed as a big deal regardless of the topic. Whenever leadership communicates something to team members it conveys the message that this is the official position of the company. This can be a good thing, when it reinforces the culture and style you want to have in the organization. When Woot CEO Matt Rutledge send his letter to employees about becoming an independent subsidiary of Amazon it was in a style that fit with the culture they’ve established. Or it can create a storm of new fires for the company like Dan Gilbert’s letter as owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. (and I didn’t even mock the fact it was comic sans font) So, when determining who the author should be, take some time to decide if it really needs to be from the top of the organization or if another member of the team might be more appropriate. You are delivering a message before readers ever get to the content.
- Tone: This is a given but often where everyone struggles due to the nature of email communication. It’s never good to let someone sit down and fire off a snarky message to everyone because of frustration. It’s not helpful and will likely just reflect negatively on the author and hurt the success of the team. When communicating with others in the company the tone must remain professional (you must remember how easily these can be forwarded), but think about what the tone should be based on the content. Does it need to be inspiring and motivating? It is to solicit feedback? Policy memo and you don’t want feedback? All have very different styles that should be used in getting the response you want.
All-in-all, email is a great tool. However, it is not a cure-all for communicating. Be mindful of what you’re trying to achieve and evaluate the good and bad that goes along with email to decide if it fits or if you’re better off delivering the message in another manner…maybe even (shudder) in person.