Alright, I’ve had it with project leaders who think that the whole job can be done from a keyboard! I recently helped one of my client companies hire a project manager for a professional services business. The CEO told me they wanted help because “The last 3 project managers didn’t work out.” Yeah, that’s a sign that somethings cookin’ in the project management kitchen. t seems that the last project manager was there for a year and had NEVER been to visit a customer. Now, mind you, this was a professional services firm, and the people working on the projects were pretty much ALWAYS at the customer site. I innocently asked “How did this person manage the project?” The answer, of course . . . EMAIL! Paper cuts all over my body just prior to a lemon juice bath couldn’t have put me into more intense convulsions. For years I have been protesting that email is NOT a form of communication. It’s a data tranmission tool. OK, sometimes email is pretty handy, but honestly, don’t you think we’ve gone too far? Too many times the “e” in email stands for:
- Easy – – – as in “the easy way out” of something that deserved a face-to-face, or at least a phone call. Or just plain easy for you, and harder for everyone else.
- Evasive – – – as in a cowardly alternative to a difficult conversation.
- Evil – – – as in nastygrams that would never have been spoken.
- And last, but not least, Efficient, but ineffective.
A project leader with an addiction to email is destined for trouble. Are you addicted? Here’s a quick check up. Test yourself against these behaviors, all of which I have observed to be epidemic in the stress-fest work environments where I do my consulting:
- The first thing you do when you walk in the door in the morning is clear out your in basket.
- You monitor email all day and stay on top of your in basket.
- You continue to read and respond to email while people are in your office talking with you.
- You send an email to communicate important news instead of holding a meeting.
- You send critical documents that require feedeback from busy people as attachments to email and expect them to actually read them.
If even ONE of these statements describes you, give yourself a good slap across the face, splash water over your stinging skin and get help immediately! Surf the web for support groups, call Email-holics Anonymous, explore your relationship with a higher power, whatever it takes! These are not the characteristics of a highly respected project leader. They are the behaviors of an administrator. Project leaders need to LEAD . . . and you can’t do that from a keyboard.
I’m not going to even try to capture a thorough list of email best practices (Jeff Sandquist did a great job of that), but here are a few tips about some particular burrs under my saddle that I’m just itching to eradicate off the face of the planet:
1. Avoid the “hydra” email – an email covering several different topics, each of which requires something of the receiver. Limit each email to one topic, clearly labeled in the subject line, and put “ACTION REQUESTED” in the subject line if you need a response. Winston Churchill used this technique with paper memos, only he was much more blunt, writing the phrase “ACTION REQUIRED THIS DAY” on those concerning urgent matters.
2. Don’t even THINK about sending anything remotely sensitive or emotional in an email. If you MUST write it, have the good sense to delete it before sending, or send it to yourself. The person who reads your email gets to imagine your tone of voice and interpret your meaning. No matter how carefully you write it, you only control a small % of the meaning that your email will convey. The rest will be supplied by the vivid imagination of the receiver.
3. Never use BCC. NEVER! If you MUST secretly let someone know about some savory messages you sent, copy yourself and then forward a copy to them. For Pete’s sake, if the person receiving the BCC hits “Reply to All” you will be outted for the sneaky bastard that you probably are! (OK,according to one of my techno-nerd friends, it doesn’t work that way anymore, but I recently tested it with my email account and 3 co-conspirators and it STILL works this way for my email. Personally, I have not checked out every email program on earth, and I’m still not willing to risk it after being burned back in the last century.)
4. Don’t play Email Ping Pong. After a couple of volleys back and forth, pick up the phone, or better yet, pay a personal visit to the other guy. He probably only sits 5 meters away from you anyhow!
When I’ve raised this topic in group discussions there have been heated debastes and a lively exchange of strong opinions. Let’s hear from you! Give it to me with both barrells. If you don’t feel like registering in order to comment on the blog, you can always email me.