The Search For Lou 'e-' Pasteur – Part II

    emailitis, e-bola of the Internet age, clear cause and symptoms, yet no cure in sight

Recapped from last week:

E-companies are being born nearly everyday. A “small” firm, by industry standards, can readily generate 500,000 ostensibly personalized corporate messages a week for a single client at nominal cost. One firm boasts the veritable McDonalds’ “millions and millions served,” per client, per week.

Businesspeople, deluged by hundreds of e-drivel daily, anxiously await arrival of the Salks, the Sabins, the Pasteurs – those who will crusade tirelessly to e-radicate all strains of emailitis. You read about Acronymia, Attachment detachment, The Budding Hangover, Bulk Mailitis, and e-Masculation. Now read about the most dreaded diseases of all and the optimistic Six-Step program to a cure.

Human Deficit Disorder: Why talk to the lady in the next cubicle? After all, if you have a conversation,
(a) there’s no record of your brilliance;
(b) how will you impress your boss and co-workers; and
(c) how will you cover your backside, in case something you said was misinterpreted or misfired.

So we’ve stopped talking to one another, pecking missives for the record instead. The measure of success becomes email generation, not work product or project progress. Scary stuff. In fact, so frightening I think I’ll send the staff an email on the subject.

Nymformania: Nothing racy. Just the explosive use of online forms and questionnaires… only on most, the buttons, lines and X’s seldom seem to work. Fred over in accounting just created the form and blasted it out to the entire North American organization. He liked the way it looked. So what if it now takes 15 minutes to get all the X’s and text matter in the right spots, versus less than 90 seconds for that old paper form (aah, he pines for three-part carbons).

To make matters worse, how does one find that “Performance Achievement Award Nomination Form/Support Staff Version” when one really needs it, since there’s no online filing system for the stuff that administrivia is made of. And we lose a walk to the mailroom in the process, along with three good schmoozes and a cup of coffee enroute.

Testing our messages, whether they be personalized letters or impersonalized forms is a major potential improvement for life online. Bring back paper forms? Well, maybe not yet.

Piles: Sorta kinda just like the atomic kind. Runs rampant when the sender cc’s half of the western world, or at least the entire office floor. Each person, in turn, feels obliged to add his or her two cents, or even a simple “thanks for taking care of this.” And, you guessed it; they benignly hit “reply to ALL” and generate near-infinite quantities of the banal, unnecessarily.

At our shop, we regularly promote the “electron conservation society,” which reminds staffers that less is more where email messages are concerned. The greatest progenitor of emails, second to none, is clearly “reply to all.” Inoculate if you can.

Proactivitis Paralysis: I’ve saved the worst, most dreaded disease for last. It often brings all other business productivity to a halt, and can crash hard assets the way a clever virus crashes a hard drive.

The most diligent email responders can seldom be diligent about much else: jobs, priorities, business relationships and – gasp – thinking often give way to the deluge of 200 or more daily e-missives received by many middle managers at larger enterprises. If a typical type “a” workday spans 600 minutes, excluding lunch, at three minutes an “e,” the day is done!

Some emails can be dismissed in seconds or forwarded, often spreading the disease (see “piles,” above). Most need at least a few seconds of thought. Many folks presume, since they have your email address, they can ask you any inane question they want, without regard for the time required to answer. After all, since they emailed you, you’ll answer! Our consultants have started replying to some emails noting, “The answer to that question is what we call consulting. Can I send you a proposal?”

Similarly, for many, email takes on an unwarranted omnipotence, stimulating a compulsion to answer. Hogwash. Trust me, it will be several generations before performance reviews begin evaluating the quality and quantity of email response (outside the call center, anyway) by management. Find me a company that worries about it, and I’ll short the stock with you!

Six Steps Toward A Cure

Fix The FBCPU, the flesh-based central processing unit. This is a human problem, not a systems problem. Regularly remind everyone in the organization that less is more where email is concerned. (How? You guessed it. Use email, of course. But try posters, coffee cups, cute emails, or a “TUSDAY…” that’s a Tuesday without “e” of any sort. Will it bankrupt your company? Probably not. Might even make you some new friends.

While it may be a blinding glimpse of the obvious, be careful not to reward good emails and good e-politicking. Reward achievements, results, and all that ordinary non-virtual stuff that success is made of. Don’t hesitate to use humor, within HR guidelines of course, to corral the worst offenders.

Stress Customer Relationships: Despite their impenetrable voicemail systems and Palm Pilots packed with priorities, most customers are still human beings. As a rule, most human beings (other than my next door neighbor) actually enjoy, and often crave, human contact. Remind your sales managers, customer relations and service folks, and the general managers as well that even an attempted phone call “counts” as a “reach out and touch” effort. It’s far more personal, friendly and (often more) productive than bits and bytes, even though it might take an extra minute or two per contact.

Careful, though. Customers can be challenging. They might ask you a question about your new product, ask how your company’s doing, or – perish the thought – give you good or bad feedback, or maybe even an order. Why bother with any of that conversational stuff… it’s so inefficient when compared with email?

Promote And Reward Brevity: Here’s a place where “need we say more” says it all.

Lead From The Top, Face-To-Face: Walk around. Talk to people. Show people how to use email by using it appropriately yourself.

Have MEETINGS!!: Shoot me now!! I’ll be banished from the management consultant’s union tomorrow for sure, for suggesting that business can sometimes actually be enhanced, fresh ideas generated, sparks set to flight – all by putting the smart people you work with around a conference table. Who’da ever thunk that maybe more meetings would actually ever be proposed as an innovative business solution!

Keep It Private: Remember, above all else, that when somebody gives you their email address they’re inviting you into a sacred tryst – er, trust. Respect the privacy of the email address and the personal information affixed to it. Don’t abuse the privilege awarded with the offering of someone’s email address, abuse most easily delivered by overuse (or any of the dozen dreaded diseases outlined here).

One particularly praiseworthy move was made recently by MessageMedia, leaders in the mass personalized email space who understand that getting it right is more important than getting it out. Two MessageMedia moves we can all learn from:

  • Their appointment of a full-time seasoned professional, “Permission Advocate,” who assures that MM clients only get the email they want, and that information is never abused, sold, or misused.

  • Self-regulation with a vengeance. Nothing will slow the email avalanche faster than regulation, brought on by many of the abuses discussed here. MessageMedia account folks are conscientious to a fault, assuring that mass emailers avoid the dreaded emailitis.

With help from these and other conscientious, creative e-practitioners, here’s hope that Lou-e Pasteur will be e-liminating at least a few billion misplaced missives a day, starting soon.

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