company culture

Why e-mail is killing your business

Originally published on November 6, 2015 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/why-e-mail-is-killing-your-business/article27123869/

Following a recent keynote I delivered, somebody asked me why an innovation guy like me would still be using a device as passé as a BlackBerry. “Two words,” I responded: “No typos.”

Viva keyboards! I went on to say how tired I was of receiving business e-mails with the “cute” disclaimer, “Please excuse the typos.” I always want to respond, “Excuse me for taking my business to a company that values accuracy of information and delivery as much as I do.”

Glib? Too harsh? Neither one. Would it be okay for your technology partners to say, “Please excuse the random mistakes, but the data is mostly correct.” Is it okay for an airline to say, “Sorry, we got the day right but we typo’d the time, so you’ve missed your flight.”

Obviously, these excuses would be unacceptable. So why tolerate mistakes in your e-mails?

Michael Eisner, former CEO of The Walt Disney Company, pointed out that your company’s reputation, or brand, “is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures.”

So exactly what is the brand message you’re sending when you let customers know that your brand of service includes typos?

Don’t let sloppy communication be your brand.

A related e-mail problem I’ve often encountered arises from the common complaint: “I regularly send e-mails to my team leaders or store managers, but they never seem to read them. What else am I supposed to do?”

One suggestion I often provide is, “Don’t write them. Or at least, not so many and not so often.” You know the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

This comment usually elicits perplexed reactions – furrowed brow, furious rubbing of the temples, and a questioning stare that asks if I’m really advocating a return to the Stone Age. But think about it. Business success hinges on working with, managing, influencing and, above all, selling to people – and yet we keep choosing e-mail, the most impersonal means of communication available to us today.

The disconnect could not be more glaring.

Even when Walmart founder Sam Walton was the richest man in the world, he would still climb into his propeller plane and fly himself from store to store to greet team members and customers. He understood interpersonal communication, and the power that comes from speaking with your whole body: eyes, mouths, ears and even handshakes.

I understand that, as small business owners, we can’t all fly ourselves around the continent. But we can certainly mix up the way that we communicate with our customers and team members on a regular basis. Yes, there are e-mails and social media, but there are also powerful personal tools such as person meetings, the telephone, and even Skype and video conferencing.

You need to find and deploy the very best communication tools and customer experiences for your business – because building team and customer loyalty is getting harder and harder. Competition is increasing, attention spans are shrinking and consumers are more willing than ever to try something new.

Don’t make it easy for customers to take their business elsewhere. Keep things personal. Saying “no” in person or to somebody you know is much more difficult than deleting a message on your smartphone.

Here’s the interpersonal communications hierarchy I recommend for you and your team when communicating with each other or with customers.

  • For simple, fact-based communications, use e-mail
  • Use the phone for issues-based discussions
  • Conduct new or forward-looking discussions face-to-face

So many companies that I work with fail to grasp this essential truth: in business, communication is king. Don’t be sloppy. Take the time to truly engage your team and customers, and they in turn will be much more likely to engage with you.

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Leadership

Says easy does hard…really?

Why is it we struggle with the tough business decisions that impact people? Time and time again I see leaders struggle with emotions that add complexity to the business decision making process. What makes us human can also get in the way of us making good business decisions. Feelings, either in the form of too much empathy or a lack there of, can make an already difficult situation even more challenging.

So how do you strike the right balance? Here are some tips from over twenty-five years of leading people. For me personally, as well as from participants attending my leadership learning events, the techniques below are the ones found to be most valuable…

One: Influence vs. Control

The business world is full of challenges. As a leader, one of the many skills you need to exercise is the ability to prioritize and pick your battles. Being able to take on the ones where you will realize the largest return and leave others behind is a talent. To help with this filtering process, consider focusing on those issues where you have direct control. Clearly there will be situations that you can influence but those that you truly control will be fewer. Know the limitations of your sphere of influence and the boundaries of your sphere of control.

Two: Understand vs. Like

Leading people is hard. People are complex entities that can at times act and behave in a totally irrational manner. When having to deliver difficult messages concentrate on the recipient’s understanding of the situation rather than them having to like what you are conveying to them. Sometimes the nature of the situation makes it an unreasonable expectation that the person on the receiving end will like the outcome. Your goal is to have them understand. It is up to them whether they like it or not.

Three: Life’s All About Choices

You are a leader. You’ve chosen a leadership position for a reason. Having made that choice you’ve been bestowed the privilege and responsibility of effecting people’s lives. You need to honour the position and act accordingly. You need to make choices. Not taking action in a responsible way is unacceptable. You will be measured by your choices. Over time the series of choices you make forms your reputation as a leader. Choose wisely.

Four: Keeping it In Perspective

Some of us work to live while others live to work. For me, I’m of the mind that work is extremely important. That being said, it is a distant third to my health and my family. Without them, there is nothing else. Everyone picks their life priorities and to each their own. But for all of us, to help keep perspective in those crazy and difficult times regardless of where your work is positioned on your life priorities list, know that as significant as work is there are things in life that are even more important.

Whether you are a newly anointed Manager or a seasoned veteran, these four guiding principals will help you not only lead better but be a better leader.

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Why Is It OK When You Say It?

I recently asked a group of senior leaders how comfortable they thought people are telling their boss that they don’t know how to do something. The response was unanimously “not very”. The next question to this same group of leaders was “As a boss, what is your reaction when someone comes to you and says “I don’t know how to do this?”” The immediate response was, “How can I help?”

So why is it OK to be on the receiving end of the request for help and yet so difficult to be the person asking for help? Why is it that being vulnerable is still so hard to do?

Being vulnerable takes a great deal of business maturity and an environment of trust where it is safe to be exposed. And why would companies want to create such an environment?

Consider the business efficiency and effectiveness of an environment where people are encouraged to openly say “I don’t know”. It short-circuits the process of wondering, guessing and hoping that things will get done properly. Think of the time saved. Imagine what could be accomplished. Picture the engagement level of your employees and satisfaction levels of your customers.

Now consider how you make it OK to say “I don’t know” in your business.

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