The Keyboard is Mightier Than the Sword

How many e-mails leave your employees’ mailboxes on a daily basis? The average per day stands at 71.51 (Source: yedda.com). Do the calculation. Multiply that number by the number of your employees. The total should give you pause, as each e-mail has the potential to build or to implode your business.

  • Tuesday, October 28, 2008 2:17pm
  • Business

How many e-mails leave your employees’ mailboxes on a daily basis? The average per day stands at 71.51 (Source: yedda.com). Do the calculation. Multiply that number by the number of your employees. The total should give you pause, as each e-mail has the potential to build or to implode your business.

Now, no one is asking you to inspect each and every message leaving your employees’ sent folder. Naturally, you expect everyone in your employ to use common sense and courtesy when communicating with the public, whether they are customers or colleagues. Or do they? Consider these real life stories.

Damaged: A Fortune 1000 company fatally damaged its relationship with a significant Japanese firm based on an e-mail from the accounting department. In response to a query, the company’s account representative answered with a two-word lower case message. The result? The Asian company went elsewhere for its purchases. How many e-mails leave without your review?

Resolution: Do a communication audit. Just think — what if you really ticked off a client and he or she forwarded back to you all your sent e-mails? Take a random sampling of employees’ e-mails and see what it reveals. From there, begin a dialogue, offer training and develop some parameters around acceptable messaging.

Fired: “I am a very busy person. I’m just too slammed to follow any writing rules,” said the Human Resource director of an international consulting firm. She continued, “I just let it rip — no punctuation, spelling or capitalization — those rules are for amateurs.” The result? Fired. Why? Disrespect for her colleagues and a truculent attitude. Obviously, she does not play well with others. Can you just imagine how she treated the firm’s clients? How many e-mails leave without your review?

Resolution: Craft an e-mail style guide as e-mail now extends your company’s brand. First, facilitate a discussion among your teams about how they will treat clients and peers through the written word. Topics might include greetings and closings, signature block content, time allowed before returning e-mail messages. Then, determine what the standards you can all agree to regarding writing style and tone. This guide will reflect your expectations around the care and treatment of all.

Sued: An employee sued her employer, a large national bank. Her suit was for sexual harassment, racism and damaged reputation. The back-story: An employee e-mailed her instead of a male colleague and invited her to attend a strip club with all the trimmings — graphically described in the e-mail. The result? She was awarded $1 million. How many e-mails leave without your review?

Resolution: Decide what will never be put in an e-mail. Everyone in your organization must follow this to the letter. Some companies have been burned. A mid-West construction company of the very wealthy prohibits any customer problem from being sent via the airwaves. The rule? Walk down the hall. Pick up the phone. Do not put it in writing.

These stories should drive home the point that managing your risk is paramount. With e-mail now the single most important communication vehicle today, you must mitigate the damage of destructive messages that destroy careers, opportunities and reputations.

A call center decided to do just that. They chose 10 employees to monitor. Because their software program could actually see what they were doing and writing between calls — eight of the 10 were fired. Why? For writing inappropriate e-mails, downloading porn and participating in online gambling. This occurred even though they had received warnings, possessed a HR notebook with the policies and attended training.

An old saying goes like this: inspect what is expected. Do you know what your employees are writing? Do you know how much money you are losing each year by ineffective, inappropriate or illegal messages?

Follow these four steps for cleaning up your communication:

n Assess the current state of affairs in regards to writing.

n Audit selective missives to determine tone, style, content.

n Develop an action plan for improving the above through training and coaching.

n Publish a style guide along with an e-mail protocol.

Writing remains the costliest of all workplace activities. What is it worth to you to get right?

About the Author:

Dr. Julie Miller, founder of Business Writing That Counts, is a national consultant and trainer who helps professionals reduce their writing time while still producing powerful documents. She and her team work with executives who want to hone their writing skills and professionals who want to advance their careers. Some of her clients are: Microsoft, Washington Mutual Bank, Verizon Wireless and Cisco Systems. For more information, please call 425-485-3221, or visit www.businesswritingthatcounts.com.

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