2 Things You Can Do Today to Harness the Power of Email

Want to Harness the Power of Email?
Want to Harness the Power of Email?

“There’s no problem that email can’t make worse!” – Unknown

Running across this modern-day “truism” made me reflect on the challenges that I have encountered with email over the years. I’ve experienced my share of frustration with this vital communication tool – too many, unnecessary, inappropriate, too long, missing attachments, confusing, ALL CAPS, and so on.

Any of these ever bothered you?

A key part of the Creation culture is Continuous Improvement, and so we began wondering what we could do to improve our own use of email.

Guess how many e-mails are generated by Creation people in a typical day?

Our company of about 3,000 people sends between 6,000 and 10,000 external emails each day, plus those we send internally. That’s a staggering number any way you look at it.

There were many things running through my mind as I researched email best practices from a variety of sources – the internet, prior training and current teammates. What follows are my preliminary findings and my first top 2 recommendations for improving the way we use email.

Do you want to significantly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your work habits and help your own company succeed? Read on.

2 Easy Ways to Improve Your Use of Email

    1. Take Your Hands off the Keyboard

      Did you know some experts believe that 93% of all communication that takes place is non-verbal and non-written?

      Let’s start at the beginning. Why are we sending the email in the first place?

      Is it going to someone in the same building in which we are located? If so, would a face-to-face discussion be more appropriate? If not, would a phone call be a better choice?

      If you’re giving direction, feedback or recommendations that have any degree of complexity or emotion in them, a face-to-face discussion is always better.

      Email is one-way communication and is a very poor method of conveying emotion. A huge part of communication is through our facial expressions, gestures, body posture and voice inflection, none of which can be conveyed adequately by email no matter how many emoticons we use! 😉 😕 🙂

 

  1. Limit Distribution & Be Clear about the Action You Want Recipients to Take

    “What do you mean you didn’t do anything about it? I copied you on the email!”

    There are plenty of good uses for email.

    Maybe you’re forwarding an important communication or document from a customer, supplier or teammate. Maybe you’re documenting a conversation we had on a topic that needs to be communicated in writing, or needs to be sent to many people so that everyone gets the same message at the same time.

    When you are sending an email like these ones, don’t fall into the trap! We tend to make two critical errors here – we don’t make clear who we expect to take action, if any is necessary, and we include too many people on the communication.

    Always limit the distribution to those who need to take action or know the information!

    The “To” field should only include those who are expected to act on the email. Ideally this is just one person if follow up of any type is required.

    The “Cc” field should only include those that have a “need to know” for some reason but who do not need to take action on the email. That reason should not include the common “CYA” (Cover Your Assets) to prove to someone that you took action. This behavior is muda (wasteful) and is a sign of a low-trust environment.

    Address the trust issue instead!

    Finally, the “Bcc” field should never be used except in the special case of mass mailing of information where you want to preserve the privacy of the recipients. Using it to communicate “secretly” is a violation of trust – it’s like talking behind someone’s back.

Remember the game of “Whac-a-Mole”? Well this is “Whac-eMail”! How many emails can YOU whack?

Whac-e-Mail... The Email Version
Whac-e-Mail… The Email Version

Seriously, though, if we can all be a bit more intentional by applying some of the simple principles outlined above (and more to come in future posts plus those in this great earlier post by Landon, Are You A Slave to Email? aka Master Your Email Inbox. Today!), we can make a significant reduction in emails which will free up time for all of us. Who couldn’t use a little more time?

What do think? Is email management an issue for you? Are you struggling to stay current with your inbox? Have you had any significant email “breakthrough” experiences? Do you have some favorite email tips that you would like to share?

Start Setting Goals. Change Your Life.

Setting Goals: What are yours?
Setting Goals: What are yours?

Setting Goals May Be More Important Than You Think

My Granny recently celebrated her 96th birthday. She lives very far away from me, in a small town in Ontario, Canada, where she is well cared for by the wonderful staff of an assisted living home.

Her life is busy, but on her birthday she always makes time to chat.

This year, we had a long conversation with many questions about my work—my new team and Creation’s business—and life in general. She is always curious, eager to learn, and happy to hear about what the ’young folks’ are into these days.

As for her, well, when we spoke, she had just finished preparing the facility flower beds for planting, helped identify a fungus that only grows in poor soil, and is excitedly organizing a new music therapy program. And did I mention she regularly entertains her fellow residents by playing piano?

After listening to her talk about her busy schedule and many commitments, I was struck by how much we are alike. It’s not just our love of math, financial markets and getting into trouble.

We are alike because we both see goals as an important part of life.

Before our call I’d heard about a study published by Rush University Medical Center that found fewer ‘plaques and tangles’ in the brains of those with purpose in life – ‘plaques and tangles’ are thought to be a primary cause of dementia, a growing concern in today’s society.

We’ve heard for years that staying active and engaged can increase your life expectancy. Can combatting dementia be as simple as setting goals? That certainly seems the case for Granny. Her energy is remarkable and her ‘marbles’ seem fully intact (so far, she reminds me!)

Be SMART

Setting goals is an art as much as a science.

While we have learned that goals must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely), they also must engage and challenge in a way that our daily work may not.

Setting goals for oneself should be straightforward if not easy: complete a course, run 20km per week or build a new Excel model.

Goal setting is best when it is collaborative; goal achievement comes only with the support—and sometimes the pressure—of a team.

As a new Leader at Creation, I have started slowly in setting goals with my team. A slow start allows me the opportunity to observe existing practices and identify what works well, and where we can improve. We are starting modestly – but with impact – by addressing our approach to customer service and quote process efficiency.

Our next step – which I am really looking forward to – is identifying our new longer-term strategy and building a set of goals that will help keep us on track. Our team is “SMART” and I am confident that the right goals will provide a great foundation for us to best support Creation.

Shout Out to Granny

As for Granny, I could not be happier to have her in my life. Her energy, tenacity and honesty have always inspired me. She has been a lifelong teacher and has (hopefully!) helped make me a better leader, teammate and person.

How have the goals you’ve set for yourself influenced your life? How have other people inspired you to follow through?

Are You A Slave to Email? (aka Master Your Email Inbox. Today!)

How many emails do you get a day? What happens when you go on vacation? Are you a slave to your Outlook task-master?

These are a few of the questions I like to ask when the opportunity presents itself. I love helping people battle email overload. It’s the Lean Accountant in me.

Email Overload = Email Slavery

Take, for example, my recent conversation with a Program Manager here at Creation. We were chatting as we waited for the coffee machine and the subject of vacation came up (among other lofty topics).

I asked if he was able to truly unplug during his vacation. “Sure,” he said, “except for checking my email.” My ears perked up.

Turns out he gets so many emails that he checks them on vacation to avoid a landslide when he comes back.

He went on to say that many of these emails are exchanged between the people on his Customer-Focused Team. One of the reasons our CFTs are co-located is to avoid this traffic. So why was it still occurring?

When I dug further, his estimate was around 1,000 total emails during one week of vacation.

1,000???

Now this isn’t the case for everyone, but others have shared similar stories. This begs the question, “Is email really our job?”

I recently surveyed my business unit to see how people are managing email. A shocking 20% of us have 50 or more unread emails in our Inbox.

So how do we keep up with the tide? And how many emails are awaiting your attention right now…?

Take control and master your email Inbox! Start now!

 

5 Tips to Master Email Overload

Here are 5 of my favourite tools to help you manage your email. Some are simple to implement while others require more work. I use all of them.

 

Tip #1: Set expectations with the people who send you email about what you like or don’t like.

This is key. Though there are some common practices in ‘netiquette’, each person’s preferences for email use is different.

For example, I ask that people only send me emails that they believe I need to read. Period.

And please don’t send me ‘Thank you!’ emails! Thank me in person the next time we meet or speak.

 

Tip #2: Delete unnecessary messages.

This is a hard one for hoarders, but I really believe that much of the day-to-day email traffic can be safely deleted. Eliminate the muda!

(Many Lean principles are predicated on the elimination of muda, a Japanese word for waste, to focus on opportunity).

 

Tip #3: Use Rules to manage incoming messages.

At Creation we use Microsoft Outlook, but one of the great things about today’s email clients in general is that they allow you to set up Rules to manage email messages, automate tasks and increase the flow of information.

Take advantage of email Rules to manage the many notifications and group emails common these days. Use a Rule to move them to a folder for later review. (And then delete them. Remember Step 2?)

 

Tip #4: Add Categories or Follow-Up Flags to help you prioritize and organize.

If Rules can’t quite deal with an incoming message, try classifying it using the email client’s default Categories (and you can even customize the names to suit your own needs).

I apply the same Category schemes to my calendar. This visual management tool can help you quickly navigate your inbox.

Another way to keep on track is to add Follow-Up Flags and reminders. Sometimes an email requires a future response and Flags are a great way to jog your memory.

 

Tip #5: Set AutoArchive to clean up your folders automatically.

I have an annual archive file that receives my old emails (only the ones I want to keep) after about 3 weeks. This archive file is a searchable location but keeps the file size down on the server. Our IT team appreciates this one. Here’s a good article about managing AutoArchive features in Outlook 2010.

I’d love to read your thoughts. Are you in control of your inbox? Or are you a slave to email? Please share your own system and tips for managing it!

3 Tips for An Incredibly Smooth ERP Upgrade Project

ERP Upgrade Project
Planning an ERP Upgrade Project?

After 6 years on version 11 of Oracle’s eBusiness Suite, Creation was reaping the rewards of having a stable ERP system that was optimized and customized to support our needs across key Business Areas like Manufacturing, Finance, Supply Chain, and Engineering.

In late 2010, all of that changed. Oracle announced that version 11 would no longer be supported, and that new capabilities were only available in Release12.

So we embarked on a 12 month journey to upgrade our ERP.

Are you thinking about an ERP upgrade project? Maybe our experience can help.

Along the way, we learned several lessons that apply to any ERP upgrade project, regardless of the vendor or platform. Here are some of our ERP upgrade tips that might be of value to your own journey.

 

Tip #1: The More Things Change, The More You Must Keep
Them The Same

Lesson 1 is actually in two parts:

1) Expect instability.

With any newly released application of the magnitude and complexity of an ERP system, there will be instability as the vendor constantly issues “fixes” and “patches”. Software fixes and patches provide welcome resolution to known problems, but applying patch after patch can wreak havoc on the stability of Test environments for those of us on the implementation side. Ever encountered a function that tested fine one day and fails the next? We have. Seemingly unrelated patches applied could be the culprits.

2) Don’t try to do everything at once!

I can’t stress this one enough. Constrain the scope of the project to upgrading the application only!

Tempting as it is, don’t attempt to upgrade the Hardware or the Operating System at the same time as the application upgrade. This will create too many variables and make it extremely difficult to determine root causes. Is the problem caused by the new Hardware? The new Operating System? The new Application? If you’re doing too many things at once, it will be hard to make efficient assessments.

 

Tip #2: The More Things Change, The More You Need To Test

ERP systems support business processes that span many critical functional areas like Order-to-Cash, Procure-to-Pay, Dock-to-Stock, etc.. During the Testing and Validation process of a software upgrade, it is extremely important for Super Users to perform end–to– end tests using documented test scripts.

The reason for this is simple.

While the “Procure” function may test just fine, and the “Pay” function may also work as expected, the larger end-to-end process of Procure-to-Pay can still fail. You wouldn’t just assume an ultrasound machine would work without first performing integrated tests; the same is true for a new ERP system.

 

Tip #3: The More Things Change, The More Problems You Need To Deal With

Be prepared!

Make sure you have a robust process for logging, prioritizing, tracking and escalating issues. This could be brief daily meetings using an “issue tracker” spreadsheet, or a sophisticated project management mobile application.

Without this robust process, the onslaught of bugs, patches, data fixes, workarounds, and environment refreshes can force the team into a perpetual firefighting mode.

It’s inevitable that all major software upgrade projects will have challenges and create unexpected problems. How a team deals with these problems can make the difference between success and failure.

Now….. Does anyone know when Oracle is planning to Release version 13?

These are some of the fundamentals. What other tips would you offer to make an ERP upgrade go smoothly?

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