Introduction by Pat Weiland: Haven’t we all rolled our eyes when the email trail gets twisted around the leg of our desk and comes to a slow crawl? Jody Rowland shares some tactical ways to really think through the impact of your email by following these 7 steps before pressing send. Jody Rowland is a marketing professional from the retail end of consumer experience. Her path has led from signage to sophisticated ecommerce messaging in the global marketplace via every medium. Now she is responsible for consumer purchases on line. She’s a huge fan of Weezer and can be found on Linkedin.
7 Steps to E-Mail like a Mack Truck – by Jodell Rowland
Okay, I admit I burst into tears, nay, sobs, yesterday while I was watching a rerun of Undercover Boss. You may have seen the TV show-C-suite residents slip incognito into hourly jobs in the bowels of their company to learn more about how their workers feel.
Yesterday’s show involved the CEO of Mack trucks, and the tear jerking scene for me came when CEO guy worked on the assembly line next to a 30-year plus veteran, who cared so much about the quality of the truck, he was a member of the Mack collectors group, and owner of over 20 ancient rigs himself. He coaxed the “new guy” to match up a bumper exactly, and even challenged the fake assembly line worker to “hit it like a Mack” when he asked him to put down the hood.
I didn’t cry because of a bad acting job—It was because a heartfelt worker honestly felt complete pride and loyalty to his company. The man reminded me of my dad, and all the hard-working Red Wing boot-wearing people who still pursue excellence in their work. And it reminded me of probably the biggest challenge I have in my side of working in corporate America.
Much of my work-life in global marketing involves e-mails. E-mails from different directions; clients, other departments, team members here in the Midwest, across the country, and overseas. Sure, they don’t involve a crankshaft, or a steering column, but they have the ability to convince, coerce, and sadly due to their poor quality, confound me. I’d like to think I have the same kind of intensity about excellence in writing e-mails that hopefully that same Mack veteran had about making sure every bolt is tightened right.
So it’s with that goal in mind, I’d like to offer a couple of ideas to make your own e-mail correspondence impress the secret CEOs in your midst, or at the least carry the same kind of Bulldog-tough accuracy that our Mack truck building friend does:
- Keep it neutral stupid, I mean my fellow co-worker: I understand if clients want to send an e-mail that carries an accusatory tone. In this contentious time, many feel that is the right they are paying for. But if you are sending a note to a co-worker, save the angry tone and opt for a more neutral voice. Consider taking a Technical writing course, and focus on language that concisely describes a situation with facts, not emotions.
- Don’t trash your own company more than the client. It’s amazing how many times we receive e-mails from a client calling us out in the subject line (i.e., Another Company X screw-up, Missing Company X orders, etc.) That’s bad enough, but even worse when one of us replies to THAT SAME SUBJECT LINE and in effect keeps the bad press going. Make sure that subject lines use said professional, neutral tone, and always err on the side of rational information. Imagine Star Trek’s Mr. Spock reading your e-mails out loud, not emotional chief engineer Scotty (self-described non-miracle worker.)
- Please summarize a long string of e-mails if you insist on sending the whole dang lot of them. It’s obvious you think the last three days of e-mails have been a bit of a challenge to deal with. And you are asking for my help in trying to get something resolved. Then please, summarize “the ask” in your e-mail and share the top three points. The only thing worse than carrying a discussion on through e-mail versus a phone call or live meeting, is wasting your manager’s time by having them read the whole string, too. Or worse, them not getting your point, or taking the opposite view.
- Phone calls disappear into vapor if you don’t recap them in a concise e-mail. This goes for getting complimented OR chastised by a client, or placing an order with a partner. Secretaries transcribing our every move are long gone, but the need to memorialize conversations remains. Do yourself a favor and get key points into writing before the other person starts believing what they thought they heard and moving in that direction.
- There’s a big difference between Reply and Reply All. Don’t think so? Ask my former co-worker who told the whole company that his wife has a shellfish allergy when replying to a holiday dinner invitation. Ask his wife how many people watched what she ate at the holiday party. Do 54 people really need to see, read, delete the message you send telling someone thank you?
- Know the difference between their and there, or your and you’re, and use it. I was lucky enough to have 5th grade teacher Mrs. Nottelson, and I bet there are still lots of folks like me who want to see words used correctly. Please indulge us.
- Save THX and LOL for the IM world. My co-worker calls those phrases lazy language. I tell my team if their e-mails become the last written page that ends up fluttering in the air, at least make it complete sentences.
Undercover Boss ended with a reveal, and some generous donations to the Mack collectors group, along with other deserving co-workers’ causes. That exercise in “going under cover” serves as a research project about what’s really going on in the company. Everyone in that picture is responsible for putting their best foot forward as if there was a camera and there would be a reveal at the end of the hour. It’s a wake-up call for the CEO who is not connected to correct some actions. It’s a wake-up call for each member of the team to take a look at our actions and the reactions of those around us. We’re responsible for communicating effectively and efficiently!
Set up your own “undercover boss” reveal and reread your own emails from another person perspective. What would you change?