I am not Google – an email rant

Email is out of control in the corporate America.

More and more people believe they have completed a task by emailing someone to do something.  No follow-up, no tracking and no attempt to make sure the email recipient has the time to complete the task.  I sent you the email, now this is your problem.

What’s worse are emails that describe something that I might not need to know for several weeks.  The burden is transferred away by emailing what you want done to scores of people.  It is now the responsibility of each employee to hold onto that information until they need it.  Some people will store it in their user directory, some people will print it, some (like me) will just leave it in their inbox.

Folks, if you are creating reference material, put it some place where people can find it.  Better yet, put it somewhere people can find the most recent version.  See the difference?  One person is filing the reference material instead of everyone that need the information.  This is the purpose of corporate intranets.

One more email rant, you are not doing your job if you send an email to the widest possible audience so each person can decide if they need the information.  It is the senders job to target the email to the correct audience.

I receive well over a thousand email messages a week.  Don’t assume that I am going to remember your email.  I have a pretty good memory, but I am not Google.  I cannot index that much information.  Business people need to stop thinking that sending an email is the completion of a task.

Email has just become a crux for all of us.  As the CIO I need to help people see these behaviors and understand that they are counter-productive.  I need to make sure that the corporate intranet is easy to update and is usable.  I need to investigate tools like Yammer for moving nice-to-know information out of email.  I am looking forward to new technologies, like Google Wave, to help us parse all of this.

What do you think?

PS, I have to give credit to Kevin Behr for the phrase “I am not Google.”

PSS, I have been guilty of all of these things.  I am trying to do better.

23 thoughts on “I am not Google – an email rant

  1. Agreed – passing the buck and ‘cc’ing the world’ are two of my biggest email pet peeves. That said, I rely on email and IM to communicate with people far more than the phone. I’d add easy-to-search to the intranet criteria – adding info is one thing, making sure someone else can find it is another!

  2. I think we have all, at one point or another, been guilty of these sins. I think a concious drive (leadership) to eliminate counter-productive behaviours needs to be part of any sound organisational strategy.

  3. Will,

    Great topic. The absence of execution strategy in many corporate environments is propelled by our dependence on email. The old smtp approach to electronic communication no longer meets the demands of our IT driven society. Wave is a great step in the right direction. As are many of the Enterprise 2.0 applications on the market today.

    However, I am most concerned with the underlying cultural values. It’s much easier to change software vendors, than it is to change the culture and accepted behavior. What is your strategy for driving that change in the environment?

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  5. Okay, I’ll play the devils advocate here. I probably receive as much or close to as much email as you do. I use sorting filters for 90% of it, especially mailing lists and specific individuals.

    When something comes in that will need attention in the future it goes into my calendar.

    Maybe I don’t have some of these problems because I do have the luxury of rejecting some demands on my time. I think it has a lot more with how you establish your value to other people than how you handle your email.

  6. Great topic to discuss! This has been an issue for a long time in IT.

    I try to use the calendar to work with pending items, similar to what Tim suggests. I also use filters heavily to help with sifting through all the cruft.

    One thing that I think helps with the “latest” document is Google Docs, it comes with google for business/domain accounts and the documents in there can easily be shared with anyone. People can collaborate, print, pdf, share, search!, and most importantly, always have the last version available along with a revision history. Formats are limited so it isn’t a “solve all” but its a step in the right direction.

    With that said, I think Wave will really change things when it comes out, and lots of these problems will have a great solution in this. The only issue I see with Wave is that companies will be slow to adopt it. I still get blank stares when I suggest a Wiki, or other “old” technologies to solve corporate communication problems.

    One thing I use that also helps is that my e-mail is run by Google, and I use the GTD extension for Firefox, it easily helps me determine a course of action (based on the GTD philosophy) for email generated tasks.

  7. You nailed it on the head. Great post. Email has become a substitute for talking. Like you said it almost becomes counterproductive. As tech execs we should help people see these behaviors and try to help correct it.

  8. Great post! I spent 12 years at a very progressive company working on various teams to develope a CRM system and a “wiki” tool for the intranet. It was such a fantastic way to encourage the most knowledgable people in the company to share. Everyone loved it!

    I left that company to test out my skills and ended up in a place where email is the main form of communication. Two weeks after I started, I asked a question and was told “I sent an email out about that subject 6 months ago. One of your people should have it.” I was shocked! So, I suggested an intranet which was futile because “our webpage has all the info you need”.

    Working in a backwards company has been one of the best experiences of my career. It has given me the opportunity to learn what happens when you do not embrace progress and technology. It will make me a better CIO one day.

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  10. It is amazing how much the business world has changed because of email. Do you ever wonder to yourself what people did before email? Probably picked up the phone and actually communicated verbally.

  11. The problem is not how to sort your emails so that the information can be picked up when it is needed, it is with the person sending them out to do their job properly. You wouldnt just walk up to 20 people and shout the information to them all so the ones who need it can then act on it, its about working out who really needs the information and relaying it to them in an apporiate manner when its needed. This can be through email but should be followed up not just left and assumed it is being dealt with.

  12. Re: “Email has just become a crux for all of us.” Perhaps you mean email has become a ‘crutch’ for all of us — something we do because we can, and because it’s easier to type and click send than to deal with the messy work of setting priorities, holding people accountable, working through the issues of getting a functional intranet built and putting in the time to feed it.

  13. People think that since there’s a record, sending an email to someone else is a “cover your butt” move. If anything goes wrong, all they say is “I told him to do it!” But I do expect people to read email I send them sooner or later, just as I read all email that’s directed to me.

  14. I’ve taken a look at Google Wave (Was one of the first to be invited via a University contact) Although it has very good Groupware features, and allows indexing I really don’t think it is the answer to “careless emailing” either. I think company culture and genuine work flow products like Process Maker or Lotus Notes are what in the end really tackle the issue of superfluous or out of sync information.

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