27 December 2007

Improving communication to allow for better decision-making

You probably know the feeling… Mr. Jones in the production department asks you whether or not you have read his email. In order to cover your bases you answer in the affirmative and are then floored by the follow-up question: “So what should we do?”

Chances are that you feel like this because the email read more like the abridged works of William Shakespeare than something on which you could (or could be bothered to) act. More likely than not, this is because Jones decided to commit one or more of the “Deadly Sins of Email” – at least they were deadly sins if he ever hoped to get a reply from you…

More likely than not the email:

  • Didn’t have an immediately clear and concise “Subject” heading
  • Long winded - full of extraneous information of no relevance to the key question(s) to which an answer was needed
  • Didn’t specify the question(s) he needed one or more answers to
  • Didn’t clarify the importance to his personal goals and to the corporate goals
  • Didn’t tell you when he needed an answer by
  • Included several subjects

How do you avoid this happening? First off, it is great if there is a company or departmental rule regarding issues that need to be answered and even if there isn’t you can improve the overall communication flow of the company by making it clear to people who rely on YOU for decision-making what you require in order to be able to help them.

Personally, I’ve always had, and have communicated the following 8 rules for decision-making to my peers and subordinates:

  1. Put the issue in the “Subject” heading
  2. Only include ONE ISSUE per email when a decision is required
  3. Make it clear in the opening two lines of your email that you need an answer to it – and when you need it by
  4. Keep it short – no longer than two pages if I were to print it out (if it’s longer you need to summarise it in less than two pages and then attach the rest of the information in a document)
  5. Tell me how it relates to your job and our company goals
  6. Outline the issue/problem
  7. Describe the different scenarios/solutions
  8. Recommend the route that you believe is best – and TELL ME WHY

Armed with this information, I can very quickly give people the answer they need from me. If the issue is so complex that it cannot be dealt with in this manner – then get the person to send an email outlining the issue AND requesting a meeting (within a specified time slot) and get them to be very specific, i.e. “I need 10 minutes of your time to discuss this a bit further”. If you have the background information and understand the general gist of the issue you’re not likely to turn down the request for a meeting that will last 10 minutes and will lead to a decision where all parties can move on to implementing the solution(s).

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