Keepers of the inbox

I know, I understand. Your message, your email about the thing you are working on or will be launching soon is the most important thing in the world. For you. Months or years you have been waiting for this moment. You spent those late nights and kept up with the changing requirements of higher-ups.

But what is this again? A notification that an internal application that I have never heard of will be unavailable for two hours over the weekend. Thank you. Thanks especially for putting that ‘important’ tag on it. I’m diligent with my email. Inbox 0 anyone? And those big red exclamation marks, hold… the.. press.. Wait, it’s here is another email about cleaning the window blinds. I thought I already read one of these last week. What was I doing again?

One more email never hurt anyone

Wrong. I would love to have statistics to show about this and perhaps this is a topic for anyone considering doing research into internal communication practices. If the message has no applicability, it’s not only a wasted message. It’s information overload that dilutes the effectiveness of the important messages. If you are not yet in the office life, pay attention to what your Communications teacher is sharing about writing effective emails. I promise it will pay off.

Inbox anarchy

We all have our own personal experiences of inbox anarchy at the workplace. At first there is a range of emotions (from amusement to anger) when receiving these emails but over time there is only indifference, which is the worst state of affairs. It was not always like this. At minimum, people used to read the subject headers, and way back before that, some brave ones even read the whole email before judging the relevance of the message. We don’t have that luxury any more, simply because too many of our colleagues have figured out how convenient email is for mass communication.

The most clever people create a rule for incoming email where everything from a resource mailbox ends up automatically in a different folder. That’s great, it keeps things in order and allows the emails to be read on their terms. It also almost guarantees that time-critical, important information will be missed. Except that if it really is that important, I expect my boss to tell me about it.

Shouldn’t there be an internal spam filter that you can trust?

Keepers of the inbox

Most people never have to think about this, but there is a group of people, the keepers of the inbox. Their job is to say ‘no’, their job is to evaluate and prioritize important messages. They know that ‘everybody’ is not a valid list of stakeholders. Their secret is simple.

Start with zero and expand.

How to evaluate if the message is important to the audience? Begin with nobody in your target group not with everybody. That’s the only way. Otherwise you will drown in a river of questions such as “would an assistant in HR care about this”. Why would the person in a totally unrelated support function, in a different country care about this message? It’s a good measurement but these questions are endless and could be asked for each and every team in the company. Therefore, just start with zero and expand to those who really need to know and sometimes to those for who it is good to know.

If you don’t know who your stakeholders are, the solution you are looking for, is not an email to the lowest common denominator.

2 thoughts on “Keepers of the inbox”

  1. Thanks for posting. You raise some interesting points which will sound a chord with many who also share frustrations in internal email. “It’s information overload that dilutes the effectiveness of the important messages.” sure is. Email is so totally ineffective as an internal communications tool these days. I just saw in Twitter (25 Sept) that at #NBForum2013 Jack Welch tonight has said go talk F2F to your people.
    Look at the company Atos whose CEO wants to do away with internal email. He has a point.

    Write on …

  2. Thanks for the first comment in my blog. My dissertation was about an internal social network site and I plan to touch that topic in the future as well, because I believe email is not the future.

    It helps to get a hold of people face-to-face if you can see their status on Skype or Lync for example. I use that a lot before going to people. Not only is face-to-face faster and more effective, but knowing how much of the communication is non-verbal, it’s much easier to have empathy.

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