Another conversation I find myself having over and over is telling people that e-mail isn’t a sufficient mechanism for communication. I already discussed how e-mail isn’t a good medium for handling disputes. It also is not a great motivator. In today’s world where people get hundreds of messages a day, it is too easy to ignore. Receiving an e-mail saying “Please get this done” sometimes doesn’t work. This is especially true if there is no inherent power in the sender. A manager’s mails less likely ignored, but those from a peer often are. People are busy. It’s going to take more than just 1/100th of their inbox (much less in some cases) to prompt action.
Too many times I’ve experienced aa conversation that goes something like this:
Manager: “Why weren’t the widget’s waxed by 5:00 for the presentation?”
Report: “I asked <other person> to do it. I sent mail several times.”
Report seems convinced that they are absolved of responsibility because they asked. In e-mail. More than once. Isn’t that enough? What more should Manager expect?
If it is truly important that something gets done by <other person>, mail just doesn’t cut it. As I said, it is too easy to ignore. A different tactic is necessary. One that expresses the importance by the level to which Report is willing to go to get it accomplished. “Escalation?” thinks Report. Maybe telling <other person>’s boss about it? No. Not yet at least. Escalation ruins relationships and should be used only as a last resort.
The solution is as simple as it is old. In today’s world, it is also more unique than it should be. Try an analog approach. Pick up the phone and call. Walk down the hall and stop by <other person>’s office. It takes some effort, but it will likely garner the hoped for results. Amazingly enough, most people react differently to human contact than they do to an impersonal e-mail. Personal contact creates some level of relationship. It tells the person you care enough to expend the energy. This might communicate that you care about them as a person or it might merely tell them that you care about the work. Either way, they are more motivated to get the job done. Two more benefits are that a personal visit is a lot harder to ignore than an e-mail and you know the message was received.
This effect works equally well with reports as it does with peers. If something is truly important, say it in person as well as e-mail.