Tag Archives: Work

5 things you need to know before you write your next email

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The following 5 tips are a must read if you want to send emails that leave a good impression, and compel the recipient of your emails to take immediate action.

1. Be bold: Start with the end

Need an answer from your recipient? Want them to take a particular action, like printing an attachment, sending an invite, or calling you as soon as possible? Tell them what you need in the first paragraph of your message.

If you’re feeling bold, then format the “call to action” in a way that stands out from the rest of the message. Be careful in your choice of formatting: Many people have found that red fonts will convey an implicit meaning that you are demanding action, rather than simply encouraging it. That was one lesson I would have preferred to learn the easy way.

2. Try again; do it twice

If you’ve ever tried to cook a fancy recipe for an important dinner party for the first time, you’ll probably have some pretty embarrassing memories to share. We rarely get things right on our first try, which is why we tend to use our loved ones as guinea pigs for our culinary experiments. With that knowledge, we really ought to ask ourselves why do we rarely re-read an email before we hit the Send button…

Next time you sit down to write an email, just go ahead and write it. After you’re done with it, go back to the top and read it again. I guarantee you will find a number of changes you want to make as you read through it again. Feeling confident? Do it a third time – you will surprise yourself with some of the subtle yet powerful improvements you get on that last run.

3. If it is important, choose the right time

In their best-seller ’Fish!’, Lundin, Paul & Christensen tell us that one of the three secrets to a happy work life is to “Be Present” for others. The same applies to written communication. Some time ago I learned from experience that writing mission critical messages to my largest customers at 11:30 PM after a long day at work was an extremely poor choice.

If the message is important, choose the right time to write it. If th message is not important, choose the right time to write it too. Make sure you won’t be forced to rush through writing it. And if it is really important or a letter charged with emotion, you should follow Dan Millmans’ advise about E-mail Protocols:

If you must write an emotionally-charged letter, or just an important
one where clear composition is important, write it then SAVE it in your
“Drafts” file. SLEEP ON IT and take another look the next morning.

4. Carefully craft the subject line

Read any advice from the professionals, and you will be bored to death with messages on the importance of your headline. Email is no different. The subject of your email is your headline; don’t abuse it. Use it wisely, and your message will be far more powerful than you could ever dream.

Some professionals go as far as suggesting that you should spend half the time choosing the title of your article, and the other half writing the actual article. In the case of emails, maybe 50/50 is taking it a bit far. Just make sure you don’t underestimate the importance of a good subject line.

5. Be succinct

Want your message to be clear? Want to grab the attention of your reader? Want to differentiate yourself from the thousand other emails that arrive in others’ email inboxes?

Pack a lot of content in as few words as you can. Use the delete key generously.

Be succinct.

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Aiming for excellence

 


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 On Dan Millman’s blog, there was a recent entry that generated some interesting commentary (click here to see the entry and comments)

This is what was said that grabbed my attention: “I feel the aspect of achievement and success and making-something-of-oneself plays less of a role here in Europe. These are, after all, deeply American values, and sometimes it’s overburdening to me.

Dan’s response to this was that “I’ve never aimed for “winning” or for “success.” Only for excellence (which is all that we can control — the quality of our attention and effort, moment to moment). We can control efforts, not outcomes.

On the context of my recent experience with a performance review, these words really make you think. Our ‘performance culture’ in organisations has aimed for a very long time to measure & reward success (outcomes). We are even told that our objectives for the year need to be ‘Smart’: Specific, measurable, action-focused, realistic, and time-bound. Yet time and time again we focus on what is achieved, rather than the effort of the individual in achieving those outcomes. At my workplace, they do try to have a measurement for the ‘behaviours’ that generated the outcomes: Not so much the what but the how. Yet in both cases, the focus is very goal-oriented.

Dan’s comment reminded me that in looking at life, one can easily allow other-people’s-values become entrenched in the way we feel and think. This obsession with ‘success’ and ‘goal-orientation’ is a great example. Despite my focus on the journey; on the effort I put into learning from every moment; on the positive or negative experiences I create for myself and others; I continue to evaluate my success by (a) how much money I make, and (b) How others perceive my achievements.

So what are you aiming for? Perfection of outcomes, or excellence of effort? You be the judge.

Corporate memory? The human record?

The human race, like many other entities, operates in cycles. Empires rise and fall. Seasons come and go. And we continue to make the same mistakes many times, over and over.

As individuals, we can rely on our memory (if we have a decent one!) to remember our mistakes and try to avoid them in the future. Even this breaks down if you believe in reincarnation; under this scenario, your memory of past lives is so tenuous that you may very well be making the same mistakes over and over, like in a B-grade execution of ‘Ground Hog’s Day’.

What about corporations? I have just been through some experiences that tell me corporations have no memory, despite (sometimes) their best intentions. If we look at the major corporate disasters of the last decade, we could probably find that the root cause was identified, at the same company or industry, as a major cause of concern sometime over the last century. On a smaller scale, we all experience times when we see our bosses’ bosses make the same mistake over and over, especially when it comes to people matters. It still dumbfounds me that organisations with bonus programmes continue to undermine the ability of management to “share good times” across the team with some form of token payment. I am not arguing that the wealth created by a corporation should go to its’ employees rather than to its shareholders. But we all know that management theory argues we can motivate employees to higher levels of performance when they feel they have ‘skin on the game’. Despite the many occasions our corporations have had to experience the mistake of mis-managing these programs and seeing key talent flee the organisation, we continue to see companies making the same mistake over and over; allowing the very few that are politically savvy enough to look after themselves rather than their group to secure the small portion of the bonus pool, whilst the mass goes on with a token excuse for a share of the pie, or even worse, an excuse for why they did not share in record profits.

But is this restricted to corporations? Not by a long shot. If we extend our analysis to the human race, we find that the same principle applies. How many times will our civilisation have to make the same mistakes before it learns? How many wars will we have to wage to realise that, in the long term, it makes no difference? Boundaries are a figment of our imagination. Nations are intellectual constructs we use to create divisions ‘amongst brothers’. We know from experience we are a diverse race. We know from experience that everywhere are ‘good’ people and ‘bad’ people, and that the ‘bad’ people will defy any attempt at pre-identification and classification (dare I say profiling?). And we also know from experience that no amount of military power will shape a society; it is only in the collaborative undertaking of the political process that societies will rise, and eventually, powers will be shaped. And then the cycle starts again.

In my beloved Australia, we just held a general election where the long-standing Primer Minister for the last ten years, the Hon. John W Howard, was defeated, giving rise to the labour movement into the prime power position in our political landscape. I am excited by the volley of changes that will result from this election, starting with the first one of which was long overdue: Australia’s ratification of the Kyoto protocol. But I am no dreamer (ok, I am a bit: I always hope for the best; want to change the world; try to make someone else’s day every day – but I digress). I am realistic enough to know if Kevin Rudd stays in power for long enough, that power will corrupt and lead him to re-make some major mistakes of the past. I have been thinking for long enough in my life to be aware that the new powers at the helm will also struggle with the complexity of achieving a balance, and will most likely have a negative impact on our economy, in the long term. In short, our dear country will most likely repeat many of its’ mistake of the past. And to some extent, that is a good thing. Because it is in those mistakes that worrisome linear trends will be broken. New ones will emerge, and we will have a different set of concerns to deal with. But that’s ok. At the point, we will change powers, allow others to undo some of the new mistakes, and make some old ones of their own volition.

Does the human record serve any purpose? I invite you, my dear readers, to post your opinion in the comments section. Let’s see what healthy debate we can create in this space.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Image by extranoise

Almost 20 years ago I was sitting on a classroom at the ‘Universidad de Los Andes’ learning about System’s Theory. In that class-room, I learned a very useful paradigm: Almost anything you care to look at, can be interpreted as a system that takes some inputs; processes them; and provides some outputs.

Throughout my career as a consultant, I ended up calling this framework the ‘I.P.O’ equation , which confused many of my colleagues who were convinced IPO stands for ‘Initial Public Offering’ instead.

One of the corollaries of this thesis is that with any system there are three ways to improve it:

  1. You stream-line its processes, making them quicker (more efficient) or better (more effective)
  2. You intercept its outputs before they reach the end-user by establishing stringent Quality Assurance rules, and discarding anything that does not meet those rules
  3. You control its inputs and ensure that they are of the highest possible quality

So what happens when we apply this level of thinking to ourselves? One of the critical inputs we have in every day of our lives is our emotions. But how do we control our emotions so that our interactions are more positive and fulfilling?

Sorry to say, but you can’t. At least, I have not found anyone that can truly control how she or he feels. This leaves us with a serious dilemma: If we can’t control a very important input into how we experience every moment, what can we do about it?

The answer is rather obvious: We find ways to improve the way we ‘process’ our emotions. This is particularly important for negative emotions. How do you process them? Wen you process them, do you try to ‘release’ or ‘discard’ them?

Let’s take a closer look at a few of them:

How do you release anger? Do you punch, throw objects, or scream? What impact does that have in others and in yourself? Are there other ways in which you could process anger? Maybe you can try to identify songs, places, even thoughts that make you calm down. How about next time you’re angry, you process that anger by thinking of a calming idea, or going to a place that makes you feel peaceful?

How about Hurt? Do you withdraw or go on the attack? ‘Fight or Flight’? Do you talk things over, or do you make assumptions that you know ‘why’ the other person hurt you like that, and you know it was maliciously intended? Maybe you can try instead to put yourself in the shoes of the other person for a second, and understand their situation. What could be going through his mind to make him act like that, despite his typical good nature and caring attitude?

You can do the same exercise for Resentment, jealousy, despair, sadness and even grief. Denying those emotions in your life will only bottle them up until the pressure escapes through a very destructive explosion. Instead, you can prepare for them by developing a higher awareness of what you do when in ‘automatic pilot’ (we all have one of those), and identify alternative ways to deal with them.

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You may be wondering what made me think of this topic. Over the last year, I had a couple of instances at work where I got extremely agitated about the way things were done, and my automatic pilot drove me to become more vocal and aggressive on the topic. I wanted to ‘win the argument’. Later on, one of my mentors made me realise that feeling passionately that an injustice was being carried out was actually a very good emotion to have; but that the way I decided to act on it had not taken us on a positive path.

Then last week, I got some news at work that made my blood boil. I felt hurt, angry and betrayed by some of my leaders. I had to take some time out in order not to go straight to their offices and ‘sing a couple of truths’ to their faces. I had to actively choose to process those emotions in a very different way than what I would have done a year ago. And I think the outcome achieved was far more positive than if I had allowed my auto-pilot take control.

So there you are. Systems theory applied to the realm of human emotions and life as a system itself. I encourage you to reflect on your own automatic ways of reacting to stress, injustice, or loss. Are they serving you well? If not, how else could you process them? What can you do to ‘kick you out’ of your automatic patterns, and consciously choose a different path?

COntrolling your emotions? You can’t. So if you can’t control a critical input, what doyou do about it?

You figure out how to process them; and as importatly, how you ‘dispose’ of them.

How are your emotions being actively released, particularly negative ones?

What do you do to release anger? Hurt? Resentment? Jealousy? Despair? Sadness? Grief?

Are you a specialist or a generalist?

The UnAwakened always rewards Specificity.Only the Masters enjoy Balanced Versatility.


Image by Argenberg

Specialisation is highly regarded in this modern world.I have discussed career goals with many professionals, and I am yet to find someone who tells me “I want to develop a broad range of skills – I want to be a generalist“. But as the quote above (from an article by Steve Ilg) says, only the true masters enjoy balanced versatility.

There is that pesky word again: Balance. I don’t remember ever using it as often as I have over the last 18 months of my life.So why is ‘balanced versatility’ so important?

Because its alternative – excessive specificity , or ultra-specialisation – comes with a price tag that we should all realise is just too high for most of us. Truth is, no one has noticed.

Let’s talk about careers. Developing highly specialised skills is rewarded by higher salaries. As the supply for those rare skills in the market place is smaller, the price for the services increases. This is true in professional sports, in the corporate world, and even in the medical sciences. Professionals seek to gain a deep level of specialist knowledge, so that they will eventually be recognised as ‘experts’ in their field; write insightful articles; and receive awards at international conferences.

You can also look in the direction of social relationships. People advises you to develop your unique personality and flaunt it. Be generic, and no one will notice. Be unique, and people will appreciate you for your individuality. This advice, we are told, has proven to work in today’s world.

What about the scientific domain? Same thing. I challenge you to find a scientist who wants to be a mathematician, chemist, and philosopher, all at the same time. No, the knowledge domains are too vast to have a generalist knowledge base. Scientists accept as proven wisdom that you’re better off choosing a very specific topic and becoming well-recognised for the high quality of your work. I am sure somewhere out there we can find aPhD on the physiology of the left cornea of redheads in rural North Ireland.

Behind all these examples is the insidious influence of the industrial revolution. With the arrival of organised industry in the late 18th / early 19th century, we started accepting that high degrees of specialisation lead to efficiencies of scale, mass-production of items at low cost, and larger economic markets. Along the industrial revolution we then saw a social revolution that applied the same principle to the fabric of our own culture and society.

Unfortunately, this revolution came with some nasty side effects. A high degree of specialisation has a significant and often hidden cost. Over-specialisation stiffles creativity, generates work and social environments lacking on diversity and its benefits, and reduces the level of innovation. In the sports arena, over-specialisation will lead to unhealthy and unbalanced individuals. Don’t believe me? Just look at this picture of an ultra-endurance athlete. Can you guess how old she is?

Ultra-Endurance Athlete

She is only 45!!

Overspecialisation, like most things taken to an extreme, is not healthy. The question is what are you trying to become: a generalist, or a specialist?