We just wrapped up a multi-week bootcamp this month for some recent college graduate hires we call the GSAP program in EMC Consulting (now EMC Global Services). It’s the most successful talent acquisition program we run and I am a huge fan. It’s successful because all the candidate hiring and training is done by the hiring managers themselves.
You did not misread that, Nick. We get a lot of help from our Resource Managers (the folks who staff our consultants on projects) and Starbucks (ok, we buy the coffee, but their proximity doesn’t hurt) but the interviews, training and onboarding is done largely by the hiring managers and project managers these new hires will work with daily, myself included. I’ll dedicate a 1500-word article on just why that works so well some other day. For now, this post is addressed to them: the overwhelmed, the confused…the new hires.
Thanks for giving us your undivided attention and lots of sweat as we fill your heads with process, technical training and more faces to meet than you’ll ever remember. Many of you have reached out to me already by phone or e-mail to expand your opportunities and I applaud that. Constant communication is the life-blood of the diaspora that is a national consulting team. With only a little tongue in cheek, I have a few requests for you as you join the road warrior lifestyle and live solely on coffee, e-mail, instant messaging and whatever the airline is selling in coach. I believe that as the newest crop of consultants, you might have some influence in the following areas…
E-Mail as Business Communication
We have a 5-page e-mail policy document that you’ve “reviewed” but since it’s of the TL;DR variety I’d like to respectfully request that at least 80% of your e-mail messages have some content, exhibit competent grammar and contain either an affirmative statement or a well-defined query that is evident in the first few sentences of your memo. I’m not opposed to the occasional chuckle-inducing (and work safe) meme or a simple one-word response when that’s appropriate, but let’s not make that a habit. I might be stretching my mandate, but would it be too much to ask you to eschew the “War and Peace” memos in favor of a phone call, too? Unlike this post, I’d like you to get to the point. We’re all better for it.
You see, there are several of us who read every e-mail and document we receive, assuming perhaps incorrectly that if it was worth the time for the sender to copy us on the thread it is worth our time to pay attention to the content delivered. Our attention spans are not measured in half-lives or femtoseconds but somewhere in the middle. Sadly, that’s where our lifespans reside, too, so let’s try to avoid running out the clock prematurely by drowning us in undecipherable prose or this month’s Internet shorthand. We all get dumber when you put YOLO in a message. See, you’re already dumber for having read that.
Corollary: Read Everything
This is bona-fide career advice for you. Read everything that crosses your inbox. Don’t skim it, scan it or skip ahead in the thread. Read it all for comprehension, including the attachments. The first real benefit you receive is the knowledge of which senders tend to spam you, which of your colleagues can actually write worth a damn and the immediate, visceral recognition that this post is not a pile of horseshit from a whiny, aging Gen-Xer. Empathy: get some.
The second and more important benefit is that you will actually know what’s going on around you in meaningful terms. There is a rule of thumb we gray-hairs (or, in my case, no hairs) have been telling for years now: if you read everything you’re months ahead of your colleagues. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve laughed at some clueless git who was caught unawares by a major direction change signaled by repeated memos they failed to read for comprehension. It would be high comedy, really, if it weren’t so sad and didn’t cost us so much lost time and opportunity. Don’t be that git.
E-Mail as Instant Message: Just No
You have an important message for me so you send it. I read everything. We’ve been over this.
I have a phone. I have text messaging on that phone. I have instant messaging on the desktop. I also have an RSS feed and occasionally follow twitter during critical periods. All of those communication channels grant immediate access to my eyes and brain for about 10 seconds (except the phone, which I’ll get to momentarily). E-mail, however, does not. If you send me an e-mail and twenty minutes later send me another e-mail because I haven’t responded yet, I’ll probably delete both of them, no matter how “urgent” you flag your important memo. We all receive about 100-200 e-mails a day. Asking the same question repeatedly in a 30-minute span is junk mail.
If you’re looking for a thoughtful reply after careful consideration of your words, e-mail is the channel. Sure, we have mail on our phones but we might not be able to see attachments or give the full attention your message deserves. This obviously means any response could take a day or two to formulate, depending on complexity. It also means that time sensitive communications don’t belong in e-mail in most cases. Text and IM are usually a better choice if you’re on a deadline or just need a simple, unconsidered response.
But what if your message is complicated and time sensitive? Remember that phone? Use it. I know it’s all old school to actually, say, have a conversation but trust me, it works.
Scheduling Meetings: The Basics
E-mail and calendars are wonderful. They let you choose acceptable times in advance, engage dozens with a conference bridge and make organizing a snap. They also enable the kind of overlapping meeting hell that destroys productivity. If you really need everyone on that call, here are a few pointers for maximizing attendance:
Pick a duration that makes sense for what you need accomplished. Sometimes, a 15-minute meeting is perfect. I tend to join all of those because I know the organizer wants to get things done.
Publish an agenda that makes sense for the duration you’ve chosen. For goodness’ sake, don’t send out empty meeting invites. Even better, flag the key agenda items on which you need input.
Run the meeting. Stick to the agenda, pull back people who stray and end the meeting early if you can. Do that every single time and you’ll get a reputation for not wasting time. We need more people like you.
Don’t be afraid to start on time and reschedule if key attendees show up late. It’s not at all too much to ask that people wear a watch.
By extension, don’t be afraid to leave a meeting that is running long because the organizer is an incompetent chatterbox.
Meetings get a bad reputation because they are generally run so poorly. The best meeting I ever attended was last month, at a volunteer gathering for our city’s Independence Day parade. I dreaded it. The organizers were just regular folks and there were 60 people in the room, most of whom (including me) had no prior exposure to the event planning. I just knew it was going to run 3+ hours and bore me out of my skull while I waited for the 5 minutes of real information I needed. To my surprise, the thing started on time and the organizer launched right into it. She spoke clearly, emphasized key points and only answered questions once (and only if the answer wasn’t in the documentation she handed out right as you walked in the door). She treated everyone like an adult and clearly communicated her expectation that we were all paying attention. We moved to breakouts after 15 minutes and I was gone after a total of 30 minutes in the meeting. The parade was the biggest ever and went off without a hitch. These people know what they’re doing!
A good meeting gets things done and motivates you to kick ass. Run those kinds of meetings and none other.
Scheduling Meetings: The Dial-in Bridge
After 20 years of electronic calendars, your bosses and colleagues could use a lesson on inserting a properly formatted conference call dial-in number in the “location” field. Could you show them how to format a bridge number as “(000) 000-0000 ,,, 000000 #”? This use of commas and hash marks has been in use since I first acquired a modem in the late 1970s, long before you were born; somehow the old-timers forgot this along the way.
If you don’t format the number correctly, someone might crash his or her car trying to find the dial-in information. Nevermind the terrible life decision it takes to fiddle with a meeting invite on the highway; this is probably a good thing for me personally since I’ll have a lot fewer meetings to attend in death. It’s also a bad thing because I am highly allergic to death. Ask anyone with a mobile phone what happens when they are on the move and need to dial a telephone number from a meeting invite that wasn’t formatted correctly.
Hint- foul language is involved.
EDIT: A reader suggested to me privately I should get the ApptDialer app for my phone to alleviate this problem. My response? 1.) All that technology hurts my caveman brain. 2.) If I alleviate the problem, how will I know the meeting requester is an inconsiderate jackhole who deserves to be ignored?
In Conclusion: Communicate Effectively
I know you will; I’ve met all of you and you seem like great folks who are going to do very well in the organization. Maybe, just by chance, you could share some of this with your veteran Senior Consultants and Managers. They need it.
P.S., If you ever catch me violating one of these principles, say something. I’m not immune to criticism. Reference this post in doing so and I’ll buy you a beverage of your choice when we next meet.