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Leadership

Can you Commit to Writing One Email A Week?

Employees regularly rank leadership communication as the top opportunity their leaders have to increase engagement. Despite myriad communication technologies, or maybe because of them, communication remains a difficult skill for leaders to master.

When I hear the solution to a communication problem is “overcommunication,” I cringe. I don’t need more communication with the 40 meetings on my calendar this week and the 30 unread emails, direct messages, and text messages. I’m barely keeping up with the communication I’m already receiving; is more the solution?

And yet, here I’m going to advocate for one more email a week. It may technically be more communication, but it’s the right communication.

A more comprehensive argument for overcommunication is that communication should be more thoughtful, whether that means more or simply more intentional. A weekly email is one thoughtful thread in the fabric of good communication.

Consider using this weekly email method to improve your communication skills, whether you’re a CEO, manager, or a team member.

The weekly email…

Every Friday morning, I send my entire organization, stakeholders, and partners an email. Before I get to the goals and content of the email specifically, the distribution list is important, so I’ll categorize each.

Audience

  • My organization – the people under my leadership, those I’m most accountable to providing an engaging workplace.
  • Stakeholders – the people across the company that need to know we’re delivering.
  • Partners – often these are people with co-dependent relationships with my org, and our success hinges upon their buy-in and involvement.

By addressing each audience together I’m forced to consider the messaging more carefully.

If it were an email to only one of those audiences my tone and content may change. Grouping everyone together requires more thought into how the email is perceived.

This is something I’ve grown to appreciate over time. It’s a self-induced check and balance. Depending on how you want to influence the outcome, you could spin communication to be more positive or negative to one audience. Instead, I must be measured and avoid overstating anything that my organization, a stakeholder, or a partner may call me out on.

My goals

Misalignment and poor communication aren’t the results of having too little information. It’s the stuff that you didn’t think needed to be communicated.

  • Focus time. In a fast-paced environment, it’s refreshing to pause. I set aside one hour every Friday morning to exclusively reflect on the week, calibrating my focus. If I’m getting off track I’ll notice (or everyone else will notice), and then I codify that thinking into an update.
  • My team hears from me. I could stop there. No matter your org size you could go a while without hearing from your leader, but certainly, in bigger groups, you could go months without hearing from someone in your leadership.
  • Our stakeholders and partners hear from me. Those I’m accountable to and dependent on get a window into what we’re up to on a weekly basis, not just when we have a win or things go wrong. They’re on the journey with us and maybe I can earn some empathy along the way.
  • Recognition. I look across my org for meaningful work accomplished in the last week and call it out. I want that team member to be recognized not just by me, but in front of their peers, stakeholders, and partners.
  • Sharing my thoughts and focus. It’s helpful to understand what’s vying for your leader’s attention. I also believe the better people know me the better they’ll be able to work with me.
  • Sharing greater context. With a large distribution list, most of what I share won’t be perfectly relevant to everyone. We’re human though and we want to know what else is going on. After all, misalignment and poor communication aren’t the results of having too little information. It’s the stuff that you didn’t think needed to be communicated that might fill in the blanks.
  • Reinforcing goals. Partly for my own benefit, I’m reminded every Friday morning what we’re really trying to achieve and I have to figure out how to summarize that week’s work into how it aligns with our goals. Hearing versions of those goals reiterated every week brings more and more clarity for my team.
  • I get questions and input. This is my favorite part – any engagement with the email is a win. More often than not I get questions to go deeper into something. That sort of engagement is precisely the point.

The content

My format is always the same …. 4-ish bullet points prefaced by, “Happy Friday! Here’s what’s top of mind for me this week.”

I always recognize someone from my team in the first bullet for something they did in the previous week. This is an opportunity to draw attention to something that reflects the efforts of the daily tasks at hand. These are the sorts of things that don’t get recognized in a presentation at a departmental meeting held once every three months.

Every bullet in my email has a key phrase that I bold so that anyone scanning it can easily identify a topic they want to learn more about. They can save time and ignore my email if they aren’t interested in anything else.

Among things I’ve included in these bullets:

  • Project updates
  • Hiring and staffing changes
  • Feature launches and other accomplishments
  • Addressing problems and outages
  • Focus on key metrics
  • Links to YouTube videos that answer questions like “What is a user experience researcher?”
  • My thoughts on remote work and links to research
  • HR updates

Leadership communication isn’t solved with an email

Many details are omitted from an email that is easy to read. I won’t be able to include all pertinent updates in a weekly email, and I won’t even be aware of half of the information that my team has that would be worth sending.

Even if they’re taking up a lot of my time, there are many topics that are simply not appropriate for sharing (employee issues, contract negotiations, and other confidential information).

Though I love getting replies to the email, it’s not the medium for real engagement. It’s more of a passive communication. Bi-directional communication is possible, but this is really a one-way blast. No one is replying-all on these, so the group doesn’t benefit from a conversation.

It’s faceless. They’re my words, but it doesn’t capture my tone or personality the same way talking to me does. People need more from a leader than just scripted emails.

More on how I address these blank spots in future posts!

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A post I wrote on my journey to bettering my leadership skills