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Tag Archives: E-mail Communications

How to write effective e-mails to get quicker response


Have you ever been in an e-mail chain where more than 10 people were addressed in the e-mail, but no one knew who is going to respond? If you are a manager or in a similar position, then you must be getting these kind of e-mails at least once in a day. Isn’t it? Actually, this situation is very common than you might think. On an average, 70% of the e-mails in the work place are targeted to the wide audience to get some people’s input, while notifying others at the same time. And that’s where the problem occurs. Since there are multiple users involved in ‘cc’ of the e-mail, all of them think that someone will respond, and at the end, no one ends up responding. In order to avoid those situations, and get quicker response to your emails, I am providing you with few tips on writing effective e-mails.

Use appropriate subject line: You must have been through the situation, where one e-mail might have been forwarded and replied so many times that its subject line doesn’t have any value anymore. Isn’t it? Let’s say, you get an e-mail from one of your employees (Mrs. X) regarding the issue that she found during her testing. The subject line of that e-mail might be “Issue found during testing XYZ product”. After few to-and-from communication with engineers about this issue, you forward this issue to the product manager for prioritizing the resolution of this issue. In this situation, product manager might take few hours or an entire day, before he can respond to this e-mail. Reason being…..from the subject line, this e-mail didn’t seem important to him. And hence, whenever you are forwarding an e-mail to someone, please change the subject line to target your responder. If you would have changed the subject line to “Prioritizing issue resolution for XYZ product”, then you might have got a quicker and descriptive response.

Highlight names: Let’s consider the same example given above. Let’s say, you want to forward this e-mail to the product manager and the engineering manager for their specific responses, and you also want to include 4-5 engineers in ‘cc’ of that e-mail to keep them informed about the resolution. And your e-mail description might say something like “how do we prioritize the resolution for this issue?”. Since, this e-mail is directed to so many people at the same time, you might not get any clear response, since people will wait for others to respond. Let’s say, you would have wrote this instead……”@Steve: How should we prioritize this issue? @David: Is it possible to fix this issue in our next release of the product?”. I am sure, your response would have been more clearer, since you have targeted your questions to each individual included in the e-mail. Thus, I would always recommend you to target your responders by their name, if you are expecting them to provide their input.

I hope, these tips will help you to draft an effective e-mail, so that you can get your responses quickly and easily. Do you have any similar ideas through which you can improve your e-mail communication?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

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Posted by on November 20, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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Is your e-mail signature helpful to others? – Designing your perfect e-mail signature


Have you ever been in a situation, where you have got an e-mail from a long gone friend without any contact information about him? I am sure, most of us must have received at least one e-mail in their lifetime, which is from their close friend, but it doesn’t provide any information on how to contact them. Let’s take this for an example……Mr. X, who was your close college friend, suddenly sends you an e-mail about few things that he might want to discuss with you. What will you do in that situation? You might want to call him, but there is no contact information provided by him (no signature in his e-mail). And hence, you would rather be satisfied by responding to his e-mail instead of finding his contact information in your address book and calling him. Is that not right?

Imagine the similar situation at your workplace. Let’s say, you get an e-mail from Mrs. Y, who works in the different department, requesting specific information from you. Let’s say, you don’t have any idea on what she is asking for. So, instead of calling her (since she doesn’t have her contact information in the email signature), you would respond to her e-mail, and she might have to wait for few hours to clarify her side through to-and-from e-mail communication. Due to this long chain of e-mails, she will end up losing precious time to resolve the issue at hand. Imagine, if she would have included some basic information about herself with the contact information. Wouldn’t your response be different in that situation? Let’s say, if she would have put that she works in the licensing department as a project manager for XYZ. I am sure, this information would have helped you to put her e-mail in some context, and your response would have been much more quicker and informative.

So, how do you avoid these situations? What kind of information should you be putting in your e-mail signature? Well……..answer is very simple. You should include your name, your designation, your company’s name, your work address, your work e-mail, your work phone number, your work mobile number (if any), and your professional picture (if possible). Your name and designation should help your responder to put your e-mail in some context. Your work address might be useful, when your responder might want to mail something in response to your e-mail. Obviously, your e-mail address and phone numbers would be very handy for your responder, if they want to reach you quickly. And yeah! Though your professional picture is optional, I would highly recommend you to upload that on your Outlook or embed in your e-mail signature. Professional profile picture helps your responder to remember you by the face.

If I were you, I would have my e-mail signature as follows. Also, note that all of the contact information provided below is fake, and hence, please don’t contact me through that contact information. You can rather reach me through my ‘Contact Me’ page, which contains various ways to connect with me.

Sample E-mail Signature

I hope, these tips will help you to design your perfect e-mail signature, which can help your responder to get all the information that they need, in order to quickly respond to your e-mail. Do you have any similar tips like this, which can make your e-mail communication effective?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to fire someone without getting sued?


Have you ever fired someone? Were you ever in the situation where your employee’s growth was stagnant, and there were no other options other than firing that employee? Well……trust me, this situation arises more often than you would think. So, what would you do in this situation? Let’s say, you went ahead and got rid of the poor performing employee without any prep work. In that case, you might end up like my friend Naveen (changing the name for protecting privacy). Naveen fired his poor performer few months back, and now he is getting sued for ‘retaliation’. Obviously, this kind of examples should not become a roadblock in your job while performing your duties. Thus, I am providing you few tips through which you can fire someone without having the major risk of getting sued.

Give one more chance: Imagine….if you were the employee, who is on the line and about to get fired. Obviously, you don’t want to be in the situation where you think that you are a peek performer and your manager hands you a memo saying… “You are fired”. Thus, I always recommend managers to treat their employees as they would like to be treated. Hence, make sure to give your employee the last fair chance to improve his performance. Don’t just have verbal talks with him, make sure to document this and forward it to HR to put on his file. This will provide your employees with one last chance of improving their performance, while it will provide you with a supporting document, if you ever get prosecuted.

Work by the book: Before you take any drastic steps like this, make sure to read all the HR specific and company specific guidelines. If I were you, I would talk to my HR business partner or company’s attorney before even thinking about this. And before even talking to your HR personnel, I would recommend you to prepare a file which should contain all the documentations showing that you have had communications with your employees regarding this problem (i.e. e-mails, memo, etc.). When you have this discussion with your HR personnel, don’t forget to talk about all the minute details of your employees like his race, gender, recent leaves, etc. I have seen various situations, where employees have sued their employer for firing decision on the basis of their race or gender, and the firing decision didn’t have anything to do with that. Thus, it is better to disclose all the facts with your company’s attorney beforehand.

Have a crime buddy: By ‘crime buddy’ I meant to say, someone who knows the same information as you. In most of the situations, I would recommend you to include your immediate manager or the HR business partner. This practice will make sure that someone will back you up, if there are any legal proceedings in the future. Most of the managers know this fact, but don’t know how to implement this. Here is one tip….have a lunch with your immediate manager, discuss about this issue during the lunch, and then forward all the current documentation to him/her. This will ensure that you are not the only person accountable for this decision.

I hope these tips will help you in the unfortunate situation of firing someone. Let me know, if you have any other ideas through which you can save yourself after firing someone for their poor performance. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 
 

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Manager’s Guide: How can I make it easier for a new hire to transition in my group? (Part 2)


classic-booksIn my last blog post, I have discussed few ways through which you can make your new hire understand your company’s goals and objectives. In this blog, I will provide you some tips on how you can make your new hire acquainted to your team culture and communication channels.

Talk about the rules: After you have explained your strategic objectives and work culture, now it’s time for you to explain her about your expectations. Some of the managers leave it unsaid. But I prefer to talk to all of my employees about the performance expectations. In this way, they can specifically know what they have signed up for, and you can avoid having performance improvement talks later. You can start this conversation by establishing clear goals and priorities for her; and then you can progress towards expected employee’s behavior, your feedback process, and how her work will be evaluated. Don’t forget to outline the path through which you will help her to be successful.

The Team: Providing an understanding of the team’s roles and responsibilities is very key to the new hire’s success. This will make sure that she doesn’t step on someone’s foot, and she can know who is ultimately responsible and who has the decision making authority. During this discussion, you should explain her how your team supports company’s goals and objectives. This will give her the overall picture of your team, and where it fits in to the organization. And yeah! Don’t forget to discuss the procedures & norms under which your team operates. For example: Our team follows an agile development process, where each engineer is paired with one another team member for the development of a particular feature. Last but not the least, identify the people who can help her during her first few months in the company, and how they prefer to communicate.

Communication: Being a software development manager for years, I have seen various managers failed to provide this information to their employees. As a result, you have a new geeky employee who got herself acquainted to only e-mails, and you have to wait for her e-mail response for feedback. Thus, I would advise you to have these conversations beforehand. Convey to your new employee how you would prefer to be communicated, and what should be the frequency of those communications. For example: I expect an e-mail response within 1-2 hours. In case of a blocking issue, I want you to call me up instead of waiting for me to reply to your e-mail. And yeah! Explain how your employees prefer to communicate with themselves.

I hope these tips will help you to become a better manager by providing a clear direction for your newly hired employee. In the next blog post, I will be discussing about how to familiarize your new hire with the growth opportunities within your organization.

Let me know, if you have any other ideas through which you can help your employees to easily transition to your company. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to deal with a poor performer in your team?


Have you ever encountered a situation where you had to have a difficult conversation with your employees? Or have you ever put any employee on a Performance Improvement plan? It is very unfortunate that some of the Managers try to avoid those situations. Instead of having appropriate conversation with their employees, they try to avoid those situations. Well, I am not a master of these conversations by any means, but I have few tips through which you can handle this situation well.

Verbal discussion: Let say, you have a poor performer in your team. And despite of your numerous efforts to improve his performance, he didn’t improve. In this situation, I would advise you to have a personal discussion with him, if you haven’t done that already. This one-on-one discussion will give you an opportunity to explain your concern about his performance, while it will give him an opportunity to explain his side of the story. The purpose of this meeting should be to let him know about your concerns, so that he can correct those behaviors.

Document your concerns: After you had your verbal discussion, you should always make sure to document those communications via e-mails or memos. This will help you not only in any legal proceedings that might arise in the future but it will also help you to reiterate your point. Your e-mail should contain summary of your discussion reinforcing your message and the place where this discussion took place. It’s a good idea to let the employee know that they will be receiving a follow up email after the meeting. Explain that it is to ensure each party is on the same page regarding discussion points. This can circumvent the perception that you are using the email for “tracking” purposes only.

Follow-up discussion: You should never have a discussion with someone, and then not follow up with that. I would advise you to schedule a follow-up meeting regarding your verbal discussion as soon as you send the follow-up e-mail. Of course this meeting might not happen within 1-2 months, but it’s always a good practice to keep a checkpoint on these kind of discussions to make sure that you don’t forget it. And yeah! Make sure to have a specific agenda for this meeting. For example: specific projects that he might be working on, his performance improvement within last month, action plan to success, time frame for improvement, etc. Don’t forget to include all the consequences clearly and visibly in this meeting request. This will ensure that your employee is aware of all the consequences before you decide to take any action.

I hope these tips will help to become a better manager and effectively deal with your poor performers. Let me know, if you have any other ideas through which you can effectively deal with your poor performing employee. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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Where will you use written communication over in-person communication?


DocumentsI recently opened up my Google+ account like any other tech fanatic. And one of the feature that got my attention was – Google’s Hangout. I have never seen more than 4 users video chatting at the same time without a premium account (whatever service it maybe). Though this hangout feature got my attention, I don’t think that today’s generation of SMSs and Tweets will use this feature extensively. I might be wrong, people might use this technology extensively and we might find a new generation of “Hangouters”. But this is too soon to predict anything. The only thing that I can say with confidence is – why people prefer SMSs, Tweets, and e-mails instead of in-person talk, phone calls, and meetings. Following are few situations, where people would rather prefer written communication over in-person communication.

Language barrier: As a part of my job, I manage various individuals from different locations. One of the team that reports to me is located in China. While they are very intelligent and technically sound, they have one short coming of speaking English properly. They normally understand my pronunciation of English, but I mostly have a hard time in listing their English pronunciation. Even after closely listening, I miss some sentences. Thus, I prefer to talk to them through Live Messenger instead of through a video conference. This gives me the opportunity to understand them better, while this gives them the opportunity to consume the data, translate it into their native language (through Google translator), and respond me back.

Broadcasting: Written communication is also useful during information broadcasting. For example: if I am having my birthday party, I would rather post it on my Tweeter feeds, Facebook or Google+’s feeds instead of calling everyone to come. And why not? I don’t need to repeat the same message to everyone on the phone. And I can also get the count of expected attendees at my party through these event’s page.

Record keeping: With information overload in today’s world, people tend to forget things which you might have mentioned to them few weeks ago. Thus, most of people like me, tends to follow-up through e-mail. According to me, e-mail is the best way to keep records of your conversation. For example: Let’s say, I talk to “Joe” regarding some IT issue over the phone and he tells me that he will get back to me on next Monday. If I wouldn’t have followed-up with an e-mail explaining the problem, I had to explain him the problem again on Monday. If I would have e-mailed him the details then I can just forward that e-mail and ask the status of this issue. He can then look at the information in the e-mail and find the status of the issue without wasting my or his time.

Speed: Sometimes, people just don’t like to talk in-person for smaller talks. For example: Let’s say, I have just talked to my colleague to see if he is interested in coming to a BBQ at my house. And he told me that he will get back to me today, but he forgot to respond. I would rather SMS him to ask his answer instead of calling him. If I call him, I don’t have anything to say because I just talked to him not long ago. But I still want his answer. So, I will just get SMS him to find his answer. This will be much more quicker and time efficient.

People’s availability: This is a really big question in today’s world. 6/10 times, I want to talk to someone, but I can’t find their free time. Thus, I always end up writing them an e-mail or texting them on their mobile. There can be various reasons for this issue, from time zone differences to their prior commitments to work or personal events. But when I use written communication instead of oral communication, they have the time to consume the information and then respond back to me on their free time. In this way, I don’t put someone in a weird situation by calling them during their working hours.

I hope these tips might have given you some pointers about where to use written communication instead of in-person communication. If you know any other situations where written communication will be preferred over in-person communication then do let me know. I am always looking for people’s feedback to improve my knowledge. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 
 

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Practical solutions to reduce time barriers between your Virtual Teams


DifferentTimeZonesI have seen various virtual teams that fails to accomplish their mission due to lack of communication. Virtual teams have many challenges like culture differences, language barriers, lack of personal touch, etc. But the ‘time difference’ is one of the most important challenge that a virtual team faces. As a part of my existing job, I manage various individuals from 3 completely different locations. And I have faced similar situations while managing these individuals. Through my experience, I have developed few practical solutions to resolve these challenges, and I would like to share those tips through this blog.

Define rigid working hours: I am neither a micromanager nor I believe in monitoring my people. But sometimes it is very crucial for a team to follow a strict schedule. Asynchronous communication channels like SMS and e-mails will only resolve few issues. But if you are working in a fast paced environment like me (Agile or Scrum approach), then it becomes very difficult to communicate through these asynchronous channels of communications. This approach makes it possible for me to meet with each and every individual at least 2 times a week (through video conference). From past few months, my team in China comes early every 2 days during the week and my team in USA stays late for those 2 days. This arrangement makes it easier to work with these people and it also helped me to increase my team morale.

Establish rules for e-mail communications: In the past, I have been in various situations when I will get an e-mail from my China team at around midnight in my time zone, and I won’t have any opportunity to reply to them until the day after. Thus, if you are working in a virtual team then you should be establishing few rules for your e-mail communications. For example: Tell your remote team in China to notify you regarding any urgent issues/concerns before midnight your time. Obviously, they will not be able to identify all the issues every time before you go to sleep, they might encounter few problems after you go to sleep. In that case, make sure that you always task them with some kind of other work, which is independent from that particular task. This will give them something to work on, before you can actually resolve their problem. This approach had helped me tremendously to increase the productivity of my team.

Make information go public: In most of the cases, people depend on each other for the information. Most of the professionals will take an educated decision in a given situation, if they were provided with the appropriate information. I made most of my information public in such a way that my team can have access to that information all the time. For example: during every meeting, I take meeting notes and prepare a list of action items. I started putting that information to our SharePoint site. This helped my team to have a baseline information and having the right information in their possession. This approach has reduced long chain of e-mails to get the same information that they would have got otherwise.

I hope, these tips will help you to reduce various time and communication related challenges with your virtual teams. Please feel free to comment on my blog, if you have any other suggestions for improving efficiency of your virtual teams. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

 

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