How email damages your Personal Brand
I recently asked a favour of a business acquaintance to provide me a referral. We traded a few emails and he was very willing to go out of this way to help me. A few weeks later, having arrived at an outcome as a result of his referral, I sent him a quick note to close the loop and let him know what had transpired. This is something that I do religiously, regardless of the outcome, because I hate being on the opposite side of this transaction and never receiving the courtesy of any feedback.
Very quickly, I received this e-mail from him in response:
"That is fantastic news! It certainly sounds like the role I was told about so perhaps we actually were able to make something happen. I'm only too happy to help!
Thanks for the update…I really appreciate it. Surprisingly in today's business world more and more people do less and less of that, so thanks!"
A few years ago, Howard Gwin gave me similar feedback. He said that one of the reasons he willingly went out of his way to pass along leads was that I was one of the few people who kept him posted on the result.
So why is it that otherwise smart, capable people seem to ignore this basic common courtesy and the negative impact it has on their "Personal Brand"? I often form my opinion about executives based on how they handle their email. In a world where investors focus on the execution skills of the company's executive team before investing, why would anyone let their email management skills brand them as unresponsive and possibly "out of control"?
I was recently doing some lead gen work. I was emailing executives in my network to suggest ways that I might be able to help their companies. Here is one response:
"Peter, thanks for your email but the top execs/founders here do not hire top-level consultants like you, or any consultants for that matter. Sorry to be so blunt but I don't want to waste any of your valuable time."
This is a great response and an executive who went up in my estimation. He replied within a day, cleared the email out of his inbox and off of this to-do list, saved me from following up with him two to three times over the next couple of months and saved his in-box from getting clogged up with more irrelevant email from me. I don't know him well but my impression of him is stronger because of the way he handled his email.
Often, I find emails that I send (even to close friends and clients), take a reminder or two to get a response. I hear the excuses that people are inundated with hundreds of emails per day and can't get to them all. I have been in those shoes and I don't buy that excuse so what is really happening. Is bad email etiquette a sign of an out of control manager or executive; is it a symptom of sloppy execution and lack of discipline; or is it the sign of someone who is afraid to respond with bad news and instead chooses to defer action and procrastinate? Regardless, none of these are great traits to have associated with your "Personal Brand".
Mark MacLeod (his site is StartupCFO.ca and I recommend you add it to your favourites list) posted his thoughts on email yesterday. He mentions that he was talking to someone last week who showed him their Blackberry. It had over 2,000 unread e-mails and 40 unheard voicemails. Mark comment was "This is not cool." I would go further and say that if this person was a manager or executive working for me, they wouldn't be for long. Mark continues to talk in his blog about new technologies for helping us manage our email overload so I would recommend you give him a read.
As I struggle to understand people's email behaviour, I wonder if it is a conscious strategy that people purposely ignore first or second e-mails because they believe most senders are too disorganized and won't follow-up. Has ignoring email become a filtering mechanism that if the email is truly important, then the sender will re-send it later, so don't answer until you see the email for the second or third time. I wonder, when is email silence a purposeful behaviour or is my email never reaching you because of your SPAM filters that inevitably catch some valid emails in their trap. Regardless, inaction on emails does transmit a message to the outside world that you are either too busy to manage your business properly or you don't care. Neither is the hallmark of a good manager.
Conversely, good email etiquette can be an asset that promotes your career. I mentioned early that following up and closing the loop by providing feedback has strengthened relationships and increased my personal brand. Clients often tell me that they do business with me because I am "so on top of everything". They tell me that my organizational attributes inspires their confidence in my work. Not bad for a guy who is on the wrong side of 50 and whose memory is only a few brain cells away from senility.
In Mark's blog he talks about emerging trends and technologies that will help us better manage email overload. My secret is less sophisticated but it works for me. I religiously always use Outlook's follow-up reminder flags to tag a follow-up date to every important email that I send and every incoming email that I receive if I can't process it that day. This way, things don't get lost. When I am busy, they may get delayed beyond when I planned to deal with them, but they never get lost.
So next time you ask someone for a favour, make sure you close the loop with them. When you get an email that you don't want to deal with, deal with it quickly to clear it, even if that means telling the person an answer they don't want to hear. Manage your inbox and more importantly follow-up on sent emails that haven't been answered. Check you Junk folder and SPAM filter at least once a week. Do the above both for your efficiency, your "Personal Brand", and to keep people like me from forming bad impressions about you.