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I am interested in feedback on a product idea. The concept is to add postage to internal email. Every employee would be assigned a postage rate which represents the cost to send them an email. Every employee would be provided a daily allowance which they use to spen on email postage. Unused daily balances would accumulate. As employees realize that their email budget is fixed, they alter their behavior to conserve their balance for higher value email.

It seems there are two approaches to managing email; 1) Change the behavior of the sender 2) Change the behavior of the recipient.

The Getting Things Done approach accepts the email volume as a given and teaches the recipient to adjust their behavior to manage the volume more efficiently. There are also tools like email rules in Outlook or various plug-ins which auto file the email. These two tools leave the volume alone, but help the recipient be more organized.

The other approach is to encourage others to send each of us less email. Approaches include email etiquette training or the no-email-Friday approach that has been written up in the WSJ and Business Week.

The email postage concept falls into the "Change the behavior of the sender category." What do members of the forum think?

Thank you,
Bob Hiss.

aspiringceo's picture

I seem to remember Bill Gates suggesting this idea a few years ago, and I think yahoo are presently considering the idea of charging for emails sent. I personally dont like the idea and I think it goes against the values that the internet was founded on.

Edmund

wendii's picture

Ok, I'm curious - how would you allocate the value? Does the CEO get more value than a middle manager? What happens when I need to send a really important email and I've run out of money? How is this different to the annoying 'you've exceeded your storage, delete something before you can send' message?

Of course, it may stop people sending annoying pictures of bears or warnings of scams which are urban myths - or do you think that some would spend their valuable pennies on those?

Wendii

rghiss's picture

Wendii,
As I have thought it through, I think that this idea only works within the hierarchy of an organization. The managerial authority will need to decide the postage rates of various individuals and the email allowance each would receive to spend on postage. I have seen this idea discussed as an anti-spam measure (Edmund referred to the Bill Gates presentation), but the spammer and the recipient would have to agree on the postage rates and process. Just like with paper mail, postage can only be enforced with a controlling authority.

More than likely, the CEO will have the highest rate and the largest allowance and others will have lower amounts of both. Ironically, many CEOs are insulated from email overload by outsourcing email management to their Executive Assistants, which is a resource fewer and fewer managers have any more.

Regarding running out of money, there are a few scenarios. First, as people learn that their budgets are fixed and limited, they will self regulate. They will decide which emails are important enough to send now and which not. Just as we don't run out of milk money right before payday, we will all learn not to run out of email budget. Plus, I think the email allowance should accumulate each day that you don't use it. This encourages savings for the important emails. Secondly, managers could always increase the allowance if an employee is running low. Thirdly, there could be a feature where senders are allowed an overdraft, like a checking account. They can borrow against their next day's allowance.

I think it is similar but different to the inbox size limits I have lived under in the past because that limit punished me for email I may have never requested. The email postage concept puts limits on the sender who ultimately decides which email is important enough to send.

Another way that resistance could be overcome is to implement infrequent emailer awards. The people who decreased their email volume the most from month-to-month might receive an award for the most positive change in behavior.

Maybe the resistance to the idea will be too great to overcome the benefits of less email. But if I really want to receive less email, and I have not met to many people who want more email from co-workers, then I think I'll have to send less to others and ask others to do the same.

Bob.

tetsou's picture

I like this idea. Internal email is killing those of use who work in large corporate organizations and becoming a barrier to productive work. But I think the solution is treating the symptom of the problem - not the root cause.

And you are right - the volume of email is closely linked to the messaging behavior of the group. To reduce the volume of email, you have to somehow alter the group's messaging mentality.

While a cost allocation to each internal email is a good start, I believe that you need a three pronged attack:

1. Teach the principles of good messaging behavior
2. Teach good email etiquette
3. Improve the technical proficiency in the use of various email clients.

And some people just don't get it, or have never been coached in good or appropriate messaging behavior, or simply have no clue how to use the internal email system effectively.

I'm a great fan of GTD, but have adapted a system of email coaching and messaging to incorporate the techniques described into day-to-day practice.

I also teach in large corporates on the 7 deadly sins of email as a way to approach good email etiquette.

Many Thanks

nathanbeaudry's picture

I'm fighting a constant battle at work with my weaknesses. I openly admit that I probably send too much (and too wordy) email but I'm conscious of it and I try to be short and to the point even though the High C in me is constantly trynig to be as thorough as possible.

What I tell my directs about email is to target it more carefully. We have way too many email groups, aliases and distribution lists. I ask my directs [b]not[/b] to use them and to specifically pick out (name by name) who gets certain emails.

Sure, there are situations when everyone on a team needs the information but I find that sending emails only to the 3-4 people involved with the specific communication cuts down on overall volume and the inefficiency of people reading an email they don't understand (or need to) to try to figure out if it applies to them.

GlennR's picture

I am not in favor of putting postage on e-mail. Here's why:

1. You are attempting to punish everyone because of the sins of (perhaps more than) a few. Have you thought about the impact this policy would have on morale?
2. You are treating the problem as local (focusing on e-mail) when e-mail is but one method of communication within an organization. The Law of Unintended Consequences will emerge here. Your well intended goal may cause serious harm to your organization when truly important e-mails are stifled. (See also "impact on morale above.)
3. Employees will resort to sending one e-mail with multiple topics in order to save "money." Important messages will be lost in the shuffle. The number of e-mails may decline, but the number of words will probably increase. (I'm sure the high D's will love that.)
4. You're choosing the easier "wrong" instead of the harder "right." What you should be focusing on is gaining support of your senior management to clearly define what types of communications are most efficient and effective. For example, when is a telephone call preferred over an e-mail? What is the expectation of how long someone has to respond to a phone call message? An e-mail?

My division adopted e-mail guidelines from Intel. Their plant managers were receiving 300 a day. These include expanded use of the subject line to include responses to simple questions followed by "<> or something similar.

I always see suggestions to respond to e-mails and tell the sender to drop the recepient from an e-mail list. But many people don't want to give offense so they suffer in silence. Why not declare April as "Everyone gets to provide feedback to senders about e-mails and the CEO says we will take the suggestions professionally, not personally?"

If there's any interest in seeing these guidelines I mentioned above, I'll be happy to post them here. But the key is getting them implemented across your organization. To do that, you'll need senior management to buy into them and agree to hold people accountable. Actually, I'll bet your organization already has similar guidelines, but management is not holding people accountable. And that's the key.

Glenn
5-4-6-4

aspiringceo's picture

[quote="GlennR"]If there's any interest in seeing these guidelines I mentioned above, I'll be happy to post them here. [/quote]

Hi Glenn,

I for one would be interested in seeing the Intel guidelines if you have the time to post them.
Thanks
Edmund

Gareth's picture

[quote="aspiringceo"]
I for one would be interested in seeing the Intel guidelines if you have the time to post them.
[/quote]

I would like to second that.

GlennR's picture

Here are the guidelines I mentioned above. Note there's nothing magic in them, you probably already know most of them. The key is getting your co-workers to adopt them. And as a marketing friend of mine once said, "It's not what you sell, it's how you sell it."

This were issued in 2001 (note reference to hotel dial up). I think we got them from an article in Fast Company Magazine. We use Lotus Notes so for the majority of you, some of these may not work. I've removed those that only apply to our organization.

e[b]Mail Management Guidelines
[/b]
1. Set aside regular time for eMail
Schedule time to read, compose and process mail. This includes time for folder action/clean-up. How often you check your mail will be up to you, but don’t let your new mail notification (sound and/or pop-up) manage you—it may help to turn these features off. An example is to check your mail first thing in the morning, before lunch, and once again mid to late afternoon.
2. Use the eMail’s subject line to help you and others manage mail
Give plenty of information in your subject line. Codes such as the following can help minimize the time spent reading mail.

Levels of importance:
<> = (Lets readers know this memo is extremely time sensitive—be careful not to overuse this subject line heading.)

<> = (Lets readers know this is time sensitive or critical information requiring some action on their part. Ideally, information regarding the needed action should be located near the beginning of the memo—perhaps even highlighted or in a different-colored font.)

<> = (Lets readers know this memo is above the FYI or information only level and the sender would like a timely response.)

<> = For Your Information (Lets readers know this is not critical information and can be read when time allows.)

Additional Subject Headings:

<> = End of Message (When your email is for the purpose of asking one question, try to do it in the subject line only. This is especially helpful for people sitting in hotels using dial ups or for those working on tight deadlines. After you pose the question, insert “<>” at the end so that readers know they don’t have to open the email itself.

<> = (Adding the project or conference name will help readers organize their mail.)
3. Point out the important information
Let people know what’s important in your attachments and memos, especially if the documents are large. Reference page numbers or sections at the beginning of your memo so that readers do not have to hunt for and perhaps miss relevant information.
4. Touch it once
Handle eMail as you would regular postal mail (snail mail). Read the memo and:
a. Delete it.
b. Respond to it (with history as needed) and then delete it or move it to the appropriate folder.
c. Move it to the appropriate folder.

5. Use folders to organize your eMail
Recommended folders:
Action
Personal
Hold for Response/Approval
Respond To
Need More Info
Individual Project Folders
(as needed) (Remove theses folders after the projects have been completed.)
Subscriptions
(as needed) (Clean these folders out at least once a month.)
Dumpster
(This folder holds the mail you’d like to delete but are afraid to. Clean this folder out at least once a month.)
6. Use the preview pane
Take advantage of the preview pane so that you don’t have to open each piece of eMail. This allows you to scroll through your inbox and folders while reading mail. Click on the View Show/Hide Preview Pane SmartIcon to turn this feature on or off.
7. Individual eMail memos cannot exceed 15 MB (and that’s way too big)
Pay careful attention to the size of your eMail memos, especially when including attachments. Attaching large files (or too many small files) can greatly increase the size of your eMail. Large eMail files can slow mail delivery for everyone as well as cause problems for recipients connected to eMail over phone lines.

Check the size of your eMail before sending it by clicking on File>Document Properties. It may be necessary to save the memo as a draft in order for the document properties to accurately display the memo’s size. Memos over one million bytes (1 megabyte) can cause a significant delay in mail delivery and are rejected by many eMail providers (i.e., hotmail, msn, etc.). Large attachments can be reduced in size by approximately 20% using the WinZip program. Graphic files can also be reduced in size (instructions are available in the Texas Division Library: How to Reduce a Graphic’s Size Using Photo Editor, posted by Pearl Gonzalez).
8. Reply with History economically
When replying to eMail, use “Reply with History” and “Reply to All with History” to keep the thread of the information for readers, but delete the attachments before sending the reply. This will save on the file size for everyone.
9. Refers to Lotus Notes, irrelevant to you.
10. Use incoming eMail rules
Use Rules to filter spam and other subscription eMail. Delete spam automatically. Send subscriptions to folders to read when time allows. Instructions for creating rules can be found in the Division Library.
11. eMail responsibly
Never send chain mail or forward virus warnings or eMail solicitations. This wastes others’ time as well as your own and slows down mail delivery for everyone. If you are concerned about a virus warning, forward it to your network administrator in the IT Department.

12. eMail is not the appropriate place to file information long-term
There is a limited amount of space available on the servers. Because we all have to share server hard drive space, we each have an allotted amount of room for our mail. Also, our eMail isn't backed up. Even though it's unlikely we would be unable to recover from a server crash, there is the possibility eMail could be lost.

To keep your mail database from getting too large, Detach (to your hard drive) any attachments you want to keep, and Export (to your hard drive) any memos you want to keep, long-term. Instructions for reducing your mail file size as well as detaching and exporting are available in the Texas Division Library.

To be completely safe, you must maintain a backup of your “My Documents” folder on your file server. This creates an additional copy of your information and guards it against any catastrophe. Instructions for backing up your work and important components of your eMail are in the Division Library: Back Up Instructions for Metro and Field Offices posted by
13. Let others know when you can’t be reached via eMail
Take advantage of the out-of-office feature. Let others know when you will be back on eMail and able to respond. List alternate ways to reach you or someone else that can help.
14. Tips for working away from the office
Never use the “Send & Receive Mail” button on the replicator page. Using this button results in synchronization issues between the server and local copies of your mail.

To minimize the time necessary for replication—if you don’t need the entire contents of the incoming mail (especially attachments)—choose to truncate your mail. On the replicator page, click on the arrow button for your email and choose “Receive summary and 40KB of rich text” instead of “Receive full documents.”
15. Do not use the "All Staff" group
Not everyone is authorized to use “All Staff.” Be sure you are authorized before sending eMail to this group.
16. Use “reply to all” with caution
The “bcc:” field may contain addresses that will be included in your reply. Also keep in mind that others may not need the information contained in your response.
17. Use To-Do’s to assign and track delegated tasks
Create items in your To-Do list and use the group choice to select other Notes users. This option will add the item in their To-Do list as well and can help with the prioritization of date-sensitive tasks. When anyone in the “group” makes changes or updates the status, the To-Do will be updated for the rest of the group.

Use the “copy into To-Do’s” to create a To-Do from a memo and save retyping the information. Then set the start and due-by dates and add any other changes.
18. Change your password
Lotus Notes passwords need to be secure. Click on File >Tools > User ID and enter your current password. Click on the “Set Password” button and enter your current password again. Follow the screen prompts to create your new password.
19. Lock your PC
Secure your PC before you leave it for any length of time. Use Ctrl+Alt+Delete and choose Lock Workstation to secure your PC without shutting it down. Standby or sleep mode is not the same as locking your workstation—that is only a power-saving feature.
20. Never use someone else’s eMail
Never use someone else’s eMail account to send a message or let someone else use yours. There are ways to delegate your mail, if necessary, that will clearly mark the mail as sent in your name by someone else. If you need this function, contact your Lotus Notes administrator in the IT Department.
21. Streaming is bad for everyone
Never subscribe to or maintain links to websites offering streaming information. Internet radio stations, real-time stock market data, weather alerts, etc. send a continuous stream of information across our network. This unnecessary network traffic slows down eMail delivery and Internet connectivity for everyone.

RichRuh's picture

Here would be my concerns about the e-mail postage idea.

1. People are discouraged from communicating. "Well, the Acme account is in a crisis. I would have told you about it earlier, but I thought I could handle it, and I didn't want to debit my e-mail account."

2. People switch to less efficient means of communication. If every message in your inbox were replaced with a phone call, office visit, or meeting, would you be better off?

I really like the guidelines that Glenn posted. I'm going to try them out in my organization.

I've gotten very good results from the GTD e-mail philosophy, but I think you already mentioned that.

ashdenver's picture

[quote]12. eMail is not the appropriate place to file information long-term
There is a limited amount of space available on the servers. Because we all have to share server hard drive space, we each have an allotted amount of room for our mail. Also, our eMail isn't backed up. Even though it's unlikely we would be unable to recover from a server crash, there is the possibility eMail could be lost. [/quote]
Heh, I've been meaning to clean out my email. I've got emails from people who haven't worked here for years. It's one of those things where the occasional, random reward reinforces the entire bad habit. When I need some information from someone six months earlier, I have it. Otherwise, I have way too much sitting on my hard drive. (Yes, hard drive, moved off the email server and taking up space on my laptop, thus causing a ten min delay when it boots up & tries to decrypt all that useless, ancient email.)

*sigh*

Btw, one item that wasn't listed but seems relevant nowadays is the effective use of the incoming notifier. Outlook 2003 allows a small snippet of the email (sender, subject, first few words of email) to be shown in the lower right corner as it arrives. I've found that a lot of these things can be deleted right then & there. This way you don't even have to leave the program you're working in to go delete it and you don't have to deal with it later, at your scheduled email time.

One of my pet peeves is the Reply All button. That needs to be removed! The executive might send a motivational, fun email out and then the rest of us are subjected to a deluge of Reply All emails while suck-ups try to play along and keep the fun going. Dood, I don't care if you're sucking up - keep it OUT of my inbox!

aspiringceo's picture

Glenn,

Thanks for taking the time to post the email guidelines, some I knew but there are a lot of new ones to think about. I will be sharing them with my ICT co-ordinator tomorrow at his wekly 1on1.

Edmund

GlennR's picture

I'm glad y'all like the guidelines. As I said, they were written probably six or seven years ago so, they probably need to be updated. E-mail storage isn't as big an issue now as it was then, although once I get a few powerpoints, I exceed my storage and the automatic e-mails start cluttering up my in-box.

As for the Reply to all button, in my org, people won't use the meeting planner in Lotus Notes and insist on sending out an e-mail asking for dates, In each group there's at least one person who uses that button to tell everyone when only the meeting host needs to know.

Taking one last whack at the dead horse, remember the important thing is not the content of the guidelines, it's getting senior management buy-in and then holding people accountable. It should be an e-mail [b]policy[/b], not a [b]guideline.
[/b]
Good luck!

Regards,

Glenn

GlennR's picture

Well, it appears that the idea of charging for e-mails does have some traction. See this post for details.

http://www.maryschmidt.com/2007/02/28/seriously-a-cure-for-e-mail-add/

rghiss's picture

I think that Tetsou and Glenn have excellent points on the personal behavior of senders that need to change in order to reduce email volume. The consistent point that I see in their message is that for the recipient to receive less (which seems to be the goal of solving email overload) the sender will have to send fewer and better emails.

The challenge with a program that focuses on individual sender participation is long term and universal compliance. Nathan Zeldes of Intel has written some lengthy posts on his Intel blog about the large email etiquette program that Intel rolled out in 2000. In the best cases, the program succeeded for 2 years before the benefits finally disappeared as old bad habits returned. In the worst cases, managers paid no attention to the email etiquette training and the program never took hold.

I took two lessons from the Intel story.

The first is that changing email sender behavior through sound training programs is essential for senders to learn to write fewer and better emails. When they do, the recipient's inbox will shrink. Further, the majority of the recipient's email network needs to participate and stick with the plan or the system breaks down and the email overload returns.

The second lesson is that some tool to make the behavior stick would be helpful. I thought the postage model could enforce the number of emails that the sender writes so that they will have an incentive to stick with the positive lessons from their email etiquette training. We have probably all seen examples of our actions failing to live up to our best intentions without some kind of enforcement and the Intel story illustrates that problem with email overload.

GlennR's picture

I'm not surprised to hear that Intel's e-mail procedures became less effective over time. I noticed the same thing in my organization. In the late 90's as our staff came online, we had several discussion databases with very robust participation, much like this forum. But each db seemed to have a life span of about 2-3 years. I believe it was due to a lack of training and marketing the benefits to new hires.

As for the Intel's e-mail guidelines, I think the solution (again whacking the dead horse) is to build it into their performance objectives. That means senior managers must walk the talk and continually make their expectations about communications clear.

Here's the thing: In the US most companies take harassment (sexual or otherwise) very seriously because of the potential legal blowback. These incidents can negatively impact both the image and the bottom line of the organization.

Failure to effectively communicate can have the same impact. Although one e-mail sent "reply to all" seldom has the same impact as a sexual harassment incident, it's the steady drip drip drip eroding the organization's effectiveness. So, over the long term sloppy communications negatively impacts the bottom line. While this won't result in negative publicity, putting obstacles in employees' paths to meeting their goals can have an impact on turnover thereby negatively impacting the bottom line.

Failure to create clear expectations about effective communications in this world of rapid change is like driving a five-speed sports car at max speed in fourth gear. You're going to get there, but it's going to be slower and more expensive.

So, I'll say again, don't just look at e-mails, look at the way your organization communicates from a systems perspective and examine all methods including e-mails.

I also still believe that placing postage on e-mails will negatively impact employee morale.

But hey! Propose it, and let us know if it works. I think I was wrong once back in the 80's :D

Regards,

Glenn

Mark's picture

Folks-

I hate to be a spoilsport, but I'd ask that we close this thread. While it's related to management, it's really a product discussion, and not about the practice of management.

Thanks.

Mark