How to use e-mail properly - a very important lesson
Unfortunately you won't learn how to pass most exams with this knowledge, but applying the rules or tips in Dave Pollard's "When not to use e-mail" posting will make you a much better communicator.
This list applies to all people, but there are specific insights for auditors. Especially when you're starting out, and you find yourself thinking, "this is great, I can just e-mail everything and wait for answers to come back."
Although it can, funnily enough, often work in spite of Pollard's list, it's important to know how this can and will fail.
Above: there are media other than e-mail which you can use for communication, more successfully too
Remember, that time is precious, and e-mail can unfortunately waste it. Consider these two 'rules'.
3. When you are seeking information that is not simple and straight-forward
4. When you're sending a few people complicated instructions
The rules are tightly linked - the more confusing something gets, the more likely the response to your request will either be delayed or completely ignored.
If I'm short and to the point, my writing will be better. My better posts here are the ones where I go back and expand my confusing points and kill my weak ones. The same is true for my e-mails - you need time to make it truly concise.
But what those points don't address explicitly are scenarios where something is actually simple, but looks complicated. Yes, you can try to explain it better when you write it, but if it's too long it's inevitable that you'll miss a point or say something that someone can interpret differently, leading to misunderstandings.
Given a moment to explain a problem in person, you can react to people's questions immediately, avoid weeks of back-and-forth chasing, and finish everything it in 5 minutes flat. Similarly, if it's a long list, you can break it down into small pieces that are easy to digest.
You don't necessarily have to take things to the extreme of showing up in person every time you need something - follow-up requests, even for relatively 'complicated' things ' - will be much easier once you've had a chance to gain an understanding about how things work.
Simple instructions with no ambiguity work great though: if you can
summarize a process in a few simple points, then e-mail is probably a
good medium to distribute the instruction.
What about proof?
The other caveat levelled at the list is the idea of doing more verbally rather than by e-mail is, for auditors especially, you will have scenarios where you definitely need some kind of "paper trail" to document your conversations and activities. This isn't a deal-breaker though - if your Important Conversation was verbal, promptly document what you talked about, and retain any key evidence.
If it's a Big Deal that you need confirmation of, take things a step forward - instead of calling it a memo, call it the minutes of your meeting and send it out by e-mail to the other persons requesting approval. It's both polite and formal way to receive confirmation that what you talked about is agreed to by all participants. If someone sends you "minutes" and you disagree, do send your response back saying what the correct wording should be!
I noticed this list when Dave referred to it in his discussion of how to work without e-mail. What he describes can easily be accomplished by using the Calendar function in the big e-mail suites. It's an interesting idea - and without getting into details he says the technology exists to do this. And I agree that it does - the crux of his idea is that you should only send out invitations for in-person meetings or "FYI" messages which you think are useful. To apply this to existing systems, you can just use the Calendar function to set up all those meeting invitations, and mark your 'other' FYI stuff, as "FYI" materials sent with "return receipt" enabled. Some systems will then automatically notify you when your colleague reads the message you sent - no need for them to write an acknowledgement. If they delete it or ignore it, you don't get the return receipt and it serves as a handy function of how useful people think the information you're sending them will be - or whether they simply read everything you send, of course.
Speaking of reading everything that shows up, there are people who do read everything, and the others who selectively or often ignore e-mails. This leads to the last point on the list.
10 .To send news, interesting documents, links, policies, directory updates and other 'FYI' stuff
I couldn't agree with this more. RSS readers are one of the greatest modern data management inventions. Why stuff people's inboxes with information they won't read?
If you think it's important, encourage everyone in your firm to sign up for a "mandatory" RSS feed, including the key newsletters you hope everyone will read.
It won't guarantee that people won't just hit "skip" or "mark all as read", but then, there's nothing stopping people from deleting your newsletter when it arrives either!
One of the key benefits for the Top People to consider is that when They send out an e-mail with a Very Important Occasional Announcement, the chance that it will also be ignored will be significantly reduced because it won't be one of 40 newsletters that arrived that week all promising other important Company news.
If your company has or is considering using RSS feeds for these sorts of things I think you should consider yourself very lucky.
Even before I started my current job, I ran into the phenomenon of people - young people - who can't handle complicated e-mails well.
When I was less experienced I had the naive idea that everyone understood that if you saw the following ...
>>> Let's get pizza.
>> No let's get wings
But you're buying
... you would know that the "pizza" and "okay" lines were written by one person, and the "wings" and "you're buying" lines were written by another person. I love the idea of threaded conversations, but then again, I spent well over a decade getting used to this method of communication.
Of course, some people didn't spend any portion of the 20th century online and as a result the above exchange would look baffling.
The choice was adapt or continue to confuse increasing numbers of people.
It's still true, actually that for some people, the e-mail medium is much more nuanced than Dave gives it credit for. Of course, his points deal with the 'average' user, whereas grizzled veterans can turn long-winded e-mails into a sort of art form, much like the letters people used to exchange in earlier centuries which ended up being published in fabulous volumes.
How much of a geek does it make you if you believe you're turning e-mail into "art"?