Are you an Email Thermostat or Thermometer?

Reducing email volumes in an organisation starts at leadership level. It’s leadership that sets the tone for so much of what happens in an organisation. And email volumes is one key area that staff at all levels are crying out for leadership to help with.

And when it comes to email, leaders should be like a thermostat, rather than a thermometer.

As Randy Conley has written, a thermometer reflects the temperature of the environment. It simply reacts to what’s happening around it. If the temperature is hot, it tells you so. If it’s cold, the thermometer reflects that reality as well. It’s a dumb instrument in the sense it doesn’t contain intelligent, multipurpose functionality. It has one purpose and one purpose only.

Likewise, thermometer leaders don’t control guidelines or expectations around use of email. They get caught up responding to email with more email, even when a different mode of communicating would be more appropriate. As leadership expert Simon Sinek says “Emails are like rabbits, they reproduce at an exorbitant rate. The more you send, the more you get. So many people complain about all the emails they get, my question is, how many emails do you send? Sending one email to 5 people could produce 5 emails back.”

A thermostat, on the other hand, regulates the environment. It sets the desired temperature of the room and actively works to maintain it within a given range. If the temperature rises above the goal, the thermostat signals the air conditioner to crank up and cool the room down. If the temperature falls below the goal, the thermostat causes the heater to turn on in order to warm the room up. The thermostat is intelligent in the sense it’s always monitoring the environment, and if the temperature gets too hot or cold, it decides what to do to correct the situation.

Thermostat leaders set the example and manage expectations around the use of email in their organisations – using other modes of communication to suit the message, when (and how) to use ‘cc’ appropriately, expected timeliness of email responses, not relying upon email for urgent messages, using subject lines that help receivers identify purpose and prioritise their email etc

As one study has shown, employees will send less email, even without specific instruction, as leadership levels drop the number they are sending. And this can have a profound impact on productivity alone. One company freed up 10,400 hours in a year to reassign to bigger, more important projects.

In fact, most companies could realise 5% to 30% productivity increases if they cut back on email volumes.

And it starts at (or near) the top!

P.S. Feel free to reply to this post your experience or comment on this topic.

All the best!