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August 2008, Issue 65
The E-mail Beast Grows Ever Larger
Measuring the E-mail Beast
Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmmm... on Taming the E-Mail Beast
Lessons Learned from "Leading @ the Speed of Change"
Using Measurements in Managing Toward Results
Most Popular July Improvement Points
Monthly Article Service
Feedback and Follow-Up

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August 2008, Issue 65

I hope you've had a chance to take some time off this summer for rest, relaxation, and recharging yourself -- or you've got some vacation time coming up this month. Heather and I have taken off days here and there for family events, hanging around our backyard pool, or cruising to the lake with friends. This summer I've also been able to combine business and pleasure with trips to Santiago, Chile and New York City to attend the National Speakers Association convention with Heather.

As you look ahead to getting back into full gear this fall, now is a perfect time to reflect on the role e-mail plays in your life. Are you in control of this wonderful tool or is it controlling you? Is the e-mail beast terrorizing you and taking over your days?

The E-mail Beast Grows Ever Larger

In many of my workshops participants complete a balance check exercise estimating the amount of time they spend on technical (their team/organization's core expertise,) management (systems, processes, and administration,) and leadership (dealing with customers and leading internal staff, peers, or bosses.) For a more detailed look at our "performance triangle" go to http://www.clemmer.net/models/models_balance.aspx.

In every session, at least 85 percent of participants conclude they need to spend more time on leadership. A large and rapidly growing reason for lost leadership time is the exponential increase in e-mail flooding in-boxes and washing away hours of productivity. Like a bad B movie, the e-mail beast grows and grows. Here's a glimpse of just how big and ugly the e-mail beast is getting:

  • Workers now spend over 40 percent of their workday on e-mail. And they consider that more than a third of that time is waste, according to a survey from Cohesive Knowledge Solutions (CKS). That's estimated to cost over $300 billion a year in lost productivity and profits.
  • A survey of 650 knowledge workers in the U.S. found that 70 percent feel inundated by information. Two in five saying they're headed for a "breaking point." On top of that, 62 percent spend too much time shifting through irrelevant information and 68 percent would like to spend less time organizing and more time using information.
  • A Reuters survey of 1,300 business people worldwide showed that executives are suffering from an overload of information, much of it delivered by e-mail. Two-thirds said that the stress had damaged their personal relationships, increased tension with colleagues, and contributed to a decline in job satisfaction.
  • In an IDC white paper, entitled "The Expanding Digital Universe" and sponsored by IT storage company EMC Corp., researchers suggest defining a byte of digital data as one character on a page. They calculated there was enough digital data in 2006 to theoretically fill twelve separate stacks of novels, each of which would extend the 93 million miles from the Earth to the Sun. By 2010, the accumulation of digital data would further extend these twelve stacks of books to reach from the Sun to Pluto and back.

"Taming The E-mail Beast" has quickly become one of the most popular sections of my workshops. It's a huge issue for everyone today. I am hoping to get some time to put together a more extensive guide or even a short book about balancing verbal and electronic communications "one of these days."  You can see some of my earlier thinking on this topic from the September 2004 issue of The Leader Letter at http://www.clemmer.net/newsl/sept2004.html.

Measuring the E-mail Beast
How true are the following statements:
1 2 3 4 5
Not True   Somewhat True   Very True
1 I am notified whenever a new e-mail arrives in my in-box or Blackberry.
1 2 3 4 5
2 E-mail is consuming more and more of my day and reducing personal communication.
1 2 3 4 5
3 I use my e-mail in-box as a holding area or To-Do list and feel overwhelmed by all the e-mails there.
1 2 3 4 5
4 An endless stream of e-mail constantly interrupts my work on key projects and leaves me with little thinking/planning time.
1 2 3 4 5
5 I check my e-mail while talking with someone or in a meeting.
1 2 3 4 5
6 I spend too much time answering e-mails in off hours and my spouse/family finds this frustrating and intrusive.
1 2 3 4 5
7 I am often caught in e-mail discussions that circle back and forth instead of picking up the phone, calling a meeting, or going to someone's office.
1 2 3 4 5
8 I have not developed e-mail protocols/ground rules or similar agreements with my team, peers, and boss.
1 2 3 4 5
9 Many e-mails I get have irrelevant subject lines, unclear expectations or purpose for me getting them, long conversation strings to decipher, or are copied to inappropriate people.
1 2 3 4 5
10 I generally jump right into my daily e-mails without prioritizing and putting strict limits on the time I've allocated to e-mail.
1 2 3 4 5
11 Sometimes I'll send an e-mail rather than have a difficult conversation with individuals or groups (e.g. sending out broad bush rules about personal habits such as dress to everyone rather than just talking to offenders.)
1 2 3 4 5
12 I manage expectations on how quickly internal people can expect an e-mail response from me.
1 2 3 4 5


  • 45 points or higher -- Godzilla the E-mail Monster is on a destructive path through your work life. You are in a low leadership, high stress zone and need to make major changes.
  • 30 - 44 points -- The e-mail beast hanging around your office is blocking you from providing strong leadership and taking full control of your work life. You've got to work hard to get back to a better balance of technology and verbal communication.
  • 16 - 29 points -- Your e-mail beast is small and weak. Keep leading and using verbal communications to keep it in check.
  • 15 points or lower -- Congratulations! Your e-mail beast is tame, well-trained, and working to help you continue providing the right balance of management (information) and leadership (communication).
Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmmm... on Taming the E-Mail Beast

"Lo! Men have become the tools of their tools."
- Henry David Thoreau

"Someone who is responsive looks effective. Constant e-mails and phone calls bring a sense of urgency and importance that's tough to resist, not to mention the thrill of instant accomplishment. It feels like working. But unless it's your job to be interrupted - like a beat cop or sales rep - the work is working you. "
- Ellen McGirt, "Getting out from under," Fortune magazine

"This new environment doesn't encourage stepping back and being strategic...fight for your right to think. People respond to the thing that's screaming the loudest. It's reactive. And being reactive isn't smart. An easy thing we can all do is declare the first hour of every workday e-mail-free. There's nothing that can't wait 59 minutes in your in-box. If it's serious, they'll call or come get you."
- Julie Morgenstern, consultant and author

"We are seduced by the idea that our importance is linked to how busy we are - which is rubbish. It's a major killer for executives. Leaders get battered to death by email. "
- Ann Searles, consultant with the Institute for Business Technology

"I'm addicted to e-mail. My endorphins spike when I get a message. And when there are no messages, loneliness and despair overcome me. "
- Comic strip character Dilbert to Dogbert

"I don't blame technology. I blame the way we use it. You need a system to confront what I call screen-sucking - literally being constantly drawn to a new hit of information... you don't have to answer every e-mail the minute you get it. And there is no reason that you have to deal immediately with every interruption that comes up.... People don't realize how much they've given up control and allowed their boundaries to be much too permeable. "
- Edward Hallowell, former professor at Harvard Medical School and now director of the Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health

Lessons Learned from "Leading @ the Speed of Change"

I have delivered hundreds of half, one, and two-day versions of our in-house "Leading @ the Speed of Change" workshops and keynote presentations. As I prepared background material for a rare public session I'm running for The Canadian Society for Training and Development Conference & Tradeshow on October 15, 2008 (find out more here), I reflected on key learnings from these sessions:

  • The phrase "embrace change" is a useless platitude mouthed by managers or motivational speakers who have not thought through its full implications -- or they are masochists who enjoy suffering. Changes that bring new opportunities or propel us forward are easy to embrace. But many changes look quite negative and are tough -- if not impossible -- to welcome. This list might include loss of a relationship, a loved one, health, job, or money. We often don't choose the difficulties or negative changes that spring upon us. But we always choose how we respond.
  • When faced with difficult change or adversity, less effective people slip down into Victim mode and often take up residence in Pity City. Many people sit in the more neutral "wait and see" territory of Survivor mode waiting for someone else to help them decide whether to react positively or negatively. Strong leaders may dip into the other modes temporarily but fight emotional gravity and stay up in Navigator mode.
  • Navigating leaders help their teams to navigate difficult change by:
    • Building a series of small wins
    • Reinforcing progress and success
    • Fostering high participation and involvement
    • Engaging emotional commitment
    • Continuous coaching and development
    • Not giving power (attention) to cynics and naysayers
    • Leading by clear personal example
    • Challenging and reframing negative explanatory styles
    • Allowing people time to vent frustrations but cutting off "victim speak" before it paralyzes the team
  • Many managers spend far too much time on technical and management issues and not enough time leading. Today's 24/7 "always on and always connected" world is making this busy-ness trap far worse.
  • Leadership is often considered being in charge or influencing peers. The most effective managers are also strong at upward leadership -- influencing their boss or more senior people.
  • We often fall into the trap of looking for what's new and trendy in leadership techniques and don't spend enough time understanding and applying what works.
  • Leadership is an inside job. It's nearly impossible to build a team or organization into something we're not. We can't lead "them" to places we rarely visit ourselves. Changing "them" starts with changing us. Strong and effective "leaders on the grow" pause periodically for a deep look in the leadership mirror.
  • The terms "management" and "leadership" are often interchanged. In fact, many people view them as basically the same thing. Yet management is as distinct from leadership as day is from night. Both are necessary, however, for a high-performance organization. By contrasting them and understanding their differences, we can better balance and improve these essential roles. For a deeper look at these distinctions go to Distinction Between Management and Leadership.
  • Growing our leadership is a dynamic process. It begins at the centre of our being and develops in multiple directions. I use the "hub and spokes" model to depict the timeless leadership principles. (Both my books Growing the Distance and The Leader's Digest are built around it.)

    At the hub of leadership are vision, values, and purpose on which leaders effectively focus themselves and their teams or organizations (Focus and Context.) Leaders also take initiative and do what needs to be done rather than waiting for someone else to do something (Responsibility for Choices.) Leaders are authentic and lead by visible example, fostering openness and continuous feedback (Authenticity.) Leaders are passionate and build strong commitment through engagement and ownership (Passion and Commitment.) Leaders lead with heart and rouse team or organizational spirit (Spirit and Meaning). Leaders help people grow through strong coaching and continuous development (Growing and Developing.) Finally, leaders energize people by building strong teams, inspiring and serving (Mobilizing and Energizing.) For a deeper look at our Timeless Leadership Principles go to http://www.clemmer.net/models/models_principles.aspx.

These are some of the issues we'll be covering in the only public "Leading @ the Speed of Change: Aligning People, Processes, and Personal Effectiveness for Continuous Success" workshop I'm doing in 2008. This open session runs on October 15th from 9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Participants can register simply for the workshop for $599. If you are registering for the whole CSTD conference the workshop rate is an additional $399.

Using Measurements in Managing Toward Results

Improvement Points subscriber, Chris Smith, responded to this June Improvement Point on Measurement and Feedback with a thoughtful clarification:

"Results can't be managed any more than you can turn back time. Like a score, they form a historical record of how you did. In competitive sports you improve your score by improving your play in key strategic areas."
- from Jim Clemmer's article, "Measurement Traps"
Read the full article now!

"There is a difference between managing results and managing toward results. I agree wholly with an often mis-directed focus on performance measures directed solely inward. However, as interim measures, sometimes these results provide a necessary foundation for addressing the needs of the client (private or public).

Goals around HR or administrative process are not strategic in a true sense that they are not outcomes in which the client is primarily concerned. The client doesn't care much, generally, for how you get to better service but rather that you get there. Sort of reminds me of the signs outside of establishments being renovated "Undergoing construction to serve you better."

These more operational ends have a direct bearing on the ultimate desired result...better customer service, or public service outcomes such as environmental protection, improved health care, more responsive educational institutions, etc. It is up to the organization to communicate the links between interim results (and operational focus) and the client's concerns. The important thing is that we don't take our eye off the ball (swing...miss, swing....miss)."

Chris Smith
Senior Policy and Research Analyst, Transparency and Accountability Office
Government of Newfoundland

As I wrote in the introduction to the "Measurement Traps" article that spawned this Improvement Point, measuring employee or organizational performance can cut both ways. It can play a valuable role in improving organizations -- or it can stand in the way of necessary change. What Chris articulated is how a hierarchy of cascading measurements can improve performance.

Most Popular July Improvement Points

Improvement Points is a free service providing a key thought or quotation from one of my articles, provided three times per week, directly to your e-mail in-box. Each complimentary Improvement Point links directly into the full article on our web site that spawned it. If you'd like to read more about that day's Improvement Point, you can choose to click through to the short article for a quick five-minute read. This is your opportunity for a short pause that refreshes, is an inspirational vitamin, or a quick performance boost. You can circulate especially relevant or timely articles or Improvement Points to your team, Clients, or colleagues for further discussion or action.

Here are the three most popular Improvement Points we sent out in July:

"Some teams are so busy sailing the ship they have gone off course. They confuse their frantic activity for progress."
-- from Jim Clemmer's article, "A Coach's Playbook for Workplace Teams"
Read the full article now!

"To see beyond what is to what could be, we need to become "learned optimists." It starts by working with our teams or on our own to "reframe" negative situations and problems by looking for the improvement opportunities buried in them."
-- from Jim Clemmer's article, "Leaders are Learned Optimists"
Read the full article now!

"If we want more experimentation and learning on our teams or organizations, we must establish an atmosphere that builds self-confidence and trust. Trust is extraordinarily fragile. Building it is a subtle, long-term process. It doesn't come from what we say -- like telling people to trust us or talking about trust as a core value."
-- from Jim Clemmer's article, "Innovation Needs a Culture of Trust and Openness"
Read the full article now!


Monthly Article Service

Last month I wrote about our free monthly article service available to blogs, trade papers, newspapers and newsletters. Within a few hours I received a note from a manager who subscribed to the service and is distributing the articles to her team -- in effect starting her own mini-newsletter.

It's a great idea and I hope more managers take advantage of this resource to promote a culture of leadership within their ranks.

Sign-up for the monthly article service here.
Feedback and Follow-Up

I am always delighted to hear from readers of The Leader Letter with feedback, reflections, suggestions, or differing points of view. Nobody is ever identified in The Leader Letter without their permission.

I am also happy to explore customized, in-house adaptations of any of my material for your team or organization. Drop me an e-mail at Jim.Clemmer@Clemmer.net.

Keep learning, laughing, loving, and leading -- living life just for the L of it!!


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