Last week at the Women2.0 City Meetup in NYC, I asked Fran Hauser a question:
What was the worst thing that a startup could do when working with her?
Fran thought about it for a second, and replied:
She went on to talk about how if someone is supposed to send her something after they meet, that forgetting to is not going to help build the relationship. Fran added that sometimes people spend so much time making sure the deliverable is perfect and end up missing their opportunity to stay front of mind.
A great follow-up can set you apart, especially if it’s timely.
I remember, when I was a Cornerstone on Demand, that one of our PM candidates found a way to have hand written thank you notes delivered to each person who had interviewed her… THE VERY NEXT MORNING! We hired her for a variety of reasons, but that was something each of us remembered for years.
Follow-ups are a great way to continue a conversation and stay relevant.
Camp Interactive, which visited Pivotal Labs a month or so ago before they spent a week building apps, sent me the most adorable thank you note today.
Here’s what I love about it:
- It has great photos of the students learning and having fun during their week at camp.
- It was hand written by one of the participants who wrote why she personally enjoyed visiting.
- It was in addition to the emails I had already received immediately after their visit, so it wasn’t delayed but more of a “we’re still thinking about you” reminder.
Things like this make me want to help Camp Interactive out in the future, and may have encouraged one of my coworkers to run a marathon for them. Now that’s an impactful follow-up.
This past weekend, my sister sent me a text message that she was in “CH”. I assumed this meant Clinton Hill (a popular neighborhood in Brooklyn). In fact, she meant Crown Heights (a different neighborhood in Brooklyn which is not on the same train lines as Clinton Hill).
It inspired me to write this post against abbreviations, which I’ve discovered there’s a number of dictionaries available to help translate. They make me think… Really? Whole sites dedicated to deciphering cryptic codes used as an attempt for internal efficiency?
Too often, an abbreviation, which is intended to help, actually causes a problem.
Here’s a list of negative impacts I think they create:
- People misunderstand you (see above)
- New employees feel alienated
- Readers get confused and frustrated
Obviously, this post won’t end the use of abbreviations at Pivotal or anywhere else. I hope that when they get used, that someone makes sure to define whatever two, three, or four letter code is meant at the time.
What abbreviation will you stop using?
This past week I met with the project team to discuss an upcoming meeting. I offered to relay their concerns to the individual I was meeting with later. Some of my team members asked why I thought an in-person meeting would be more productive than sending an email from the group.
I told them email is good for certain moments but that tone cannot be easily inferred in written communication. I explained that with sensitive topics, communicating intent with tone, body language and real-time dialogue makes makes a meaningful difference in arriving at an outcome that both parties can stand behind.
By delivering concerns directly (whether in person or over the phone), there’s a captive audience, the recipient is able to ask questions and get immediate responses. The team agreed that back-and-forth emails with questions often cause frustration for both parties. Being able to have a direct dialog, quickly answer questions and clarify intent is valuable in minimizing the feedback loop.
I am biased towards in-person discussions, but believe that each mode of communication has it’s optimal use. Here are ten guidelines that come to mind when I think about whether an email is the right one:
- When delivering bad news, email is not generally the right method. Use email to schedule a discussion where you can talk about the issues and work toward a solution. Be sure that everyone is mentally present when you meet.
- Sensitive or emotionally volatile topics should be discussed in person to ensure tone can be interpreted successfully. Use a private setting if appropriate.
- When an in-person meeting is not an option, try video conference. If bandwidth is a problem, schedule a phone call.
- Email is very effective to confirm or document information that has already been discussed.
- Status of a healthy project can be communicated via email. Unhealthy projects deserve meetings or calls given the potential for emotion.
- Emails works well to follow up on action items or open questions from an earlier meeting.
- Before a meeting with a large group of people, sending out the agenda/goals to attendees via email can be helpful.
- If an email discussion has gone back and forth more than twice, get on the phone to hammer out the details.
- If you can’t just walk up to someone, online chat is great for quick questions. But, if the conversation goes beyond 5 minutes of continuous chat, hop on the phone.
- Text messages are reserved for urgent needs or quick questions that are time sensitive.
If you have your own rules you like to follow or disagree with statements above, please share your thoughts.