Christiaan Lam – over de dagelijkse avonturen van een mobiele manager
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The One Sentence Manager

Today an article by one of my collaegues, who argues that we should alter our use of email to be shorter and more ‘to the point’ (almost as if we were using MSN?)
Article by CatsEye 

The One Sentence Manager
Some time ago I had a discussion with a colleague who recently moved to the United States of America. We talked about the differences of business ethics and took a side step to daily business communication. As everybody there posses a “always on” blackberry, the number of email communication indeed has doubled or tripled, but at the same time the size of an average email is decreased enormously to one or two sentences. Simple, effective, fast to write, fast to read and fast to reply, this looked like an optimal solution for finally reaching an empty mailbox at the end of the day. In the past we used a summary for specific emails that contained certain important actions or requests. This summary, in a large red font at the top or bottom of the mail, stated in one or two sentences the necessary action the reader was supposed to do. What we found out that after a while, more people just began to perform the actions mentioned in the summary and didn’t read the whole email anymore. As this way of communicating didn’t get adopted by more people within the organization, it didn’t get to show its full potential. But nowadays managers start to drown in their email, so maybe it’s time to rethink the way we use email.
Why don’t we exchange the time spent on reading and writing nice, complete and fully loaded emails with automatic signatures, regards, etc. with simple statements or sentences. Although counter arguments exist that context is important to fully understand the question or statement, I think 90% of the current email communication can be done without. So next to the One Minute Manager (which I think every serious manager should have read at least once), I would like to introduce… the one sentence manager.Con’s / pro’s anybody?

2 comments

1 Erik van Tulder { 08.31.07 at 9:41 }

Hi CatsEye,

I don’t really know about this ‘one sentence manager’ of yours.

On one hand, I’ve been using ‘one sentence’ E-Mail exactly that way with friends and colleagues for years now. It works well for me, especially in informal contacts. But decision making in informal communication is mostly limited to issues like ‘when are we meeting?’ or ‘would you like to go fishing with me?’. In management on the other hand, decision making might be too complex to skip arguments and context and cut straight to the cake.

I think you are absolutely right that a lot of today’s managers are overloaded with information (i.e. E-Mails), and that more efficient communication would help managers get through their E-Mail box. But I fear that the problem you are addressing (too much information) is a mere side effect of a bigger problem:

Today’s manager seems to be forced into making too many decisions. Business itself seems to be growing more dynamic and less stable, with constant changes in organization, focus, processes, rules and regulations and (ICT) infrastructure, all under high pressure of deadlines and ambitious targets.

In such an environment, yes, it is tempting to make decisions based on ‘one sentence conclusions’ without ever hearing any arguments or studying any facts.

Not-so-surprisingly, the quality of overall decision making seems to be decreasing, which leads to low quality products and services, and thus decreases profits and (to close the circle) increases pressure on management even more.

So instead of ‘one sentence management’, I think the discussion would better be about replacing the current ‘everything at the same time’ with ‘one step at a time’ management.

2 CatsEye { 09.03.07 at 17:29 }

Hi Erik,

Thanks for replying and giving me a chance to further polish my ideas about this topic. I really appreciate it. If I read your response carefully you sketch one counter argument and one redefinition of the problem area. Let’s separate those two.

Your counter argument to the ‘one sentence manager’ is that one sentence email works for informal communication but is not possible (or an ideal solution) for addressing management issues or decision making. After giving this a thought I came to the conclusion that you are absolutely right. But in my opinion e-mail has the same problems, it isn’t designed for management issues or decision making also. I feel that nowadays we try to do a lot of management and make a lot of decisions by email instead of dealing with those issues face-to-face, videoconference or by telephone.

In email (in the full blown form we like to use it), we try to write all our thoughts down, sum up the arguments, sketch the context and expect the reader(s) to know exactly what you intent (or harder… how you feel about specific aspects). I think research have shown enough evidence that the actual information (which is written down in email) is just a little aspect of the message. So (over)using email instead of one sentence mail doesn’t solve the particular issue which forms the base of your argument: both forms aren’t suitable for the forms of communication that you describe.

The redefinition of the problem area is an interesting one, and maybe this should be discussed as a separate article. Because part of the everyday life of a manager is to make decisions, a lot of decision (although there are some managers who make it an art of not making decisions). Can there be too much? I think so. Do we need to make all those decision our self? I certainly think not. Do we need to thoroughly know the context and all argument? It depends of the possible consequences. Given the many aspects of this problem, it’s hard to give you a straight reply. But I certainly give it a thought as a subject for a new post.

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