This blog was originally published on Troop HR's blog, which features strategy and insights from HR leaders.
We communicate at work via emails. Sure, there are other mediums (slack, meetings, presentations) but email is a key way for teams to get things done.
If you’re in HR, you’re even more likely to rely on email. I’ve worked with software engineers who rarely use email, and instead communicate mainly via JIRA or slack. But for us People team members, where so much of our roles are dependent on shepherding others (often in large groups!) to get things done, we need to use every available communication tool to broadcast to our teams.
Email is a complicated tool because we only control what we send out, yet our success is dependent on what others do with our messages, especially when it comes to internal communication campaigns.Think about performance reviews: we don’t have the ability to make others complete their reviews (they need to do that on their own!) but we do have control over how we structure our messages to give our teams the best possible chance of success.
I believe that email skills are a key behavior that can lead to career acceleration. This is especially true for People team members who use email to get other people to do things. If we make our emails frictionless to action we accomplish two very important things for our own careers:
We get others to do what we need them to do (which reflects well on us and allows us to accomplish our goals more efficiently)
We develop an excellent brand for ourselves as someone who communicates well and is easy to work with
So how do we make our emails frictionless to action? Let’s dive into it – focusing first on a philosophical approach and then on the tactical steps you can begin applying to your emails immediately.
Philosophically, the key to making your emails frictionless to action is EMPATHY. If you understand the feelings and needs of your audience, your emails will be better. Think about your own experience as someone who receives emails. What makes emails easier to handle? Do you love long, text-heavy emails that are dense? How about emails that ask you to do something, but don’t link to where you need to complete the action? What about when you've been working hard all day, and an unexpected message that requires a lot of effort comes in, with no warmth in tone? How do you feel?
We must remember that our team members usually don’t ask for our emails. Our emails just show up in their inboxes, requiring attention and effort. Essentially, we create work whenever we send an email. So it’s important to make our emails easy to read and simple to handle - that they are frictionless to action.
The other philosophical key to making your emails frictionless to action is to take more time to write them. I can feel you groaning, and I KNOW. Nobody wants to spend more time on an email than they have to. That said, think again about your reader – what do they need to do based on this email? If there’s something important dependent on the email (a decision, a request for information, an action you need them to take), it’s in your best interest to devote time to writing a well-structured email that will be frictionless to action. It gives you the best chance of having your reader do what you need them to do. Mark Twain once wrote, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” You DO have more time. If you care about the outcome of the email, you’ll save time in the long run by devoting more time upfront to crafting an excellent communication. Think about it this way. In a role, there’s a lot that’s out of your control. Companies are complex, and you personally can’t control the strategic goals, your colleagues, or the economy. But your emails - what you write and send - are always within your control. If you can make your emails a source of efficient and effective business operations, you will find yourself quickly advancing in your career.
All right, so philosophically, we will be considering our readers’ experience with empathy and devoting time to crafting our emails. Now how do we tactically make our emails frictionless to action?
Define the email’s purpose. A great email is purposeful. Every email should have a purpose. If an email doesn’t have a purpose, it shouldn’t be written. So to write a great email, you should know what your email’s purpose is. And more than just knowing it – you should spell it out explicitly for your reader upfront - both in the subject line of the email and in the first section of your email. There’s no need to be covert when it comes to email - bang your reader on the head with what this is about.
Make the email easy to read. An email should be easy to read. As the writer of the email, you should be mindful of the reader’s attention. Not shockingly, an email reader’s attention is extremely limited. “I love receiving dense and long work emails!” said no one ever. Be the change in the work email world - write the emails that you wish you would receive. Want some quick ways to do that?
The shorter the better - I don’t just feel this way because I’m petite ;-) The shorter an email is, the better. Use word economy. Read over an email before you send it out and cut any superfluous words.
Carriage returns are key - People don’t read. People skim. This is a fact that we cannot change. If people are going to skim what you write, give yourself every chance for them to skim the right stuff. Press enter liberally, chunking out your words and adding in white space. This makes it easier for information to catch people’s eyes.
Formatting is your friend - You might have noticed I love a good bulleted and bolded list. That’s because it organizes information and helps people comprehend what you’re sharing. I’m a big fan of bolding, using italics, using bullet points, and basically any other formatting choice (colors, highlights, etc.) that help draw the reader’s attention where you want it to go. It may sound silly, but these simple choices make it easy for your reader to read what you need them to read.
Write with warmth - HR gets a bad rap for being robotic. We have a tough role to navigate – we need to walk the line between kindness and professionalism. That said, emails are more readable when they include warmth and even a little humor. You’ll need to use judgment here (don’t get silly with your harassment prevention communications!), but a little digital warmth and humor can go a long way in making your emails stronger.
Make your email frictionless to action - If you are writing an “ask for something” email, you need to do two things in your email. You need to share information (get your reader to read what you wrote) and you need your reader to do something based on what you wrote. How can you make it as easy as possible for someone to do what you need them to do based on your email? A few ways to help them:
Bold out your request - Formatting is definitely your friend when it comes to making your email easy to action. Make it crystal clear what you expect them to do upon receiving your email.
Put it in the subject- Frame your reader’s mind from the get-go. I’m a big fan of a subject like “Action Required: XYZ XYZ” as it tells your reader before they even OPEN your email that you expect them to do something with it.
Make it easy for them - Depending on your ask, you might need them to do work for you (ex: fill something out for you on a different website, recall and then share information from a past meeting). How can you help them do this? If you’re asking them to go to a different website, insert the link. If you’re asking them to share something that happened, make it simple by referencing the specific date/time of the meeting. Basically, make it as easy as possible for them to do what you need them to do.
While it can feel tedious to invest time in email, I assure you that it is time well-spent. Devote the time and energy to making your emails frictionless to action, and watch your “completion/adoption rates/program interaction/program impact” dramatically increase, and your career accelerate. You’ll get your work done faster, and you’ll build your internal brand as a stellar communicator. Win win!