1. Section Editor(s): Raso, Rosanne DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, FAONL

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I couldn't help but be intrigued by a recent post on the "memo-fication of responsibility." It was about how unwise it is to expect a memo to change behavior. Which reminded me of email. Not only does it feel like we're under an avalanche of email every day, but using email to manage is problematic. Is anyone tired of management by email besides me?

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A quick web search reveals hits on this topic going back at least a decade, so this isn't a new issue. Don't get me wrong, email is a blessing in so many ways. It's efficient. It's quick. It creates a permanent document. That's all well-meaning, and for informational messages it's perfect. Those of you sending weekly newsletter-type messages to your staff are meeting multiple needs and contributing to engagement.


However, email is neither a standalone strategy for change management nor is it a way to communicate bad news. And it definitely isn't an effective mechanism for criticism, especially in a group message. One of my bosses always says, "Praise publicly, criticize privately." Tone and meaning can be so easily misinterpreted. Have you ever been unsure if a message was a suggestion, a directive, or a criticism? Pick up the phone, go to the person, or schedule a virtual meeting. The vibe is totally different in person.


Another problem is assuming that an email is even read and understood. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has accidently deleted a message or gotten lost in multiple attachments. Posting an email is equally as ineffective-equivalent to signage. It all blends into the environment quickly and doesn't affect sustainable behavioral change, which needs follow-through. At a hospital I once worked in, there was an effective posting strategy known as the "potty papers." There was a strategically placed clear plastic sleeve in employee bathrooms for important notices with a plan for updating. And they were read.


Reading is one thing. Changing behavior is another. Change requires management by people: meeting, talking, planning, teaching, coaching, practicing, observing, auditing, giving feedback, iterating, scripting, praising, and using systems approaches. There's no magic send button. It shouldn't be a surprise to stakeholders when they receive an email about a process change that affects them.


I'm guilty too, it's so tempting to just send an email. Easy peasy, done. But it's never done when you fall into the trap of mismanagement by email. You've probably learned the basic email lessons by now-don't send anything when you're angry, don't send anything you wouldn't want your bosses to see, don't send anything you wouldn't want as a newspaper headline. Email can be forwarded to the world in seconds, spreading like wildfire. Even the recall function isn't quick enough. I use colleagues as "email consciences" when I'm unsure (and usually end up deleting the whole thing).


Don't get me wrong. We need email for numerous reasons, including its documentation permanence. I go into email history all the time to find evidence, reminders, and data. I use flags, folders, and other tricks to help me, yes, manage. Believe me, I don't want to go back to the old predigital days.


Let's just use email wisely. It's been a year since our lives have been fundamentally altered by the pandemic and we're certainly embracing digital strategies now more than ever before. However, management by email alone is mismanagement. Leadership is relational, which means human interactions. And that brings more joy than email!



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