‘What are we doing about this?’

Stop sending notes to your staff that require a crystal ball to decipher. Engage them in dialogue instead. Drawing by M.C. Escher.

Have you ever received an e-mail or note from a boss or board member—usually with an article attached—that simply says, “What are we doing about this?” There is no other explanation, no instruction, no suggestion that “we should meet to discuss.”

Having received my share of these and possibly been the originator of a few myself, I can tell you they are generally greeted with a groan and not with any degree of enthusiasm.

That’s because the articles sent often demonstrate the sender is uninformed about what staff has been doing for the last six months. These missives can also be viewed as downright accusatory, resulting in the recipient getting pretty defensive. It’s as if the sender is saying, “Look what you missed, dummy.” Or, “Look at what our competitors are doing. Why can’t you do that?” A negative tone or hint of superciliousness can send the reader into a tailspin.

Worst of all, there is no clue as to what the sender actually wants done. Is this an “FYI” or a call to action? And if too many of these types of notes are sent, the sender starts to get the same reputation as your crazy Uncle Bob. A nuisance not to be taken very seriously.

Sending “what are we doing about this?” notes is frankly not a good way to manage. If it is rampant in your organization, you need to nip it in the bud and channel it into more thoughtful, productive dialogue.

If you’re a boss or board member, the next time you feel the urge to send off the latest article or opinion piece you’ve read, stop and reflect on the key points that apply to your organization. Instead of scribbling “what are we doing about this?” at the top, write a note that summarizes your concerns and frames them in the context of your organization’s goals and objectives. Then you can ask the recipient what, if anything, your organization is doing (or should do) to address your concerns. Offer to meet, discuss and bring in others in your organization to brainstorm solutions.

Employees, the next time you receive a “did you see this?” note, understand that the sender must have a reason for sending it, regardless of how cryptic or crazy it seems to you. Use it as an opportunity to visit with your boss or put it on the board’s agenda for discussion.

In general, think about what your organization is doing to foster open communication across departments, between staff and board, and between the CEO and staff. Show me someone who consistently sends “what are we doing?” notes, and I’ll show you someone who is out of the communication loop. Put them in the loop, take the time to brief them, and they will (hopefully) stop pestering you. In fact, just a couple “here’s what we’re doing” phone calls or e-mails might stop a dozen “did you see this?” notes.

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2 Responses to ‘What are we doing about this?’

  1. Debbi says:

    Wonderful blog today. Right on – from both perspectives. I even laughed out loud – in recognition.

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