Why Email Writing Should be Part of Your Job Evaluation

Last Updated Mar 4, 2010 10:53 AM EST

Terrific, terrific idea by one of my favorite digital thinkers, MIT's Michael Schrage.

We all know inefficient email correspondence sucks up productivity inside companies. Just think of the last time you lost minutes off your life scrolling down a lengthy email chain forwarded to your attention with the stupid request, "What do you think?"

Email is such a powerful tool for both bad and good, that Schrage believes it should be part of your job performance evaluation.

"Insist that colleagues and subordinates better evaluate their email so that you may better evaluate their performance. There are few better proxies for assessing how well individuals are communicating, on task and on target, than the digital missives they send in order to get their work done."
In his post To Improve Performance, Audit Your Employees' Emails, Schrage outlines this potential procedure.
  • Ask your reports to produce three email exchanges "that demonstrate how well they've used the medium to manage successful outcomes."
  • Be harsh on emails that simply attach a report without providing some covering perspective and take-aways. This is transportation, not communication, says Schrage.
  • Look for managers who comment on a previous emails without offering their own ideas and solutions.
"Culling their email correspondence is a wonderful way for individuals to remember and reconnect with what they think works and what doesn't," Schrage writes. "Your ability to weigh their self-assessed success with your own experiences gives this simple technique particular power."
To make this process even more valuable, a company should cull "best practices" from the most successful email writers.

What do you think of this idea? Could you find three great email exchanges to your boss for review?

Better yet, what criteria would you use to judge good from bad email writing?

Take our poll
(email icon by derrickkwa, CC 3.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.