Post the Document on-line before Emailing it

If you are sending information to a group of people, you should FIRST post that information on-line, and THEN you should email everyone about it.  Today I experienced a classic violation of this guideline, and while the damage is not huge, it is so pointless.  I am documenting this case as an example of what not to do.

Situation

An email message was sent this morning to everyone in the company listing the company holiday schedule for next year.  One hour and 56 minutes later, another email message was sent to the entire company, correcting that schedule — two of the days had been listed incorrectly.

Both messages said that the holiday schedule “will also be housed on the HR ONEplace site” but neither message actually included a link to where the holiday schedule would be housed.

Mistakes happen.  I don’t want to make the sender of this message appear to be exceptionally error prone.  Everyone knows, I make just as many mistakes, and many just as visible as this.

The point I would like to make is that the sender of this message needlessly and carelessly exposed this mistake to the entire company because they failed to follow a simple information handling guideline.  In defense of that employee, the company and organization probably did not properly prepare that person by teaching proper information handling guidelines.  Instilling proper information handling guidelines in all employees makes the entire organization more efficient.

How It Should Have Been Handled

  1. A location for the company 2013 holiday schedule would be identified.  This means simply that you make up a suitable available name.
  2. A document (of any form, text is fine) would be prepared and placed in that space, on-line.
  3. An email would be sent to small group of people, announcing the availability of the document and asking them to check it.
  4. The email to the company would be sent with a link to the actual holiday schedule location.

Delay Factor

Step three is a standard quality assurance step which we all should be familiar with. However, there is one thing you should notice:  even if step 3 is skipped, and an email is sent immediately to the entire company, you still end up far better outcome because of the delay of when the user reads the message.

Being on the west coast, both messages had been sent before I got the either of them.  Sitting in my inbox was the older, incorrect version, along with the newer, corrected version.  I have written on the evils of email before (Attachments Are EvilPersonal Choices Behind Email FloodDevaluing Email Addresses) and I won’t dwell on how bothersome it is to have two email messages to read, one of which I have to ignore.

Had a single email message been sent with a link to the on-line holiday schedule, that schedule could have been corrected in place before I even saw the message.  Obviously, most recipients don’t read the email the moment it is received.  Some will, of course, and those are the ones who will email back about the problem.  Many will just file the email message for future reference when needed.  If you make a quick correction, it is likely that MOST of the recipients will never see the erroneous version.  Most importantly, there is no need to send a second message.

Advantages of Following the Guideline

The guideline is: “Post information on-line first, before you send an email.”  By on-line, for company internal information, this means of course posting it in a properly secured internal document repository or internal web site.  I don’t mean posting on a public site, but rather a site that can be accessed by the entire recipient audience.

  • ability to correct the message: if something is incorrect, you can correct the document, often before most people read it the first time.
  • avoid needless email messages: you only need to send one email message, no matter how many times you correct the document.  (There are some exceptions where you want to make sure people get the updated information, but most situations this is not needed.)
  • makes the permanent location known: This email promised that the schedule would be posted, but did not list the location.  If you want to find it, you have to search around, and that wastes time.  Better to actually give the location.
  • prevents forgetting-to-post:  Sometimes the promise to post on line is not followed through.  The practice of posting it first means you can’t make this mistake.
  • reduces load on recipient: If the information being sent is important, the recipient may decide he can not trust enough to find it later, and so will store this information (document, whatever) in a local filing system.  We don’t care about disk space, but we do care about (a) time spent finding a suitable place, (b) finding the same place again when the second email is received, (c) incorrect actions because the wrong version is stored when the email messages were read int he wrong order.
  • late-comers access: if you join the organization after the email was sent, you are not at a disadvantage.  The original email did not really have any real information.  All the real information was posted in the repository, and not the email, and is available to whomever is a member of the organization at the time.
  • mistake is forgotten: There is no email sitting in every inbox with the wrong information in it.  By just sending a link to the document, the old, incorrect information is NOT copied to every inbox.  Once the mistake is corrected, nobody else has to encounter it in any way.
  • organization less foolish: instead of madly sending corrections around the company continually, the organization curates a single information repository which is quality assured and efficient.  It is easier to find the correct information, because the less inaccurate information in the first place to sift through.  All around, it makes the organization perform at a higher level.

That is it, folks.  I hope to encourage everyone to “Post first, then email“.  This is not a new theme.  I wrote on this topic back in 2008:  Page First, Then E-Mail, Please.  It made sense then, it makes sense now.

Mindset

Why do people persist in emailing first, and then posting later.  I see this all the time in presentations: give the presentation first, and then post it online later.  It is far better to post online first — even if only by a few minutes — and then give the presentation citing the actual, online location.  Today, so may people want to view on their own tablet or laptop, that this makes obvious sense.

Conceptually, the web does not work the same way that paper does.  Our language, our culture, our habits, are all formed around how paper works.  Look at email:  “CC” means carbon copy, a reference to an antique way of making copies that could be then sent to different people simultaneously.  The idea that the web is fluid and can be changed is disconcerting to people who think of the web as a kind of newspaper.  The idea that you can actually collaborate with others on posted documents is somehow foreign.

Posting things is scary: makes you feel exposed.  Somehow, ending an email to the entire company does not make you feel exposed, but actually you are quite a bit more exposed.  There is an idea that once something is “on-line” then it is permanently out there and can not be withdrawn, but email is somehow more controlled.  It is exactly the opposite.

Many organizations lack the ability for people to easily post things online in a controlled way.  Often the internal web sites are controlled by a single person who is “responsible” for what goes on there.  That one person might not be available, or might not want anything posted until it has gone through thorough review.  This is a barrier to posting, and makes sending the email must easier for the person sending.  Barriers to posting on internal sites need need to be removed so that anyone can post anything at any time.  If they post the wrong thing, that can be changed.  If it easier to send email, and if they email the wrong thing, much greater damage is done.  Content management systems need to be set up and accessible (yes, even SharePoint if you must.) to all people in the organization without the usual restrictions to prevent people from accessing it.

Poor user interface often prevents people from posting correctly the first time.  It needs to be easier to post a document, than to send a document by email.  It shouldn’t be difficulty to post.  Blog software exists simply because it makes it really easy to post online.  But most web site software, and content management software, is oriented around preventing people from posting things, on the mistaken assumption that without guards and controls people will post the wrong thing.  As if the internal web site what a crystalline perfection that the smallest flaw would destroy.  We need to see that internal site for what it is: a collaborative pile of half assembled documents, which needs the help and support of every member of the organization.

People need training, and practice.  Not until everyone is comfortable with posting first, will the practice really take off in any organization.  This is necessary to overcome the “paper mentality” that we all bring to the workplace.

EndNote

I do this with blog posts all the time:  go ahead an post it online, and then go back and proof read it … correcting things as I see them.  Often people will post comments about errors, and I just correct the errors, because most readers have not read it yet, and I don’t need to bother them with the erroneous version.

For the last three years, I send my weekly status report in this manner.  I post it on a site, and then I email a link to it.  More often than not, I find a correction that I want to make, I just make the correction.  Usually, nobody sees the incorrect version.  Actually, I am not under any delusion that people actually read the report (although occasionally some do).  All of the recipients have the assurance that IF they do want to read the report later, it will always be there.  If they want to refer to that status report in something they are writing, they can use the URL I have already provided, and create a direct link.  It just simply makes sense to curate your organizational information resources in the same manner.

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3 Responses to Post the Document on-line before Emailing it

  1. Jochen says:

    Despite your very deep and well-rounded argument, I think you even forgot one of the advantages of posting on-line: click statistics and usage analytics. (At least for some forms of content in some sorts of places, or in combination with other useful mechanisms, like link shorteners/redirectors). These can be very insightful to keep track on how “successful” your content is, i.e. how well it is received or how engaging it is.

  2. Pingback: [EN] Post the Document on-line before Emailing it | Collaborative Planning & Social Business | Digital Naiv

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