End information overload by reducing the level of Cc’d emails

Too much Cc’d email

Too much cc’d email is one of the main causes of information overload.  This is one of the main factors to emerge from various client Smart Email Management workshops which Mesmo Consultancy have been running.

Email is basically wall paper covering much deeper cracks in the business regardless of the nature of your business.  Too much cc’d email is generally symptomatic of a variety of challenges and dissatisfaction with the organisation.  The six main ones are as follows.

  1. Uncertainty about your job. We live in extraordinary times regardless of where you live.  In the UK it is Brexit.  In the USA it is the war of words with China and the Middle East.  Nearer to home your organisation might be the focus of a merger, investigation into financial or human misconduct (#Me Too).
  2. Blame culture.Despite all the talk of open and trusting organisational cultures, observations indicate that few people really feel this is true.  When something goes wrong, the first question is nearly always ’where is the email that….’ Consequently people cover their backsides by copying in everyone.
  3. Lack of recognition for ones efforts. Again, most organisations have value statements which include something around valuing excellence.  Yet many would say on pat of the back is rare: so they seek attention by copying in as many as possible and especially their line-manager.
  4. Mushroom management. No clear understanding about who really needs what information. When was the last time you discussed with your line-manager what information they really want to see?
  5. Micro-management personality. Yes your inbox is a DNA fingerprint picture of you in every including your management style as illustrated by Seeley and Hargreaves in ‘Managing in the Email Office’. Some people are by nature micro managers and want to see every email their team send.  This is not the place to argue the merits of this behaviour.
  6. Meeting bloody meetings. This leaves no quality time for people to speak to each other either by face-to-face or phone (and especially team members and their line-manger).

So how do we reduce the cc’d email overload culture?

There are no short terms solutions.  The first step is to audit your inbox.  Cluster the incoming emails and look for patterns and to which of the above categories these fall.  Second, decide which you can tackle at the individual and team level in the medium terms.  Third, decide whether or not the organisation culture needs modifying.

Here are three case histories

  1. Senior Management Team of large IT Department. They found that the biggest problem was their back to back meeting culture. By allocating Friday pm as meeting free the volume of cc’d emails dropped dramatically.
  2. IT Director. He identified which team members he was confident trusting (for example long standing and new joiners but very knowledgeable). He then changed how and when they communicated.
  3. Director of Local Government Organisation. We audited his and his EA’s inbox to identify which email he actually read and which were dealt with by his EA.  It was a very small percentage of the cc’d emails he received. This was feed back to the team with guideline on how to get things actioned quickly.

Change does not happen overnight.  Moreover, there often is a big gap between perception and reality.  You need to keep telling people what email behaviour you expect and eventually over the course of a few months you will see a drop in the volume of unnecessary cc’d email.  Nudge Theory can be very useful for reducing email overload and hence information overload.


Dr Monica Seeley

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