On the KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u warpath: The Email Enemy

This month, we have been talking about KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u, and going on the warpath against mediocrity, and I wonder, how brave have you been? How fearless a warrior are you? How willing are you to shake up the status quo, and truly make a significant difference in your company?

Counting today, there are 10 days left in March. What have you done?

If you have been reading and agreeing in theory, but you haven’t started your own campaign in a BIG, Brave way, I have a warpath proposition for you:

Imagine what could happen in your company, if your President, CEO, or otherwise-titled Top Dog, conducted this experiment for as little as a week’s time, starting tomorrow. Talk to him or her today, and share your war paint. I
dare you.

Tell them about the Email Experiment:

The Email Experiment

Please use email only to respond to those who initiate conversations with you via email. However, those who initiate those email conversations with you should only be customers, guests and prospects, vendors and suppliers, because;

In our own company, we are going to talk to each other again.

No emails may be sent to anyone within the same building as you. Instead, you must visit them.

The only emails which may be sent to another in our own company in a different location, are those to offer a choice of times for a telephone conversation (and their reply will be to call you at one of those times), or to attach a file you must collaborate on. Conversations will only be held by voice.

Here’s the rub:
Only you and the Top Dog know it’s an experiment. Everyone else is told that this is the way it will be from now on.

Would you have chaos, conversation, or chaotic conversation?

If your answer is chaos, methinks your work culture is less than healthy.

For if your answer is chaos, is that what happens when your email servers go down? Or does everything simply stop until everyone is online again, because bad email habits are so thoroughly ingrained in the organizational culture?

If your answer is chaotic conversation, methinks the “communication culture” in your workplace needs this experiment pretty badly, for it would banish mediocrity with much more than just email.

how about you?

After that week’s experiment, would you go back to your old habits ever again? Would you have to? Or KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u, you have achieved a higher level of excellence, finding a better way?

Here’s your part in this experiment, for you and Top Dog are collaborating on this:

You are using Top Dog’s clout to conduct an effective warpath. You are leveraging the shockwaves which ripple throughout the organization, to banish mediocrity in your own circle of influence within your workplace. You are going to champion “the better way.”

You are going to champion Excellence without Email.

For instance;

You are not going to be the one wandering the halls with a dazed look on your face, popping your head into offices and interrupting people. You are not going to flood anyone else’s voicemail. You are not going to whine and commiserate at the water cooler with the stress-filled group standing there.

You are doing something really low tech and simple, like this:

a) You sort the SENT box of your email by name to find out who you’ve emailed the most in the last week prior to the experiment.

b) You sort your own email INBOX to find out who has emailed you the most in the last week.

c) You grab a stack of manila folders, and create one for each name you came up with in Steps 1. and 2. You print the emails concerning them which either of you still need an answer on, and you stick them in their folder.

d) You stick a clean sheet of paper in each folder so you can take notes on any new conversations that come up with them.

e) Going forward, you add a new daily habit to the last half hour of your work-day: you create more manila people-folders to contain your notes on conversations you’ve had during that day for anyone who doesn’t have one yet. They are all filed in a simple A-Z expanding file on the floor close to your chair where you can reach them.


Here’s a possible scenario in which your brand new low-tech system comes into play

You have about a half hour before your next staff meeting.

1. You pull out all the folders for the other people you know will be at that meeting too, and you take them with you.

2. Step 1. took you all of a minute, so being pretty generous with walking down the hall time, you are actually 25 minutes early for the staff meeting. You’re probably the first one in the room. While you are still alone, you prep for the part you will play in the meeting to follow.

3. The second person walks in the room. You pull out the folder with their name on it, and you engage them in a conversation to answer all the outstanding stuff the two of you may need to talk about. You ask them if they have anything else for you, and you write it on that blank sheet of paper.

4. By this time, others are arriving. If you still have time before the meeting starts, you look for the person with the fattest folder in your stack, and you engage them in a conversation next.

5. If the meeting starts and you haven’t finished talking to them about the contents of your folder, you sit next to them. That way, if you both still have time when the meeting ends, you can finish your conversation.

So what do you say Ho‘ohana Community? How much are you using email when there is a better way? Are you willing to be the champion in your ENTIRE circle of influence in and out of your company?

how brave are you?

My low-tech conversation enabler is just one idea to leverage this warpath, surely you have more. Share them here, would you?


  1. says

    Serendipty strikes again, Rosa.
    I posted today on the topic of Speaking Out [http://www.slowleadership.org/2006/03/thoughts-on-speaking-out_22.html] and why it’s something people are afraid to do; then got a great comment showing exactly what happens to good people who say the wrong thing to insecure bosses.
    Hooray for being the champion! Just recognize they don’t always win a gold medal. Sometimes it’s a pink slip.

  2. says

    Good article Adrian, and like you, I feel for the person who commented there for you.
    You offer up a good reason why I am proposing collaboration with the right person within this warpath, fondly called the Top Dog, and hopefully a GREAT leader and not a short-sighted one. I have also made a couple of other assumptions here:
    1. We have proactive, positive people in our Ho‘ohana Community reading this, people aspiring to innovative and aloha-filled management practices who are informal and/or titled leaders in their own right, respected for the initiatives they propose.
    2. Two people don’t really make that effective a warpath when you tackle email mediocrity in an entire company. I am also guessing that a GREAT (and compassionate) Top Dog who agrees with the assumption of potential merit with this experiment, would not subject people to cruel and unjust chaos in this experiment; he or she would engage more collaborators, hopefully their entire leadership team.
    3. They would also provide more lifelines, i.e. more coaching, suggestions and ideas for “the better way.” Thus my shout-out here for more ideas within our own online community!
    However I did write this from the standpoint of what we as individuals can do to effect change in our own behavior. When you truly think about this, it is also a personal campaign one could wager strictly within their own circle of influence, by themselves, or within their team or department.
    Me, myself and I, I do realize how much I need to pick up the telephone and be more personally responsive to people versus the easy way out of hitting reply to emails.

  3. says

    A Brave Email Experiment

    Imagine what could happen in your company, if your President, CEO, or otherwise-titled Top Dog, conducted this experiment for as little as a week’s time;
    The Email Experiment
    Please use email only when absolutely necessary, to respond to those who…

  4. Rick Fuqua says

    On one hand, email is now more important than electricity to some people. With the proliferation of laptops, web portals and blackberry’s, people expect real-time access to our messaging systems.
    On the other hand, email has dehumanized the workforce. No need for confrontation – just email your argument. I once knew a manager that fired an employee by email.
    On the other other hand, email has increased the sharing of information – employees are widely informed at a much faster pace.
    I agree that email is way over used, but I don’t want to go back to those yellow interoffice envelopes and typed memos either. (Remember interoffice memorandums and administrative assistants that actually used a typewriter.)
    I’m afraid of this experiment, but it could work great on a departmental basis. I may try a one day ban inside one of my teams.

  5. says

    Rick, I love when you comment here, for you are open, honest, and you have a wonderful knack for looking at both sides of everything. I readily admit that my Email Experiment is for the Braver than Brave and may be a bit extreme, perhaps even foolhardy in this day where email is so irreversibly ingrained into our work systems, unless there is considerable preparation in place to support this experiment.
    I myself am a huge fan of email for my own work productivity, and like you, I do not want to go back to those yellow inter-office envelopes! Boy, did you evoke some stark imagery for me with that memory of returning to my office at the end of a long day in the trenches to find a stack of them waiting for me in my in tray” yuck.
    The point is exactly what you have picked out: our practice of email abuse has dehumanized too much of our work, and we must strive, KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u, for that balance in which we use it for timely information supplemented by person-to-person conversation.

  6. Rick Fuqua says

    …a small bonus today is all of the walking around I have been doing instead of emailing everybody. TGIF.

  7. says

    Hi Rosa,
    I’m often the one here reading your wonderful posts, but dont usually leave a reply. This one, however, I want to add my bit.
    The company I work for here in Australia has initiated special days (on an irregular basis – we’ve had four so far) in line with our corporate values.
    Basically all staff are encouraged to uphold the value by communicating by phone or face to face – the internal email is actually switched off. Very similar to what you are proposing here, only we are physically blocked from emailing internally (and heavily discouraged from emailing clients too). This is an initiative of the top dog and the entire management team.
    It works well – people have actually come to realise the value of speaking with the other person, and a lot of misunderstandings have been cleared up or avoided altogether because no-one is firing off a ‘heat of the moment’ email.
    Each time we have had this specific focus day, the rate of acceptance of phone and face to face conversations has increased even more.
    I’d love to hear others experience of your experiment.