I had a boss once who felt his number one job responsibility was to point out to every employee every time the person was any less than perfect. To be as efficient as possible in his crusade to point out our flaws, he would use all means at his disposal, i.e., private conferences, team meetings, telephone calls, voice mails, and e-mails.
There are so many things wrong with this picture, but let’s focus on just one aspect. Personnel evaluation should be about the improvement in performance of the employee. This can best be accomplished through a dialogue--an exchange of views between the supervisor and employee. Some forms of communication lend themselves to this better than others.
Modern technology makes communication easy, but this does not mean this ease is appropriate for personnel performance coaching. Teachers learning how to control student behavior are taught that they need to understand why a student violates a rule. A student may leave his/her desk or speak in class without permission, but sudden illness or a perceived emergency situation may make a breach of the rules entirely appropriate.
Certainly e-mail messages have a Reply button, but that does not mean a supervisor is getting a fair exchange of ideas after the corrective message is sent. In this context and format, a reply is likely to come across as contradiction rather than explanation. Few employees will risk such a venture, especially with an irate boss.
I need to emphasize that the communication from the boss to his or her charges should be predominantly positive feedback. At least 80 percent should be positive, supportive, and complimentary. We tend to get that which we reward, so we need to recognize what individual members of our team are doing well. Then we need to come across very strongly with the positive messages of our appreciation.
However, when mistakes are made and correction is necessary, it should be face to face with an honest and open exchange of viewpoints intended to improve overall performance and that of the organization.
If you have an example of a time a boss misused e-mail, please add it in the comments below.