How do I get my boss to respond to my e-mails? Guide to communicating with executives.

Published on: April 7, 2009

Guide to communicating with executivesOne of the most common complaints I hear from people is that their leaders do not respond quickly enough to their emails, which makes them feel like they are not getting enough guidance. Yes, it does take two to tango, but many times the blame is squarely on the sender of the message. I have never had a hard time getting through to my C-suite, partners, or other extremely busy individuals. Communicating is about taking your message and shaping it so the receiving party has an easy way to “digest” it and react. The busier the receiver, the more “pre-digestion” you need to do. Sending e-mails, texts and instant messages seems simple enough, but we all know that simple does not mean easy. I have developed several techniques I would like to share with everyone about communication:

  1. Ease of “consumption”. In this age of ubiquitous technology, our Blackberries, iPhones, and Smartphones are always with us. If the receiver is constantly on one of these devices, make sure to only send messages that show up easily within the screen without scrolling AND ask for an answer that requires only several words. E-mail on a desktop is no different since the preview screen has limits. This leads me to the next point…
  2. Length. The novel you just wrote… it will never be read. Stop subjecting people to your “stream of mind!” Practice writing short 3-4 sentence/bullet point messages. You will be surprised how fast the answers come back.
  3. Subject line. You must figure out how to encapsulate your message and call to action in one sentence. If you spend the time to write a good subject line, your message will get through. If you can figure out how to communicate everything (message and call to action) in one sentence, you will be treated with priority.
  4. Context. Your message MUST answer one question: “How is this going to save or makes us money?” FYI messages have their place, but they do not warrant an answer or call to action. So if you want a response to your message, you must show how it affects the organization in one place it matters the most – $$$. Everything else is “noise” and clutters the mailbox. You don’t want to have your name next to “noise”.
  5. Information overload. Lastly, have your details documented and ready, in case they may be requested. But until you are asked for them, just provide conclusions, options, and KEY facts. If a decisionmaker wants more details, they will ask you for them.

Here is an example of a message I would send to my CFO:

Subject line:  Approval needed: replacement backup system – $YYYY initial cost, $YYYY additional monthly costs, ROI Y months.

Ms. CFO,

We have researched available options for vendors to provide an improved solution to our expensive systems backup issues.

Option A: Total 3-year $XXXXX, estimated time to ROI X months, initial investment $XXX, ongoing new costs $XXX per month over current spend.

Option B: Total 3-year $YYYYY, estimated time to ROI Y months, initial investment $YYY, ongoing new costs $YYY per month over current spend.

Our team considers option B to be a better choice (though more expensive) due to the track record of that vendor. We seek allocation of funds to remedy our backup issues.