One of the well known reasons why people create lots of unnecessary email in an organization is that they want to create a paper trail – written proof that they did something, or said something, or objected to something, so that at a later time they can assert that they did so when someone tries to shift some blame to them.
Of course this is a symptom of a dysfunction in the organizational culture they work in; in a properly run operation there would be no unfair finger pointing, one’s word would be proof enough, and people could focus on productive work instead of covering their behinds. Lucky are the few who actually work in such a place; in most workplaces there is enough mistrust to make the paper trail a sensible, if deplorable, precaution.
So I found it interesting to learn of a manager who was taking the opposite approach, in a sense. This gentleman never replied to emails requiring him to make decisions; he would talk to the requester instead. The reason, evidently, was that in this manner he couldn’t be held to any promises or commitments he made – they were never in writing. In essence, here was a guy who avoided email because it creates a paper trail!
So – some people overuse email in order to create a paper trail, others avoid email in order not to create one – how come? It seems to have to do with your relative position in the pecking order. It you’re down in the trenches, a written record is more often than not in your interest; if you’re higher up in management you may prefer to be free from the attendant accountability. And if you’re in the middle, you may use email upwards and the spoken word downwards…