One Easy Tip for Much Better Emails

Managing an Inside Sales Team, I spend a lot of time helping my team perfect emails.  Today, I want to share a tip I often encourage my team, peers and (even) my bosses to adopt: avoid using passive voice.

In my high school’s junior year English class, we got an assignment to write a 15 page paper.  The teacher allowed us to use passive voice three times– in the entire paper.  I also grew up with a lawyer for a father.  In every assignment he edited, my papers got shorter and passive voice disappeared.  Now, passive voice bothers me.  I re-read most, and all important, emails to delete out any passive voice.

I find avoiding passive voice helps you:

  • Clearly state who needs to do what and why
  • Shorten your emails (and we all know how much people read if an email is tl;dr )
  • Sound more professional and polished

I challenge you to take out the following (most common) passive voice words from your email for an entire day (for over-achievers, a week).  Let me know if it helps.

Just seven words to eliminate from your emails:

  • is
  • was
  • has
  • have
  • were
  • be
  • am

Here are a few resources to help:

 

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One Easy Tip for Much Better Emails

Just Ask.

A few days ago, I spoke with a sales person on my team and asked them “How much does the client spend on AWS now?”

He answered that he did not know.  I asked him why he did not ask that question in his last conversation and he replied that he thought it awkward.  I said I agreed the ask would feel uncomfortable, but that did not make it inappropriate or wrong.  This situation reminded me of something I often find in both professional and personal life, people shy away from questions that make them feel uncomfortable.

Asking, more often than not, does not damage relationships (if done nicely), the worst outcome entails receiving an answer you do not want.

Below are both personal and professional examples of places to practice “asking”:

  • Refunds or new items for a product that didn’t work
    • Rent the Runway shipment late? Amazon late?  Ask for a refund (partial or full). Often, subscription businesses don’t want to lose or anger subscription customers since you provide repeat revenue.
  • A hotel upgrade
    • “Do you have any complimentary upgrades available”
      • Even without status, if the front desk knows the room won’t get used that night, they have no incentive not to please a guest– even one without status
  • An earlier or later dinner reservation
    • Book a time on Open Table and call the restaurant to see if they can take more/less/same people at an earlier/later time.  Often by securing the initial reservation, the staff wants to help the person they know will dine at their restaurant soon.
  • A hard client question
    • “How much do you spend on XYZ now?”
    • [Insert here] Any question that gets you more information that will help you do your job better in serving your client

So, if you take anything away from this quick read.  Next time you think you can’t ask for something you want (information, refund, upgrade), ask.

In the comments section, would you please add something you think our community should start asking for? 

Just Ask.

The “Next Steps” Email Holds Yourself and Others Accountable

Every six months Google employees get reviewed by their peers and managers.  I recently had a conversation with my manager about what I need to do to be promoted in the next cycle. We talked about scaling my initiatives (aka work projects) more globally as well as working on more deals throughout their full cycles (all the way from finding a deal to closing it).  As I think about the “things I need to do this week” writing my manager a “next steps” email sits high on that list.

The “next steps” email does a few things for both you and the other person you interact with.  It both limits the amount of mis-information possible as well as helps hold both parties accountable for what they said they would do. 

I will write my boss an email that says something like:

Hi [Manager Name],

Thank you for taking the time to give me feedback on my review last week.  I wanted to write down what I heard from you regarding the next steps I need to take in order to put myself in a strong place to ask for a promotion in 6 months. 

First, I heard that I need to work on [initiative here] in a more global manner, scaling it out to AMER [America] and showing how it can [insert  metric I assess my progress on] for not just the East, but the entire region. 

Secondly, I learned that I need to demonstrate and better showcase to you and the other leads my ability to work on deals from start to finish.  I am currently working on X, Y and Z deal that could fulfill this objective. 

I look forward to working on these goals with you over the next six months to put myself in a good place to get promoted.  Anything else I missed from our conversation? What else do you think I might need beyond that to make an easy case for you to put me up to the promo committee? 

Thanks!

Jennifer 

As you can see, in this email I outline what I heard my boss say, ask for his buy-in that these items constitute my main action items to get promoted (mainly so that he or the committee find it harder to throw in something last minute and say I should have known I needed to do it) and open myself up to asking if I missed anything. Finally, I add an open ended “what question” to let him provide anything else that might simply be his personal opinion versus the committee’s so that we can get it out in the open (and debate if the request is reasonable ahead of crunch time).

This “next steps” or “wrap up” email works not only for your personal development but also for clients and peers.  In any situation where you think a misunderstanding with high stakes could occur, I encourage this technique.

 

 

The “Next Steps” Email Holds Yourself and Others Accountable

One way to Cope: With the shootings, and life in general

This past weekend my brother, sister-in-law and their friends Marched for Our Lives in NYC.  While I didn’t go, I did reach out to my Congressional Representative and Senators.  If you couldn’t / didn’t march, but want to advocate, you can easily reach out via these links too.

My family’s advocacy made me think of a principle of psychology that applies to trauma like not only the one we saw in the shooting in Florida but also every day disappointments and anxieties.

This NIH paper explains the important practices we can all embody to help make us more resilient as we deal with upsets we experience.  Pro-social behavior, or altruism, helps us cope (see this study of Greek school children in 2010).  The best response of traumatic events comes when we act to change them, if not for ourselves, then for others that may experience them in the future.  Thus, while the Marches across the country served our country to provoke better gun regulation, they also helped the students in Florida and others impacted heal.  I find it reassuring that part of the healing process focuses on helping others.

Why do pro-social behaviors help us so much? Elizabeth Werner found in studying poor children in Kaui “Though not especially gifted, these children used whatever skills they had effectively,” Werner wrote. “Perhaps most importantly, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates. In fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they scored more than two standard deviations away from the standardization group.” (The New Yorker, Feb 2016).  In acting to change, we develop a sense of control. 

While the children of Florida got no control over what happened to them in February, they do control their efforts to speak out and act upon others.  I encourage us to do the same for ourselves, both selfishly and in service.

One way to Cope: With the shootings, and life in general

Role Change Advice: try before you buy

Thank you for the feedback on my post last week. It inspired me to make blogging and sharing learnings a weekly activity.

Today, I want to share some advice on role switching that I commonly give my team: try before you buy.

At Google, and other large companies, employees can fairly easily switch between roles (which is one of the reasons I recommend larger companies for people early in their career). For me, flexibility between roles acted as a driver in bringing me back to Google. I get the security of staying at the same company, with, relatively, the same salary, yet the ability to try out many different products and role functions. As I decide what “I want to be when I grow up,” breadth of experience remains an important tool.

When people come to me for career advice, I encourage moving between roles, but also offer caution not to do so quickly for several reasons.

Early in a career, most people think that their job contains too much mundane work and does not fully take advantage of intellect. Yet, if one too quickly jumps to another role, he or she simply inherits a different set of uninspiring work while also moving a few steps back in the totem pole of progress since he or she is new– they incur switching costs. So, unless someone truly knows why he or she wants to switch to a different “totem pole,” I encourage them to get to the next level to understand if they actually so like their line of work before jumping ship.

Additionally, even for people out of the first two to three years of work experience, employees gain a lot of value in trying out a new role “20% time” before officially switching to that role. “Volunteering” to help with work above and beyond your core responsibilities, like helping a team you want to consider joining, offers many advantages. You get to understand:

  • the mundane (and exciting) work the new job would entail (combating the grass is always greener mentality)
  • how your new boss and colleagues work and function. Sure, they were nice at coffee, but how do they function when you disagree on a next step
  • what success looks like in that role. Yes, the hiring manager or recruiter can describe what it takes to succeed, but it helps to realize first hand this may take 80 hours per week while your current role takes 30.

Finally, in addition to providing insight, “volunteering” or offering “20% time” may even snag you a role you don’t qualify for or doesn’t have headcount. In proving your value, ahead of an official role, you may get to develop your own role and responsibilities. That happened to me with my role as an APMM on Google Fiber. I  lacked in the criteria to transfer from Sales to Marketing at Google, but once I started just doing the APMM role for a new team that didn’t get any marketing headcount, the new VP of the team, Milo Medin, told the Head of Marketing to create a role for me. Since I did the role already, I made myself the most qualified candidate at Google to take it.

For these reasons, if you want to move within your company, I suggest finding a way to try before you buy. If a formal rotation does not exist, simply talk to the person or head of the team you want to work for and offer some “free” help. While managers often turn down people for new jobs, they rarely turn away free help, which is exactly your token to understanding if you want the new role, and if you do, making it.

One important note on this: do not put yourself in a place to get fired from your current team while pursuing a new opportunity (something I came close to myself). Make sure you continue to excel in your full-time role and put more time into work through the “volunteer” role (no one will stop you working harder and longer). Good ratings in your current job impact your ability to move to a new role, even if you create it. In discussing your extra pursuits with your current manager let her or him know that you do not plan to let your current role suffer and check in on how he or she thinks you are preforming on that front periodically.

Happy exploring.

Role Change Advice: try before you buy

Management Review: One and half years in

At this point in my post business school career, I’ve managed people for a little over 20 months at Google. Two learnings cemented for me recently that I wanted to share: the importance of career development and feedback. Basically, good managers adopt Oxygen attribute #6: support career development and discuss performance.

Helping people think through what they want in their careers, negotiate next steps and determine ways to network into a role, come naturally to me and I love to teach those skills, both inside and outside of work (in fact, much of this blog focuses on that topic). In feedback surveys, my team at work solidified the importance of career development.  As they stated, it impacts their well being and drive to perform.

The harder part of Oxygen attribute #6 for me to develop was to discuss performance, both good and bad, often.

I value transparency, yet until recently giving negative feedback felt difficult. I do not like that it forces me to risk “likability”. Perhaps, as a woman the fear of not being liked is larger than my peer male managers, although, of course, I do not know that for sure. Yet, my team consistently wrote in my manager reviews that they appreciate that I grew in my management style to provide “detailed and honest” feedback. Note: they did not say positive, just honest.

Since I struggled to give negative feedback effectively at the beginning, I wanted to share a few resources here that helped me develop that important skill.

  1. Read Radical Candor. After reading Kim Scott’s book, I adopted “real time” feedback. This enables me to give feedback right when a situation occurs, which ensures all parties remember the situation in more of the same way. It also lessens fear of an impending formal review and enables quicker turn around times in progress.
  2. Manage a low performer. While not fun, managing someone who struggles with work quickly forces development. Here, I learned how to provide extremely specific SMART goals. SMART goals force everyone to clearly know what each party expects.
  3. (Obvious) Watch other managers. Another, more senior member of my organization, told me “You’re their manager, not their friend”. He wasn’t saying to act mean or cruel. It helped me remeber that in our lives we play different roles for different people. I do care about my team, but he was 100% right. They need me to act as manager who can give feedback, both good and bad, to help make them better sales people and Google employees, not to act as a friend. As my survey results showed, they value my coaching, not my “likability”.

My team often asks me what I want “to do next”. I think they wonder how I find managing an Inside Sales team fulfilling or hard enough.  I tell them that I still find managing well a challenge.

Management Review: One and half years in

How Grit, Radical Candor and Access to Information Can Improve Diversity

radical-candor-2x2

This Weekend’s Gossip

If you miss Valleywag (a popular startup gossip blog), this weekend provided some much needed drama. A Google SWE (software engineer) wrote a post about how men and women are inherently different, Google is a leftist / politically correct culture and I’m sure a bunch else that didn’t stick.

I don’t disagree that men and women are different. And, Google definitely is a left leaning organization. For me, I’m not sure exactly where I stand on the musings of this SWE. If forced to pick, I value free speech more than I dislike hate speech (or in this case, perhaps, things I don’t necessarily agree with).

Grit

Regardless, this SWE’s post promoted an elegant response, “The Fallacy of Biological Determinism” from Albert Wenger, my former colleague at Union Square Ventures. He brings in another author we both admire, Angela Duckworth and the work she’s done studying Grit.

But there is more to cognitive differences and the fallacy of biological determinism. Biological determinists like to trot out IQ results. Here too though they suffer a confusion between what is currently measured as a result of the past and what is possible in the future. We have learned a great deal in recent years about the amazing degree to which the brain can grow new connections (even in adults). The brain is highly (re)programmable…I highly recommend Grit by Angela Duckworth, which in addition to great anecdotes also provides lots of statistical evidence on how much can be learned given enough time (and deliberate practice).  

We won’t know for quite some time what people will be able to learn in a world in which we can give everyone access to all the world’s knowledge. That is not the world we lived in until quite recently; where you were born and what your parents were able to afford had a huge impact on what you could learn… Why would we then assume that this is not something we could and should overcome with technology?  

I like Albert’s view, because it argues that even though women do possess different genetics, with all of the information we can access now (and accessing more information is Google’s mission) and with “grit”, who is to say we cannot overcome any mental differences we’d like?

Radical Candor

If grit and access to information can make us better at almost any skill (I argue with my brother about whether this involves me getting into the WNBA), we need one more element for success. The information to understand when we preform well and when we don’t.

Kim Scott, a former Google leader, wrote a book called Radical Candor (framework above and on her site). Radical Candor towards those in your organization trying to improve themselves, as all successful people do, plays an important role. As we try to increase diversity in fields where few women work, we need to offer them the same level of feedback, positive and negative, we offer men. We cannot afford to hold back this access to information. For, as Albert calls out, it is access to more information that will enable us to increase diversity and level playing fields.

In the past few weeks since reading Radical Candor, I practice it with my team. It definitely feels unnatural at times. One suggestion I might give that’s helped me greatly is to explain what I am trying with my team (steps here on how to roll this out). They know when I say, “Can I give you some Radically Candid feedback?” that I care about them personally and am going to give them a specific example of what went well or what didn’t.

Radical Candor, a growth mindset, access to technology and specific feedback can lead us to overcome most of the genetic traits we inherit. So, if the SWE’s argument is that women are fundamentally different based on genetics, that’s totally fine. It doesn’t need to limit women at all.

How Grit, Radical Candor and Access to Information Can Improve Diversity