I want more emails! Actually, the situation is much, much worse: I need more emails. I know, I know, you probably think I’m suffering from some acute tech dementia; but, truth be told, I’m still not getting all the emails I must have. According to my Google Account Activity monthly usage report service (which anyone with a Gmail account can subscribe to for free by logging in to your Google account settings), I’m getting and sending more than 500 emails a month; so is not like I’m off the grid or something. If anything, I’m too connected.
In spite of my commitment to email, in the end, it is nothing more than good, old correspondence and by its very nature it “takes two to Tango.” So here’s the rub: there are still lots of our collaborators, suppliers and customers that simply won’t engage us via email. I’m talking about that one, great old-school customer who won’t even get an email address. To this day, he still dials you up to call in an order on the phone. Or, the employee who is your go-to guy or gal when it comes to handling a big problem but can’t report back to you because they just don’t do email.
When we deconstruct the issue down to its core, the very nature of email is writing and its lowest common denominator is grammar. In the new world order of Internet connectivity, grammar has become vital to represent ourselves professionally when we connect to each other online. Bad grammar is just bad for business and as such, without mastering it, you probably don’t feel comfortable communicating with others utilizing the written word, be it email or otherwise. On the Internet, the written word is all you have to show your professionalism; can you really afford to have grammatical errors on your company’s Web page?
When preparing a resume you typically scour through it several times to ensure you purge it of any grammatical errors, but how can an employer be certain that the prospective candidate has good grammar? There are job functions within several companies where writing is essential and as such, grammar testing is standard operating procedure to gain employment. Could we do the same in the auto parts industry? Not all of our jobs call for good grammar, but could we get a better employee if we screen for candidates that know the difference between there, their and they’re?
Recently, Karl Wiens, the CEO of iFixit, a company in the business of writing online repair manuals, wrote an article for the Harvard Business review where he declared, “I won’t hire people who use poor grammar.” The article has gotten a ton of comments, both positive and negative as a reaction to his radical position. I was intrigued by his observation that, “people who make fewer mistakes on grammar tests also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing like stocking shelves or labeling parts.”
It’s a tough position to assimilate, but Mr. iFixit might be onto something. No doubt, the argument can be made that grammar is not essential for all job functions within our industry and in no way can it be a litmus test for intelligence, work ethics, likability and dedication; but is hard not to believe that a person who pays attention to good grammar will probably be much more detailed-oriented and less prone to make mistakes. Furthermore, a person with bad grammar will probably not be the one to write the most emails.
This brings me back to my desire to receive more emails. For me, email is a primary tool to manage my business. Our company is spread out through the southeastern United States and Puerto Rico, with customers and vendors all over the world. For years, many of my collaborators have become prone to using email as a way to accelerate communications and keep a record of them across the long distances that divide us. Email has brought me closer to my collaborators. And this is my problem today: there are still many important collaborators who simply won’t email me. Could it be because of poor grammar? I’m beginning to think this is the main issue and not some deep-founded tech-aversion to email and technology as I used to think.
There is probably little I can do with a customer who won’t email me; in the end you do what all good salespeople do adapt to your customer’s needs. But how about with vendors and prospective employees? Could we go as far as Wiens proposes? His position, in the extreme, will not be good for our business; but, is certainly something that will be of the utmost relevance as the written language becomes the essential tool for communications be it on Facebook, your company’s blog, a Web page, text message or email.