Wednesday, October 17, 2018

One of the best lessons I learned at Microsoft

It was one of the most important emails I was sending out at the beginning of my career at Microsoft. I had spent most of the day drafting a detailed email of the scope of a project including timeline, project owners, external concerns and responses to potential challenges. It was a long, very well laid out report. When I hit send late that afternoon I felt like a weight was lifted. I was proud of the work I had put into this email.

It was late and I was responding to a few last minute emails before I left for the day. Then, no more than five minutes after I had sent the project email, I received a response that simply said

TLDNR

I looked at this for a moment and I had no idea what it meant. This Looks Damn Near Real? I called one of my best friends and asked her if she heard of this and she laughed. "Yeah," she said. "Too Long. Did Not Read. How long was that report you sent out?" I felt shattered. I told her that I fleshed it all out and had included everything that I thought might need to be addressed. My girlfriend, being in HR, gave me one of the most valuable pieces of advice that I carry with me to this day. 

She said: "OK, listen. This is important. Write this down. The most junior person on a team will say the most and send out the longest emails. The most senior person will say the least and send out the shortest emails. Use the least amount of words to get your point across. Don't send out a wall of text. Sure, there will be times that you will need to include a significant amount of information on a project and in that case, state the facts in one or two sentences and include details below. In emails don't provide more than you need to. In fact, keep that in mind in real life relationships as well."

I started to pay attention to what she said. On email threads, I saw that what she said was true. The most senior level executives had the most efficient replies. When I was in meetings with (movie) studios, networks and labels in Los Angeles, it was the same. In partner meetings, the most junior members of a team talked too much. The words were sometimes painfully still hanging in the air as they kept going, not knowing how to wrap their thoughts up. I remember in one of these instances, I glanced over at one of the studio EVP's (Executive Vice President) whose blink and miss you miss it head shake said volumes. 

Even now, over ten years later, I still keep this in mind when I work with partners. Say the least to get my point across.  I realize that my email may be one of hundreds that someone else sees that day. I know that I don't want to get an immediate no or TLDNR because I couldn't state my case efficiently. I keep this in mind too in partner meetings. Sometimes you get one shot. Make it easy to get a yes by being confident, concise and clear in your goal.

That day at Microsoft my ego was bruised but I learned a valuable lesson. Your words are currency. Be efficient in how you spend them.


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