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Eight suggestions for cc’s on email messages to unclog mailboxes

Talking with a client, we developed a set of disciplines regarding cc’s on email messages. They relate to the length, level, importance, and number of people to copy. We came up with these eight ideas.

  1. Delegate responsibility to forward. Add to the end of your message the phrase “Copy others as you see fit.” Each recipient has their own view of whom should be included or excluded, so let them make the call. On your own you are as likely to over-copy as to under-copy.

  2. Pick one end of a reporting chain. Copy the senior person or the junior person, but not both or any intermediates. When you copy an entire reporting chain (general counsel, deputy general counsel, and one lawyer who reports to you) you are probably over-copying.

  3. Follow the Golden Rule. Were our positions swapped, would I want to be copied on this kind of message or this particular message?

  4. Copy for action more than information. Copy people only if the message is likely to make a difference in their actions, not just in their knowledge. As an aside, in terms of efficiency, the reflexive responses “Thanks” or “Will do” or the like seem moronic.

  5. Email as last communication resort. Copy only if you are not likely to pass on the knowledge in a meeting, status report, or other exchange (See my post of March 4, 2010: ways to update general counsel.).

  6. Reduce writing for rank. The higher the level copied – or written to directly for that matter – the more succinct the message. Or hone the executive summary at the start.

  7. Cater to recipients’ preferences. Ask people about their preferences or study their pattern of copying others.

  8. Use Instant Messages: Perhaps an instant message will serve the purpose and not clutter mailboxes and backup servers.

Let me know about other guidelines for whether or not to include someone on an e-mail message (See my post of Nov. 6, 2006: email with 6 references; Aug. 26, 2009: 30 e-mail effectiveness tips with 9 references; Dec. 14, 2009: four more tips on email effectiveness; and June 16, 2010: software to protect you from intrusive email.).