3 Benefits of an Open-Email Culture

Companies and employees get nervous about radical transparency, not least because the basic idea—that anyone can access all information about anything that happens in a company, at any time—can seem vaguely Orwellian. This fear is, however, misplaced, and not least because surveillance isn’t really the point.

Though its roots can be found in government, politics, and law, where scrutiny is necessary and expected, radical transparency in the business sphere is ultimately about accountability, visibility, and sharing. Beyond certain sensitive information—such as financial and medical data—companies ultimately shouldn’t expect privacy. Email is a prime example of a communication channel that can be easily hacked, with information becoming divorced from its proper context and disseminated to the wrong people.

So, at Bullhorn, we’ve decided to just make emails available and easily accessible. Putting aside any banalities about having nothing to fear and therefore nothing to hide, it’s made substantive contributions to our culture of collaboration, it’s helped us generate superior insights, and it’s allowed us to identify areas where performance is under or above par. Everyone at the company—from the receptionist to the CEO—has embraced this radical transparency.

Here’s how the radically transparent open email approach can work for your business.

1. It fosters collaboration, communication, and productivity. Open email makes it easier for businesses to coordinate and conduct everyday activities across the team. In fact, the “unopen” approach can be conducive to inefficiency. If you’re running a PR agency, for example, your employees may sometimes double-pitch the same story to the same media outlet—a practice that journalists hate. If you’re at the head of a business development team, you may find that two salespeople are pursuing the same lead. When the left hand and right don’t know what the other is doing, it becomes hard to make the most of your opportunities.

Open email gets the left hand and the right hand clapping. It makes insights into the daily activities of all employees readily available—ensuring that the individual can see what everyone else is working on. This allows you to ensure that people are focusing on what really matters—minimizing unnecessary overlap and improving efficiency across the team. When you improve collaboration and communication in this way, you can reduce distractions and boost workplace productivity.

2. It allows you to better analyze performance. Open email also offers comprehensive visibility into the performance of your employees, allowing you to identify high flyers and underachievers and the behaviors that drive their successes and failures. If Employee X has indeed sold more than Employee Y, the system can identify what works about their approach and what doesn’t—allowing you to take successful, reproducible tactics and spread them across the rest of the company. Naturally, the reverse is also true: You can iron out the problems with Employee Y’s sales tactics as well.

So, let’s say Ms. X and Mr. Y—two customer support advisers of equal rank and comparable experience—have wildly different experiences when communicating with customers over email. Ms. X not only resolves inquiries quicker, she also gets more favorable ratings on feedback forms. Mr. Y is at a loss as to how he can improve. What’s Ms. X’s secret?

With open emails, it won’t be a secret at all. If Ms. X is more concise, adopts a friendlier tone, or simply asks the right questions, you’ll know about it—and you’ll be able to help Mr. Y refine his less successful approach. Equally, if someone’s outperforming Ms. X, you’ll be able to contribute toward her personal development as well.

The aim of this kind of improved visibility and accessibility is not to single anyone out for praise or scorn; it’s not designed to separate wheat from chaff, “keep people honest,” or encourage an inhuman, aloof approach to sales, service, and business. Rather, radical transparency simply shines a light on what works and what doesn’t. If employees don’t have the information they need to take advantage of new opportunities, address inefficiencies, and understand how their performance aids or hinders the business, the company naturally suffers as poor practice becomes default practice.

Open email tackles problems head on.

3. Customer insights and issues won't get lost in the shuffle. Emails can reveal important, need-to-know insights and details. Whether intentional or not, individual employees can lock away valuable information—which can sometimes be the making or unmaking of a business. 

For example, if a terrific lead arrives in the inbox of a salesperson who happens to be on vacation, you may well miss out on the opportunity because you have no access to their emails. If a customer raises a complaint, then it might well go unaddressed—leading to a negative perception of your company and the possible loss of business. Normal systems struggle to function in abnormal circumstances.

The open email approach tackles this problem by broadening access to information. The dangling lead can be picked up by another member of the business development team; the customer’s issue can be swiftly and directly resolved.

Radical transparency solves these problems and anticipates future problems. Initiatives like open email encourage a transparent, consultative approach to business and customer relationships. More than anything, they force companies to take stock of their behavior, their performance, and their culture—and work tirelessly to improve it at all times.

In his role as international managing director of Bullhorn, Peter Linas oversees international operations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia Pacific and Japan (APAC). Linas joined Bullhorn in 2009 and was responsible for its highly successful U.K. launch. Linas has expanded Bullhorn’s reach into EMEA and APAC and achieved a user base of more than 10,000 international users. Prior to taking on the launch of Bullhorn in the U.K., Linas spent 20 years working in the recruitment industry and held a number of senior director roles before moving into the technology space. 

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