Reduce unnecessary CCs by empowering your team

Posted by Dermot Crowley on 18th October 2022

Prefer to listen? Listen to Dermot’s audio recording below:

I am noticing a recurring behaviour with many people who email me. I’m not sure if I’m noticing it because it is happening more frequently, or if it’s just grabbed my attention for some other reason, but it’s a behaviour worth talking about, as I believe it should be avoided if possible.

The behaviour is for team members to copy their manager on emails that they send to me (or others of course). I might receive an email from a someone in a client organisation requesting some available dates for training with their team. Their manager has asked them to organise the training, and they have copied the manager in on the communication. I receive these on a regular basis, but in this case feel that copying the manager is overkill.

This got me thinking about the drivers behind this behaviour, as I know that the overuse of Cc can have an impact on productivity. A lot of my time is spent helping managers and leaders get on top of the deluge of emails they receive every day, many of them Cc’s. I am very aware that it is not always the sender that is driving this, but sometimes the manager themselves.

When we copy people in on an email, we are trying to make the work more visible. Sometimes, this is good and necessary. But other times it just creates unnecessary noise that overwhelms the person copied. There are two scenarios where this might occur:

  1. Where the manager wants to be copied in on these emails
    This could be a once-off request relating to a particular piece of work, or sometimes the manager wants to be looped in on everything. If it is the latter, or if the use of Cc is overkill in the circumstance, then there may be a lack of trust between the manager and the team member. The manager may tend to micro-manage and is creating a rod for their own back by asking to be copied in on everything.
  1. Where the sender feels the need to copy their manager in on emails
    Again, this could be on the occasional email where warranted, or it could be on many emails per day. If it is the latter, there may be a lack of confidence in the team member, and they worry that their manager will not see and approve of all the work that they are doing. This could be a case of over-collaboration, and if several team members are doing the same thing, can greatly increase the volume of noise that the manager receives in their Inbox.

If trust is low on the managers part, or confidence is low on the team members part, then something needs to shift to increase either or both. I believe the manager or leader needs to empower the team member by coaching good decision making around the use of Cc.

A good framework to empower others in this way is what I call the ‘Handy’ delegation matrix, which I first spoke about in my book, Smart Work. It is primarily a framework to help managers and leaders to delegate work and track the delegation in the most appropriate way, but I think it has relevance here, because this Cc issue so often arises after work has been delegated (just like the training availability email example above).

In this framework, I suggest that when the risk is low and their experience is high, you take a hands-off approach with the delegation. When the risk is high, but their experience is low, you take a hands-on approach, and work closely with them as they gain experience. When their experience is high, but the risk is also high you might take an on-hand approach and be available if needed. And when their experience is low, but the risk is also low, you take a hold-hand approach, letting them do the work under your supervision. Each approach suggests different levels of oversight by the delegator.

If we overlay this framework on the use of Cc in a delegation, it might look like this:

  • Hands-off – No need to Cc me, I trust your experience
  • Hands-on – Please copy me as the risk is high and I can coach you where necessary
  • On-hand – Use your judgement and copy me if you feel it necessary
  • Hold-hand – Use your judgement or check with me if I want to be copied on these communications

If you have clear discussions with your team about your expectations around the use of Cc and the situations where it may be wise or where it might be unnecessary to copy you, you empower them to make more mindful and purposeful decisions on a day-to-day basis.

If you are a manager or leader, understand that trust does not increase from being copied on every email, but with knowing that your team have been coached to think for themselves and make good decisions. If you are a team member, understand that confidence does not come from looping your manager in on everything, but from good mentoring, experience and practice.

So, think carefully the next time you Cc your boss, or ask your team to copy you in on emails. If you are not sure, have a conversation with them and get on the same page. Everybody’s productivity will increase if you do this.

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