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The Million Dollar Email

Pile-of-Money-300x225One event is a fluke.  Two similar happenings may be a coincidence.  When I receive three calls in a single month about an issue, it’s a trend.

Recently, I met with a client to discuss a construction project headed south.  The job was behind schedule, change order requests had not been processed, and the paperwork was a mess.  The problem could be traced back to the fact that my client had to change Project Managers mid-course.

It seems the first Project Manager had gotten a bit too casual with e-mails sent around to his contacts with the General Contractor.  One, or perhaps more, of the e-mails contained off-color jokes and perhaps a picture or two that…well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want to send your mother.

All in good fun, right?  Boys being boys?  Well, not really.

This particular General Contractor had very strict rules about professional communication.  One phone call from the GC to the subcontractor, and the Project Manager was reassigned.  Now, my client had a problem.  Regardless of whether the original Project Manager used sound judgment in his communications, he was the best they had at running this particular project.

The reassignment, in effect, forced my client to play a second-stringer in what amounted to a playoff game.  The job was now behind schedule and looking at a potentially million-dollar loss in the form of back charges and liquidated damages.

In another instance, inappropriate e-mails were circulated during a time of cooperation between the principals at various companies.  Unfortunately, something went wrong, litigation ensued, and all of those e-mails (and thousands of others) have now been produced to lawyers for 4 different companies.  I’m certain that at least one of the attorneys is going to highlight one or two of those e-mails – not for the substance, but rather to paint my client in a bad light.  Depending on the judge, those “jokes” may go a long way toward losing a significant claim.

As I said earlier, I’ve seen this repeatedly.  In fact, the frequency of these and similar situations has increased with the advent of social media.  You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) how many people decide it’s a good idea to flirt on company social media sites.

Good judgment and professional communication is not simply something to be mentioned at the orientation meeting when an employee comes on board.  It is something to be re-emphasized. Google it.  Tell horror stories, if not from your experience (I hope) than from the cautionary tales of others.

There is no excuse for taking the lesson of responsible communication for granted.  After all, you never know when someone in the office next door may send the next million dollar e-mail.