Managing the Font of Email Signatures – Now That’s Value-Added Organizational Work…

When I got to my previous company, there was a sheet in the orientation package that listed the company’s protocol regarding email signatures in Outlook.   Mandated size, font, order of content, etc.  Total control – after all, you can’t trust EMPLOYEES to make decisions about important details like this, right?

Wrong.  I ripped it up and banned the sheet from orientation and any other type of distribution.  ButEmail before you consider me the people’s champion, understand it’s for me as much as it is for them.

Allowing employees to do whatever they want with their signatures is not only American, it’s natural selection and Psych 101 at its best.  Consider the following:

1.  By allowing employees to “let their freak flag fly” when it comes to fonts and colors, you find out who the outliers are.  See an employee break out the Comic Sans in purple with a paisley background?  That’s all you need to know.  Make sure the Christmas party is alcohol-free for this person.

2.  Title inflation tells you who the Enron guys are – I love seeing who will add that little twist to their title, like the Customer Service Rep who will list their title as “Customer Service Representative – Reporting” because they pull the ACD stats off the printer at the end of their shift.  Just enough of a bump to feel a little bit superior…. and to pump up the resume (PS, with this crowd it’s usually on Monster before you notice the title inflation).

3.  I don’t need the Book of The Month club when I’ve got you laying down the quotes as a part of your signature.  Nothing says “Damn, I’m academic and philosophical” more than a good quote at the end of your signature.  What’s that?  This week is something from Sun Tzu?   Sweet!  I was just thinking that business is a lot like ancient war, and you broke it down perfectly…

4.  Oops – This person doesn’t have a signature.  What’s that mean?  Probably a deep thinker who has disconnected themselves from the false status of titles…. Or, they don’t know how to program a VCR.  Either way, I want to give them a big hug… They are my heroes in a world flooded with advertising, positioning and spin…

It’s America, so you can do what you want with your email signature!!  Just know all your friends will be psychoanalyzing every letter, color and font from the cheap seats…. PS – my current title (VP of People) was provided to me by my current company, and I’m growing into it.  Don’t judge me!

FOT Background Check

Kris Dunn
 Kris Dunn is Chief Human Resources Officer at Kinetix and a blogger at The HR Capitalist and the Founder and Executive Editor of Fistful of Talent. That makes him a career VP of HR, a blogger, a dad and a hoops junkie, the order of which changes based on his mood. Tweet him @kris_dunn. Oh, and in case you hadn't heard the good word, he's also jumped into the RPO game as part owner of a rising shop out of ATL, Kinetix. Not your mama's recruiting process outsourcing, that's for sure... check 'em out.


  1. CCC says:

    Too funny and too true, Kris. Now substitute “e-mail signature” for “LinkedIn profile” and you can have a lot more fun! I’ve seen colleagues whose profiles rank them above the C-Suite and others who’ve forgotten that they’ve moved into new roles. The temptation to give them a nudge is incredible, but I resist.
    Thanks again for the post.

  2. Joe says:

    Good to know I am not the only one who judges email signatures. Sometimes you even get a great quote at the end–great as in horrible. Luckily, our Chief People Officer doesn’t regulate that.

  3. Todd Rogers says:

    Sorry Kris, I have to disagree with you on this one. Individuality, self-expression, creativity, self-autonomy, being yourself, as well as providing a means to look in to an employee’s mind etc…are all great things, at the right time and in the right place. However each email that leaves a company’s email server with <> arrives at a crossroad. One path taken will strengthen the brand (brand identity, recognition, awareness, and affiliation to name only a few). The other path CAN (but not always) be embarrassment, confusion, silliness, unprofessionalism. There is of course the option of using an personalized email signature on one’s personal email. Because the creation and sustainment of a strong and immediately recognizable brand is critical, every time there is an opportunity to advance the company brand, it should be leveraged. Brand is almost as critical as employee morale. However, one just can not be sacrificed for the other. If employees need to be creative with email signatures, then perhaps they should consider volunteering time in their company’s creative department. To propose and promote a behavior which will send mixed marketing signal in order to also suggest “hey, we’re a cool company – look at our eclectic signatures…come work for us and bring your pet to work, too” is simply reckless.

  4. great post for my first read of FOT – and thanks for the Social Media Club presentation, by the way. I don’t disagree with Todd Rogers’ comment about company brand, etc., but I believe the importance of recognizing one’s potential impact on brand through email signature, dress, phone skills, writing, etc. can and should be addressed through ongoing coaching/training – if an employee just doesn’t get it and/or just doesn’t care about advancing the company brand/image, then maybe they’re not a good fit, or at least not a good fit for roles that require them to engage the public. When I was an employee, my biggest irritation was the one-size fits all approach to employee management – mandating that a certain thing not happen because one employee had a weak sense of professional boundaries and because the employer was too passive aggressive to address that employee individually. company policies are great, but they don’t build relationships and don’t make good mentors.
    Kris – I like your signature, in the form of an editor’s note. Our signature evolved out of an interest in a friend’s signature with a company logo that was hyperlinked to their website. being a small firm that has to be creative about marketing ourselves, we decided to include a photo of a recent architecture project. People can psychoanalyze that all they want, but every time I get a compliment about the work or a question about what/where the project is, I’m reminded of how invaluable it is to building our brand and public awareness – if I have a choice between promoting an employee that appreciates the benefit of such an email signature and finds their own way to promote our brand vs. one that doesn’t, I know which way I lean.

  5. Eva says:

    I’m with Todd on this one. There is powerful branding going on in the signature when the employee is in a role where they interact with clients and customers through email.
    Ideally, I’d like to see some very basic standards, but lee-way to customize the specifics. Maybe company colors are standardized, but font type is not. Maybe the logo size is standardized but links are not. Plus you gotta have the “..confidential and only intended for the addressee..” bit in there.
    Also, an annual “design the email sig. template” contest would be fun. Employees can design the template that is sent out as a standard to all who don’t really feel like getting creative with it.

  6. HR Minion says:

    I love your new title! I Hope your new job is going well. 🙂

  7. Mike Brewer says:

    Joe –
    I have to ask – what do you think the definition of brand is? I’m curious.

  8. Good Article, thanks for sharing. Found it from a Guy Kawasaki Tweet. Really like your perspective on this even though it’s a bit of a challenge to my thinking as a business owner. I’m going to seriously consider the points you’ve made in this post.

  9. Micah says:

    My POV is that of a “buyer” of media/marketing services. For me, a sig from reps/contractors is critical, and can mean the difference between returning an inquiry — or not — in a busy day. FWIW.
    What do we think of the ubiquitous “don’t print this?” green trees?

  10. jefferyjohn says:

    Fortunately its still fairly easy to demand our employees use a standard “professional” email signature. Here’s another important email signature suggestion from our lawyers; anytime a potential liability is discovered, add a line to your legal disclaimer to cover your butt. If your disclaimer is not at least 350-500 words, you are probably not protected. Don’t forget to insult your customers’ intelligence by insinuating the are not “green”, and were about to print your email.
    I have a few other tips to avoid silliness and unprofessionalism and ensure that your potential customers never find out that your customer service rep secretly loves purples Comic Sans on a paisley background – which will without a doubt topple your weak little brand.
    – Dress codes. Specifically in regard to what colors are appropriate, you can’t go wrong with black and grey. Don’t forget to include allowable hair colors in your orientation manual or purple/paisley girl will vent her email signature frustration through purple streaks in her hair. Make-up on women should not be noticeable.
    – If one of your employees has a great singing voice and has the opportunity to sing the national anthem at the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics, don’t let this branding opportunity escape you. If the employee is not pretty enough, have a more attractive representative lip sync it, and you will prevent embarrassment for your brand, your customers, and you.
    Some of these tips are getting harder and harder to pull off here in north america. Consider moving your company to China, where they are far more advanced in protecting brand/image/ego.

  11. Tia Dobi says:

    Brand is the emotions you, your service or your product emote and evoke.
    Therefore, having some company say over the emotions one emotes and evokes via [in this case] the email signature is smart business.
    When I was the Head Headhunter, I had 40 email signatures (which I created) at my immediate disposal in Outlook.
    I am also a direct response copywriter…email sigs are a great place to connect with your reader emotionally.
    Peace and profits,
    Tia Dobi

  12. Erik says:

    Ouch, giving freedom of signature is bad branding!

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