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Sunday, 5 February 2012

Writing a Report, Sending Out a Message? Keep It Short and Simple!

There is a story about a woman whose husband was just about to make a speech at an important dinner, when she passed a note to him that just read:


A friend who saw the note commented that it was a very sweet and supportive thing to do whereupon the woman said:

“Don’t kid yourself – it means Keep It Short, Stupid!”

There is a case for an amended version in business which is still KISS but this time it can be construed as:

“Keep It Short and Simple”
There is far too much complexity in our lives in just about every sense and we do tend to take that complexity into the workplace.
For example and for many long years I have been propounding the concept of the Five Line P&L which looks like this:
         -Cost of Sales
         = Gross Profit
         -Fixed Costs
         =Net Profit
Simple, and tells you pretty well all that you need to know about the profitability of the business.  Drill down a little and see that Sales comprise a combination of volume and price, while Cost of Sales is generally a mix of direct labour and materials.  All of that information can enable the leader to take action without micro-managing the situation
I recall a Finance Director who became rather tired of sending out enormous and completely comprehensive monthly management accounts to around six regional Managing Directors, so he sent a marker pen with one set of accounts and asked the MDs to mark the places in the accounts that they found of value.
The upshot was that he subsequently sent out management accounts on two pages with the offer to drill down if anyone wanted it.
Take a look at some of your emails, letters, memos (do they still exist?), reports and so on, and ask yourself: What is of true value in this to the reader and what is, frankly, extraneous padding?
When I was producing 250 page market research studies, I used to start off with an Executive Summary of no more than two pages with bullet points which listed the salient findings of the study, all the relevant backup detail being included in the body of the study.
We waste an inordinate amount of time and effort in producing epics of such stunning complexity which only have the effect of engendering glazed eyes in the reader.  Our attention span is no more than a few seconds before boredom sets in – not a good thing but it is realism.
It isn’t patronising to keep your communication short and simple.  It is realistic and just means that the reader is more likely to take action and not expire from boredom and the resultant inactivity.  Even worse, complexity can lead to interminable discussion and argument neither of which are conducive to useful action. 
Perhaps I should have read through this epic and used KISS rather more.
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