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Sunday, 9 December 2018

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 snapped:

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 (and back home again if truth be told).

For example and 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 plus stock if appropriate.  All of that information can enable the leader to take action without necessarily 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 MDsto mark the places in the accounts that they found of value.

The result 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, reports and so on, and ask yourself: What is of true value in this to the reader and what is frankly extraneous padding, commonly known as “stuff”.?

When I was producing 250 page market research studies, I used to start off with an Executive Summary of no more than two pages and bullet points that listed the salient findings of the study, all the relevant backup detail being included in the body of the report.  If anyone wanted to see them then all they had to do was drill down and there it was.  It didn’t, however clutter the situation by expecting everyone to read everything.

We waste an inordinate amount of time and effort in producing epics of such stunning complexity that 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 from the resultant inactivity.  Even worse, complexity can lead to interminable discussion and argument neither of which are conducive to useful and productive action. 

Perhaps I should have read through this epic and used KISS rather more.

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Sunday, 2 December 2018

Shall I or Shan’t I? It Is All a Matter of Conscious Choice!

From time to time someone says something and you realise that it has significant resonance and, gratefully, for me is a topic for the blog.

We had the pleasure of hearing the brilliant Kate Marshall speak at my Vistage Key Executive peer group this week and among a myriad of insights she mentioned choice and how significant it is in our businesses and lives in general.

Having done some limited research as a consequence I am in awe that this little word can have such a defining impact on us, each and every day.

The generally accepted wisdom is that the average adult makes 35,000 decisions a day and given that will not include sleep time, it equates to almost 2,200 an hour or an extraordinary 36 a minute all resulting from choices that we make.

We make a  vast proportion of these choices without thinking about them. They are an integral part of what we do and how we do it.  For example if we are sitting and decide to stand up it is a natural movement and we do it subconsciously. We don’t need to have an internal discussion about it.

However, the next phase is the one that starts off the need for choice. Do I want a gin and tonic or a beer to cheer me up watching rubbish on TV?

There is, of course, a simple process, an algorithm, that we go through in order to come to a decision and it all starts with the choice we make.  

The questioning process is :

  • What is the precise description of the issue?
  • What is the ideal desired outcome?
  • What are the alternative options open to me?
  • What is the cost, financial and other, for each option?
  • Which option seems to be the most desirable?

Make a decision  and take action. (The best solution is to join a Vistage peer group, of course)

All of this process can be collapsed into a simple binary choice, shall I or shan’t I and these comprise most of the 35,000 a day. It is the rest of them that cause us to be more analytical.  

But are we always analytical?  How many times do we say that we have a gut feel about something and make a decision that, on the face of it, could be construed as perverse?

And what about the decision on based on opportunity?  I recall meeting someone at an exhibition many years ago and after a very pleasant conversation he gave me his card and said that if ever I felt like a change I should give him a call.  He turned out to be the Chairman and/owner of one of the biggest companies in Italy with a global reputation. In fact it was a binary choice in the early stage. Do I contact him or not? Foolishly I didn’t.

Shakespeare in Julius Caesar wrote:   There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.   The key to this is “taken at the flood” which implies that some conscious thought has been given to the choice to be made.

Great leaders seem to have an inbuilt ability to cut through all the “stuff” that accompanies a need for a decision and to focus on the desired outcome. Then the choice becomes easier even if the risk element has not been reduced.

In the end we make 35,000 decisions every day and that means that we will get a lot of them right and presumably one or two that could have been better.  It is a matter of choice and thinking about it so that we improve our decision making.

It is largely an unconscious exercise.Try it out.  First thing every day when we get up choose to have a great, productive  day and remind yourself about that choice during the day. It really does work.

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