Management Hack #3: Writing for Management - The Director's Rule

by Kevin Shockey

I learned this one only having seen hours of my work go completely un-noticed. If you're ever asked to work on ATP reports or write up why something was big-time hosed, here is my recommendation. Put whatever message you are trying to convey in the very first paragraph. Preferably in two sentences or less.

I call this the Director's rule because anytime you are communicating with anyone at the Director level or above, they have very little bandwidth. The usually only have time to read the first paragraph. If you haven't delivered your payload by the beginning of the first word in the second paragraph, their comprehension will drop exponentially until they stop reading.

Now there is the occasional executive that will read your documents, but only if he in turn needs to report to his superior why the ATP reports were late. So in that situation, I put the payload first, and then follow with the justifications, and the explanations, and things of that nature.

And God forbid, DO NOT use any information technology buzzwords in your payload paragraph or you jeopardize their comprehension free falling to 0. Remember, simple is as simple does. Hit'em with both barrels right from the start, no matter how good or bad; and keep it very simple.

Am I right? Or, am I right?


2005-02-02 22:33:41
You're quite right
But this doesn't just applies to executives - it is a long-standing tradition in scientific publishing to start every paper with a short (four sentence) abstract, for pretty much the same reasons. Nobody has much time nowadays, and everybody can profit from a good abstract.

(Consequently, the documents I write don't start with an "Executive Summary", but just with a "Summary" :-)

2005-02-03 04:18:45
More tips
My tips:
* Start with executive summary, 5-6 lines max. Write it in in bold, do it before the introdcution

* If you are sending it by email, copy the executive summary in the text of the email. Clicking on the attachment to open a word doc is too much for some people.

* Although this is targeted to "executives", experience show that non executive have also often very low bandwidth and the same tips are usefull.
2005-02-03 11:02:02
Know Your Audience
As the saying goes, you have one chance to make a first impression & with today's execs that amounts to only a few seconds.

You gotta hit 'em right between the eyes in the first paragraph (maybe even sentence) on your letter or word out of your mouth. If not, you will definitely be shoved under the bus & be perceived as a quota-carrying sales person. Believe me I have the battle scars to prove this theory.

I just wrote a piece on that:


2005-02-04 16:13:41
In point of fact, I find the implications of this method disturbing. There are two possibilities it suggests. One is that we expect and accept that the handful of people in any organisation with the executive power and responsibility to make significant decisions are incapable of making or unwilling to make the effort to digest non-trivial text. The other is that the production of written materials like this is an essentially meaningless activity, enterprise carried out on cargo-cult principles, where the quality of material is immaterial, only the act of producing something and being seen to produce something.

Are the corporate and collaborative entitites of the West truly so bereft of ability and substance?