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Strategic decision making is dependent on high quality executive briefs. A need growing as VUCA define the business landscape you operate in. With VUCA standing for vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This reality put organizations to a test on how to prepare for decisions. Where you as a contributor add most value by being sharp at crafting fact and insight centered briefs. This post address how you can develop your writing game to increase your value in the decision making process.
Challenge the old world paradigm
Governance of strategic decision often came from a strategic planning process. A process guided by well-defined frameworks covering 360 degrees of the business. A process designed for optimizing an existing business with great control of a large number of parameters.
But as businesses embrace the digital transformation, focus shift from how well we optimize to where we go. A reality where extensive slide decks and excel sheets struggle. many The presented result is to a large extent based on the assumptions made. And an understanding of made assumptions become central.
Once you have run through a large number of iteration cycles these processes tend to conserve a status quo view. With many possible traps. Markets described in broad brush trends. Existing revenue streams extended beyond market inflection points. And new businesses living on the promise of an imminent hockey stick ramp-up of sales. And last but not least, extensive use of industry jargon and acronyms make it hard to follow conversations.
Develop your language and writing skills
You have an opportunity to contribute with a new set of eyes. Eyes capturing the essentials of a topic in powerful writing. This is not about avoiding visual thinking and numbers backing up your points. It is about dedicating time to articulating your key points well.
Short and to the point sentences are powerful. The most obvious examples found in great speech writing and powerful tweets or SMS/TXTs. With a limitation of 140 characters you need to be straight to the point. And great 5-7 words sentences have potential to penetrate peoples’ minds and stick.
The second tip is to skip acronyms and jargon and develop your business vocabulary. Texts sprinkled with acronyms are hard to read, and not the way to shorten your sentences. Dare to avoid, and especially inventing new, acronyms. Invest time in finding creative words adding value to your insight articulations instead. A few of my favorite words are ambidextrous, conundrum and diptych. All relevant in the new business reality.
Build from clear facts and insights
Written briefs stand out by their facts and insights. Facts get better when they are specific and precise. Avoid high level sweeping insights. A great way to test your insights is to take them through three step test. “What” is the easy test. If your insights also past the test of importance “So What” and the test of triggering actions “Now What” you have succeeded.
Use numbers. Fast and insights become more powerful when you use all 36 signs of the keyboard including 0-9. A number from a credible source help your facts to stand out.
The icing on the cake come from presenting the insights advancing the topic towards a decision. A selection process where you bring forward the most important facts. And preparing for challenges why other facts are excluded. 2-3 facts supporting your case, increase the odds of a decision. 1-2 opposing your case is often needed to remain credible.
Use standardized formats for your writing
Your challenge is to both write fast and accurate. A task you can only achieve by using pre-defined templates for your writing. When I started to blog I found close to 100 books on how to write a novel in my local bookstore. All great writing follows an idea about how to write.
I have found the following templates or predefined structures for single/dual page write-ups to be valuable to master.
- Board meeting briefs – summarizing a presentation topic ahead of a longer presentation.
- Brutal truths and key insights – covering the 5 main points of a market you operate in.
- Fact based analysis – Articulation of situation, complication and resolution for a complex business issue.
- Business strategies for complex deals – What we WIN with. Elements of low we must ADD for completeness. Where we plan to EARN money. And opportunities to GROW after initial deal.
- Business decision trees – articulating two decision options between status quo and optimal solution.
- Quarterly goal description – articulating of a goal on one page, with details on context, expected outcome and obstacles. Intended as input to working groups for strategic execution.
- Call for actions – based around a summary, applicable details and proposed next step.
- Blogposts – for internal and external communication. A great practice ground for sharpening your personal pen.
End with action triggers
Support your readers with concrete action suggestions. A brief without immediate actions was either uninteresting or Executive time wasted.
In its simplest form it is the actions you want to see written up in the minutes. Write them in advance if you are serious of getting what you want.
If it is large and complex subject, complement with the required steps, and possible options for the next step.
Questions for you and your team
- What characterize the way we prepare for decisions today – Slide decks, spread sheets or short briefs.
- Are decision and preparation teams aligned on the expected clarity level – writing for high level strategic decisions is hard.
- Which formats do we use in our organizations today – perhaps good enough but with potential to sharpen. Real efficiency come from presenting similar type of challenges in a similar format.
- Which great formats can we steal with pride – Look for templates serving your purposes and don’t invent all from scratch.
- Which writing tools help us crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s – a written brief in poor English always lose credibility.
Additional reading suggestions
- Writing Without Bullshit – Boost your career by saying what you mean [BOOK] – by Josh Bernoff
- How to improve your business writing [ARTICLE] – by Harvard Business Review
- 8 must read books that will improve your business writing skills [ARTICLE] – by Inc
- 6 simple exercises to help you write better short sentences [BLOGPOST] – by CopyBlogger
- Writing better executive summaries [BLOGPOST] – by Business Writing Blog
- Hemingway takes the Hemingway test [ARTICLE] – by The New Yorker