Writing Tips


  • When writing consider the recipients. What do they know already? What can you tell them?
  • Outline your memos and letters before beginning to write.
  • When writing reports, summarize key points or conclusions on the first page and document them with more information on subsequent pages.
  • Write like you speak to make your writing as readable as possible.
  • Learn the writing style of your organization and follow it. Don’t use flowery language (many adjectives and verbs) when inappropriate.
  • Have your secretary or assistant edit and proofread your correspondence for sentence structure and grammatical errors.
  • Keep dictionary thesaurus on hand to check spelling and word usage.
  • Use variety of sentence structures—simple, complex, and compound—to add interest to your writing.
  • When writing for a non-ethical audience, have a non-technical person identify jargon. Then either eliminate it or include a glossary defining the terms.
  • Use charts and tables wherever possible to present numerical information.
  • Use “action verbs” to add punch to your message.
  • Eliminate weak words like “very,” “interesting,” “often,” and other bland adjectives or adverbs.
  • Keep paragraphs short. Make sure the content of a paragraph revolves around only one thought—the topic sentence.
  • If you do a large amount of routine correspondence, standardize it as much as possible.
  • If procrastination is a problem, start writing a rough draft early so you have time to reverse it at least once.
  • When allocating blocks of time for writing, set aside periods of one to one-and-a-half hours, rather than trying to do it in segments of 5 to 15 minutes.
  • Develop a flash card system to work in your own common misspellings.
  • Dictate correspondence, memos, and so forth, to save time.
  • Seek immediate and specific feedback on reports you write.
  • Take a second or third look at your memos before sending them.
  • Use a grammar checking software program on your computer to identify errors you frequently make, and use that feedback to focus your efforts to improve your writing.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Ego Meetings


What about the manager who purports to believe the only way to get information from subordinates is by meeting? This manager may be seeking ego satisfaction.  Meetings are not for holding court. It may be a pleasant way to get reports, but it is far from efficient. Any career-minded individual caught in such a situation needs to seriously consider his or her position and prospects.

Evaluate your meeting schedule. If a memo will serve, write a memo. If an informal conversation will work, converse. If a meeting is the only, or best, solution, hold a meeting, but make sure it is a good one.

Avoid being caught in the meeting  cycle. Help stamp out meeting mania. Don’t be part of the problem.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Meeting Management: Writing Agenda or Memo


A written memo or agenda is the best means of giving and securing information and if properly put together will focus you as well as the recipients on the objective of the meeting and the means to achieve it. During the meeting it can also be used as a guide and reference, and after the meeting it can serve as a reminder of what was to be accomplished and a means of checking on follow-up actions. Time spent preparing a written agenda will save time during any meeting. Keep it short. Write no agenda or memo longer than one page. Any additional materials, charts, or graphs necessary for the meeting should be included on separate pages, stapled or paper-clipped to your one-page memo or agenda.

The memo or agenda should state the objective of the meeting, the issues to be discussed, the time to meeting will begin and end, the place, the participants involved, and what is expected of them in the way of preparation before the meeting.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

 

Writing Useful Instructions


When you need to explain in writing how to do something, a set of step-by-step instructions is your best choice. By enumerating the steps, you make it easy for readers to perform the process in the correct sequence. Your goal is to provide a clear, self-sufficient explanation so that readers can perform the task independently.

Gather Equipment

  1. Writing materials (pen and paper, typewriter, computer)
  2. Background materials (previous memos, policy manuals, manufacturer’s booklets, etc.)
  3. When necessary, the apparatus being explained (machine, software package, or other equipment)

Prepare

  1. Perform the task yourself, or ask experts to demonstrate it or describe it to you in detail.
  2. Analyze prospective readers’ familiarity with the process so that you can write instructions at their level of understanding.

Make your Instructions Clear

  1. Include four elements: an introduction, a list of equipment and materials, a description of the steps involved in the process, and a conclusion.
  2. Explain in the opening why the process is important and how it is related to a larger purpose.
  3. Divide the process into short, simple steps presented in order of occurrence.
  4. Present the steps in a numbered list, or if presenting them in paragraph format, use words indicating time or sequence, such as first and then.
  5. If the process involves more than ten steps, divide them into groups or stages identified with headings.
  6. Phrase each step as a command (“Do this” instead of “You should do this”); use active verbs; use precise, specific terms (“three weeks” instead of “several weeks”).
  7. When appropriate, describe how to tell whether a step has been performed correctly and how one step may influence another. Warn readers of possible damage or injury from a mistake in a step, but limit the number of warnings so that readers do not underestimate their importance.
  8. Include diagrams of complicated devices, and refer to them in appropriate steps.
  9. Summarize the importance of the process and the expected results.

Test your Instructions

  1. Review the instructions to be sure they are clear and complete. Also judge whether you have provided too much detail.
  2. Ask someone else to read the instructions and tell you whether they make sense and are easy to follow.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

 

Memos and Reports


Memos and Reports are perhaps the most commonly used medium for communicating business information and probably the most abused. The benefits of using memos and reports are that they allow the manager to communicate a lot of detailed information at one time. They also provide documentation of what was communicated that can be helpful in the future. The same message can be communicated to a number of people within a relatively short period of time.

The problem with memos is that they often go unread for one or more of the following reasons:

  • They have no clear objective or purpose.
  • They are too long.
  • They are written in a way that is difficult for the reader to understand.
  • Irrelevant data is included.

Reports are also a problem in many companies. Stacks and stacks of reports are generated and circulated on a regular basis and much of the time no one reads them because:

  • The reports are sent to the wrong people.
  • The reports are prepared in such a way that it is difficult to extrapolate the information needed.
  • Too much information is communicated.
  • The reports have not changed over time to meet the changing need of the managers.

If you are generating memos and reports within your area, you’ll want to make sure that you are not guilty of any of these shortcomings. If your people are using memos and reports generated by other areas that are not meeting their information needs, you should work with your peers and/or higher-ups to make the necessary changes.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, and my Lectures.

Memos and Letters


When people have accomplished something extraordinary, put your praise in writing. Words are easy to say but it takes time and effort to write them down. Even if it is a two- or three-liner, people will appreciate it.

Letters on your personal stationery should be reserved for those special occasions when a person has worked exceptionally hard and has accomplished something truly outstanding.

Memos and letters can also be effective when a person has made a major error or has made the same error on numerous occasions.. when you want a person to think long and hard about what he has done wrong, put it in writing. This should only be done on rare occasions.

There are two rules that should never be violated when giving people feedback via memos and letters:

  1. Make sure the memo or letter is sent very close to the time of the event or accomplishment. A thank-you note or a note of raprimand sent two or three weeks after the fact defeats the purpose of the memo in the first place. In either case, the memo or letter ahould be marked “Confidential.”
  2. Always personalize the memo or letter. If a group of people has worked exceptionally hard, don’t send the individuals a memo addressed to the group. Sending an individual a memo addressed to the group is like throwing a crumb to a hungry person. When a person has given his all to a project he needs to be recognized as an individual, regardless of how many people were involved in making it happen.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Lectures, Line of Sight

An Advice to Change Leaders: Persuade Indirectly


In large organizations, it is not feasible to persuade people through one-on-one communication. Particularly, if the organization is multi-locational, persuasion has to be through indirect means such as memos, speeches and newsletters. Change leaders also need to build capabilities in persuading others indirectly. The following guidelines can help managers be effective in indirect persuasion:

  1. Neutralize the power of informal networks: Change leaders need to develop reliable communication channels to communicate their change agenda directly to employees in the organization. Otherwise people will rely on informal grapevine that can distort the change message either unintentionally or deliberately. In either case, employees may develop unfavorable perceptions of the change agenda leading to opposition and resistance. Communication channels such as employee forums, town meetings and special newsletters can counter the grapevine and informal networks. Change leaders must be particularly careful in not withholding bad news because such news gets out very quickly into the grapevine.
  2. Repeat the message: Focus and repetition are critical for effective communication. This means that the change agenda should consist of only a limited number (two or three, at best) of themes. These themes need to be repeated and reinforced through different communication channels.
  3. Match the medium to the message: Speeches and video-conferences are ideal to communicate vision and values; these media are also appropriate to inspire people to embrace change. On the other hand, data, graphs and charts are best conveyed in the written form—such as memos, newsletters and web pages. Change leaders must think very carefully about appropriate media before communicating their change agenda.
  4. Simplify the message: The change agenda needs to be conveyed through a framework that is conceptually simple and easy to grasp. Yet, change leaders must avoid the trap of oversimplification. Oversimplified messages sound trite and faddish and can significantly reduce the credibility of the communicator. Simple frameworks are easy to remember, and are also powerful in framing the change agenda to mobilize support.
  5. Create a new story about change: Stories constitute a powerful medium to mobilize support. People are more likely to remember stories rather than facts and figures. Stories are also more effective in persuading people to alter their perceptions of change. Therefore change leaders need to be able to craft their change agenda in the form of story.
  6. Build personal credibility: Change leaders who are respected, considered trustworthy and competent are more likely to be effective in persuading their employees to embrace change. Personal credibility is built on the foundation of consistency. Change leaders must demonstrate consistency between their thoughts, words and behavior. Inconsistent, self-serving behavior can severely erode the credibility of a leader.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Is this Meeting Genuinely Necessary?


A “maybe” response indicates only limited need for the meeting and shows that further thought is required. Only a “yes” is a positive justification for calling a meeting.

 

The same question needs to be asked before attending a meeting. If the meeting is not necessary and you can avoid it, do so. If you have to attend, try to use the time to shorten your workload to compensate for the lost hours.

 

Many managers find it hard to judge if a meeting is needed or superfluous. There are some guidelines:

1.    Is the meeting being called to exchange information or viewpoints?

a.       If the meeting is to discuss viewpoints, it is probably a necessary conference. If the meeting is strictly to distribute information, the meeting is probably unnecessary. Meetings are most effective when used to find solutions or resolutions to conflicts. A meeting held for the sole purpose of imparting information had better have some pretty spectacular revelations. This in all likelihood should be classed as an inspirational conference, because important news is seldom passed along without editorializing or explanations. Inspirational meetings are difficult to conduct, because they are based on emotion, but there are times when the troops need boosting or, conversely, deflating.

b.      Training meetings appear to be an exception to the don’t-meet-to-exchange-information concept. They are not. Distributing information in advance allows the meeting to be used for developing concepts and testing individual understanding. This is a better use of everyone’s time. This is not to downplay the importance of instructional sessions. It is just to set this category of communications apart from other meetings.

c.       Information, facts, figures, sales data, market intelligence, production numbers, personnel reviews, and more, can be disseminated more effectively by memo than meeting. Chances are, the memo is going to be written anyway passed out at the meeting. Distributing a memo is okay if there is other business on hand, but calling a meeting solely as a means of handing paper to other managers is inappropriate.

d.      Meetings are at their best when used to generate expressions of viewpoints or concepts, or to develop a policy.

e.       Meetings are at their worst when used to check individual progress on various projects. There are few more mind-dulling experiences than to sit at a conference table and hear about the status of tasks that are not even remotely connected with yours. These sections often turn into excuse contests with rambling dissertations on the reasons behind delays or problems.

f.        Meetings are generally not an efficient way to dispense information. If this is the primary reason for the gathering, then rethink the need for convening.

2.    Can one-on-one conversations or even one-on-two conversations accomplish what needs to be done? Or is a larger group necessary?

a.       There’s a difference between a meeting and a conversation between two or three people. A conversation is relaxed, informal, and rarely has the time constraints posed by a meeting. Those present sense the difference.

b.      Decisions are rarely made in conversations. In fact, some managers and executives become agitated when two or three members of a committee converse and come to a consensus without the others present. This nervousness is not assuaged by a follow-up memo which details the conversation or even by the fact that the decision may be nothing more than a unified front, in no way binding upon the group.

c.       If conversation will suffice to avoid another meeting, then have the talk. Inform the other committee members or interested parties. Those smart enough to advance in management will welcome one less meeting on their schedule.

3.    Is this meeting being called because someone or some group doesn’t have enough to do? It happens all the time. Workloads in an organization can be unbalanced. This week, Production has more than it can handle, while Sales is costing. One way to fill the day for Sales is to call a meeting. This is more common than anyone dares admit.

4.    Is the agenda for the called-meeting vague? Or worse, is there no agenda at all?

a.       As a basic rule of meeting skill, do not go to a meeting where there is no agenda. If you have to attend, go prepared for the worst.

b.      If a manager cannot express on paper what the meeting is about, there probably shouldn’t be a meeting at all.

c.       If you are asked to a meeting and no agenda is given to you in advance, find the person who called the meeting and ask for one. If it is verbal, take notes.

d.      Many times, the person discovers he or she has vague ideas about why the meeting is needed. This experience can benefit both of you.

5.    Is there any reason to meet other than the fact that your group has a set, regular, once-a-week mandatory meeting? Top management often wants certain employees to get together each and every week, to discuss items of importance, or to match timing, balance workloads, and do ongoing, necessary house-keeping.

a.       After a few sessions, these meetings fall into a routine and small talk dominates.

b.      The day before, the manager should do a little checking. Is there actually a need to convene? Could a more limited gathering accomplish the same thing? Would a memo suffice? Could matters be handled by a phone call? If the answer is yes, skip the meeting.

 My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir - Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

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