Many companies over
the past few years have introduced programs to improve the quality of
their correspondence and reports. Some programs have been enormously
successful; others have fizzled.
The reason: employees
will change only if senior management is thoroughly sold on the need
for change and announces that all employees are expected to co-operate.
One of the most successful programs I was involved with had the president's
full backing; he demonstrated this by announcing that writing ability
was to be considered in every job appraisal.
A second problem
involves learning strategies. Learning a new activity and turning it
into a habit takes only a couple of weeks. However, research shows it
usually takes about six weeks to unlearn a long-term behaviour and to
firmly entrench a change. Unfortunately, too many training programs
do not offer a follow-up method to keep the changes fully in the forefront
of the employee's mind for the necessary period of time.
If you are planning
to initiate a writing program for your company, here are proven ways
to ensure your success:
1. Review an extensive
sampling of the reports and correspondence produced by each department.
Work with senior managers on an individual basis to determine their
perceptions of areas of improvement.
2. Design a workshop
specifically tailored for your staff.
3. Meet with senior
managers in a group setting to outline the workshop's agenda and to
explain key objectives. The workshop can still be fine-tuned at this
4. Instruct managers
on the combined art of editing and coaching so they can provide constructive
5. Encourage managers
to attend the workshop with their staff.
6. Have the program
announced by a high-ranking executive to give it proper weight. The
announcement should stress the purpose and importance of the program.
7. Deliver the workshop
to groups of 15 to 20 people, preferably from the same department. I
believe a two-day workshop with built-in practice sessions works well
to jump-start a writing program. (Although it is preferable to divide
the course into modules conducted over several weeks, it is my experience
that this seldom works as people do not stay committed to attending.)
8. Present each
participant with a comprehensive manual that serves as a reference guide
after the workshop.
9. Insist that after
the workshop, participants submit samples of their writing at regular
intervals to ensure they are continuing to incorporate the new style.
The samples should be submitted two weeks, six weeks and ten weeks after
the workshop. The samples should be critiqued and returned directly
to the writers with suggestions for any necessary improvement.
10. Set up a hot-line
number to assist participants with specific problems.
11. Send staff-periodically-brief
reminder bulletins or e-mails on writing points.
12. Include articles
on business writing in the company newsletter.
13. Update all the
company's form letters. This is a key area and one that is often overlooked.
14. Prepare a style
manual for all employees describing how letters, memos, and reports
should be laid out. Among other things, it should include recommended
type sizes, fonts, and the company rules for capitalization and spelling.
Every new employee should be given a copy.
15. Encourage managers
to praise good writers and to post samples of excellent writing-in a
Too often training
doesn't take because of limited buy-in or follow-up. However, following
these proven steps guarantees your company's money and your staff's
time is well spent. And, you will notice a definite, long-term difference
in the written communications of your people.