Peter Drucker, the
father of the science of office management, says "As soon as you
take one step up the career ladder your effectiveness depends on your
ability to communicate your thoughts in writing and in speaking."
In other words, if you want to be noticed within or outside your organization,
you have to be able to express yourself-clearly and concisely.
However, many companies
don't realize that this advice is as true today as it was ten years
For example, a senior
executive recently told me, "No one in my company writes anymore.
We just send e-mails." Interesting thought. But totally naive.
E-mails may have reduced the need for paper, snail mail and limbo time
(the time a message spends in transit) but they still require the sender
to convey his thoughts clearly and concisely, using the rules for good
In addition, e-mails
are not as easy to write as some would think. In a recent consulting
job, I found that the employees were sending such sloppy e-mails that
they frequently had to send two or three messages to interpret their
first transmission-a complete waste of time.
And writing short
e-mail messages is often harder than writing longer documents. As Rudyard
Kipling once wrote, "Sorry this is such a long letter, but I didn't
have time to write a short one."
creates an image
The company's and
the writer's image are two more reasons for good writing skills. When
a reader scans a document he subconsciously builds a picture of the
writer. The writer can project the image of a conscientious, energetic
professional, or the image of a bored bureaucrat marking time with an
a manager asked me to work with one of her new salespeople. After reading
copies of the correspondence the salesman was sending to his customers,
I pictured a man in his late fifties, probably with gray hair and blessed
with old-world good manners. In actual fact, the salesman was just out
of university. It turned out that the young man had been taking home
all of his correspondence to write under the guidance of his father.
The cheerful, straight forward and almost flip manner the salesman used
on the phone and in face-to-face situations was in direct contrast to
the old-fashioned, stilted correspondence he was submitting. Both customers
and colleagues were confused by the opposing communication styles.
Good writing is
a way of combating today's high cost of face-to-face sales calls. The
president of a plumbing supply company recently told me that it doesn't
pay to send his sales staff out on the road visiting smaller customers
or to have them spend a day on the phone making long distance calls.
He has found it more profitable for his staff to build relationships
with some customers by faxing or mailing them well-crafted letters and
And a salesman's
correspondence doesn't always have to be of a sales nature. Smart salespeople
use the writing process to keep their names in front of a customer on
a regular basis. George Rummage, former director of Direct Mail Advertising,
said "A good letter can be you calling on a customer again and
Every person within
an organization is in customer relations, but this message has not yet
gotten through to all employees. I have seen situations where salespeople
do back flips to get an account and then lose it because of the poor
correspondence sent out by other departments within their companies.
Check your own
I have heard people
say, "I don't need help with my writing. I¹ve never had any
complaints." Well, if you are a manager chances are your staff
are not going to tell you that your memos require time and energy to
interpret. If you haven't taken a business writing course in the past
five years, your writing is probably in need of a tune-up.
has changed dramatically, as have readers. Years ago to be able to write
was the sign of nobility and wealth. And to receive a letter was something
special. Even up to the 1970's, writers sought to impress readers with
their literary skills, and readers still took the time to thoroughly
read their mail. In today's workplace, readers are too busy to spend
vast amounts of time deciphering messages from long-winded letters and
reports. Today's writer must write to inform, seek immediate action
and create goodwill-in as short as space as possible.
carry out regular analyses of the correspondence and reports produced
by their employees to ensure that the image and service level projected
is consistent with the one they wish to convey. The analysis usually
includes an examination of randomly-chosen letters, memos, reports,
proposals, form letters and boiler-plated material and may also involve
interviews with staff and clients.