How To Make Memos Work
How To Make Memos Work
By Mark Wager
I received an email recently from a reader in Fiji who asked for some advice on improving their memos. We've all either received memos or are responsible for generating memos. They are the lifeblood of the company, making sure the right people get the right information. The question arises, is there a best practice for producing memos? The short answer is no, because the purpose of the memo is to inform the reader about something and different people have different preferences in relation to how they receive information. In previous roles I had to prepare memos for politicians, people who required enough information in order to get a sound understanding of a topic in order to make important decisions, yet the information needed to be condensed enough in order to learn that information quickly. Each politician had a different preference to what they required in a memo. Some wanted it brief while others wanted it very in depth, some wanted the writer's opinion while others just wanted the facts. While there is no perfect way to produce a memo, there are a few things you need to consider.
Do you even need a memo?
The first question you need to ask yourself is if the memo is even needed. Memos are very effective in relaying information in an accessible way to many people yet they are limited like every other written communication. The most effective form of communication will always be talking to people. When you write, it's difficult to convey tone so the chances of being misunderstood are greatly increased. The world is very different today than what is was when memos first started. Technology has changed how we interact with each other. I coach people who instead of sending a traditional memo they send video clips made by their phone or gather the whole team together on a phone/video conference every week in order to share information. Ask yourself what's the best method to get your message across.
What is on the mind of your audience?
It's not what you say, it's what people hear that counts. It's vital to know what is on the mind of your audience before you send the memo as these thoughts will create a narrative in which your audience views the memo. I recall working with a CEO who was so proud that his organisation had just been voted as one of the ten best places to work that he sent all the staff a memo sharing the news. Unfortunately, the memo was sent on the same day that several long serving employees where made redundant so instead of the memo being read as good news it was interpreted as heartless, insensitive & uncaring. Timing is everything.
Answer the "why"
The famous Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, theorised that people receive information in one of two ways. People either have a preference for receiving information in a conceptual way or in a practical way. If your memo is going to a wider audience then ensure you address both preferences. To write to the conceptual audience make sure you explain not just what you are doing but the theory behind your actions. Paint the big picture and show how the audience is part of something greater than themselves.
Back up assumptions with facts
The second preference that people have when receiving information is in a practical way. In the memo address this preference by supplying the detail and the practical consequences of the memo. If you are making assumptions in your memo or making projections then ensure they are backed up by facts or examples of where it has worked elsewhere. If you can address the conceptual and practical ways of receiving information then you greatly increase the probability of your memo being understood rather than just being read.
What questions do your audience want answered?
George Bernard Shaw once wrote that the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. The last question you need ask yourself is what is the question or questions that the audience wants answered in the memo. Too often I see people send memos just because they've been told to without any understanding of why the information is being requested so the memo becomes ineffective. Don't assume that you know what question is being asked, take time to make sure that the writer and the reader have a shared understanding. Taking a few minutes prior to avoid confusion will avoid hours afterwards correcting misunderstandings.
“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”
About the Author:
Mark Wager is the leader that other leaders go to in order to become better. An Author & Keynote speaker Mark designs and facilitates leadership development programmes. Mark also offer individual coaching to a few selective individuals who are passionate about success. Follow Mark on Twitter or Facebook for daily inspiration or if you have a passionate drive for success then contact Mark via the enquiry form to see how he can help you.
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Posted: Monday 30 May 2016