“The way in which information is exchanged so quickly has forever changed the way in which people want to consume information. They demand that things be condensed into 20-second sound bites. With complex problems, this is exceedingly difficult, but to be an effective communicator and leader you need to be able to condense complex items down to the core and be able to do this quickly.” – Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister.

The Values behind Market Capitalism - Tony Blair

They say hard work never killed anybody, but I say, why take chances?” – President Ronald Reagan

The grumbling in Strategic Management class was hard to ignore.

We were being asked to synthesize our market assessments, proposed recommendations and projected timetables for major company executive management into no more than two pages. But how can complex issues with so many variables be reduced to a couple of pages? Actually it can be rendered in one page.

During the course of my career, I have witnessed on-camera media training sessions for both loggers and PhDs. Guess which one was smoother?

The problem with intelligent people is that they have to remind everyone that they are so friggin smart. And how do they do that? With a literal Blitzkrieg of facts, data, commentary and analysis with absolutely no or very little consideration for the poor sap who has to listen to their blather.

What do Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower all have in common besides being the chief executives of their respective countries? One answer is that they insisted on one-page decision-making memos.

“Reagan began a practice in Sacramento, which he carried with him to the White House, that he called ‘round-tabling,’” wrote Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute. “Reagan liked to hash out different points of view on an issue with his advisers. Reagan relied on a controversial managerial device to drive this process: the one-page memo.

“Reagan required officials and staff to boil down an issue into a one-page format with the following four elements: the issue, the facts, reasoning and recommendations. His cabinet secretary, William P. Clark Jr., helped develop the routine. ‘It has been found,’ Clark said, ‘that almost any issue can be reduced to a single page.’”

“Ronald Reagan was famous for asking for one-page summaries and today many executives follow that example,” leadership consultant John Baldoni wrote in Harvard Business Review. “It is good practice because it challenges the petitioner to reduce his idea to its barest essentials as a means of ensuring understanding as well as developing a platform for advocacy. This methodology is something that I have coached executives to ask for as well as to develop for themselves.”

Hmmm…the issue, the facts, reasoning and the recommendations. Interesting.

Let me pose this question: What is more effective? Presenting an exhaustive 70-page memo to an overly stressed executive which will be at best skimmed or a one or two pager that will be read, and maybe read two or more times?

When you are writing memos for incredibly bright, talented and supremely busy people, such as a governor or a chief executive officer, do you think they appreciate if you reduce the issue to manageable proportions and spare them the ancillary details? Will they ask questions? Of course and it doesn’t matter if you presented the issue in one or two pages or 70 pages. My recommendation is present the issue completely and succinctly in a couple of pages and be prepared to respond to the inevitable questions.

Prime Minister Blair in his quote acknowledges the obvious issues with the reduction of complex issues to 20-second sound bites and one-page memos, but that quite simply is the world that we live in.

Baldoni is justifiably concerned that this practice reduces salient issues down to bullet points, sacrificing critical points that should be considered for the sake of brevity. And didn’t your mother tell you that “Haste makes waste?” Yes she did, but really concentrating on what is legitimately important and purging trivial details is not hasty, it is efficient.

A suggestion offered by Baldoni is to consider preparing pro argument one-pager and a separate con argument one-pager. Does that mean that two pages are better than one? Maybe.

The point is that in our interactive information overloaded world, we are forced to really concentrate on what is truly important — the need-to-know as opposed to the nice-to-know – This practice, whether it be one-or-two page memos or getting to the point quickly verbally, I humbly submit is absolutely critical to being successful in the cabinet room or the board room. We as PR counselors want a seat at the table. We do not want the chief executive to stop listening before we stop talking.

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/04/avoid_over-simplifying_your_on.html

http://www.aei.org/article/20661

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