Keep your memos to one page or less

I am halfway through Ricardo Semler’s Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace (1993) and it is brilliant. Maverick is Semler’s autobiography as the CEO of Semco SA, a Brazilian company he transformed from a traditional corporation into a peculiar and successful business empire through unique industrial management, true workplace democracy, and other innovations.

Here’s what Semler recommends we do with all the reports, plans and memos that are so common in the corporate world (emphasis mine):

If you really want someone to evaluate a project’s chances, only give them a single page to do it — and make them write a headline that gets to the point, as in a newspaper. There’s no mistaking the conclusion of a memo that begins: ‘New Toaster Will Sell 20,000 Units for $2 Million Profit.’

And so Semco’s Headline Memo was born. The crucial information is at the top of the page. If you want to know more, read a paragraph or two. But there are no second pages. All of our memos, minutes, letters, reports, even market surveys, are restricted to a single page.

This has not only reduced unnecessary paperwork, but it has also helped us avoid meetings that were often needed to clarify ambiguous memos. Concision is worth the investment. The longer the message, the greater the chance of misinterpretation.

Semler also makes the point that it takes the author some getting used to – and more effort – to write good, concise memos. But since this communicates the message better and saves every recipient time, it is well worth it. So from now on:

Keep your memos to one page or less

Maverick by Ricardo Semler

The book is definitely worth a read and you can get it from Amazon.

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