Commit to a Culture of Clarity
If you’ve ever read through business emails or other business-related content and scratched your head trying to understand what the author was really saying, you’re not alone. What’s worse is that bad writing can be destroying your company’s productivity!
A recent article in Harvard Business Review (HBR) claimed that bad business writing is slowing down companies. The author, Josh Bernoff, surveyed 547 business people in the first quarter of 2016, focusing on people who write at least two hours per week in addition to email. These people spend an average of 25.5 hours per week reading for work (with one-third of that being email).
The results: 81 percent agree that poorly written material wastes a lot of their time. A majority say that what they read is frequently ineffective because it’s too long, poorly organized, unclear, filled with jargon, and imprecise. Sound familiar?
The problem seems to stem from two things:
- Entry-level employees receive little training in how to write in a brief, clear and incisive way.
- These employees also are immersed in first-draft emails from managers, poorly edited reports and jargon-filled employee manuals. This compounds the problem.
Bernoff asks us to consider the following:
Vague writing dilutes leadership – It comes down to a choice between using vague, vacuous language that doesn’t inspire workers and writing that expresses clear leadership and alignment, and boosts productivity. Bernoff suggests that, in writing emails, managers from the CEO on down set an example by communicating exactly what they want, clearly, in the subject line or title, and the first two sentences of everything they write. Workers reading it will simply skip to the key facts, “so lose the filler and don’t waste their time.”
Clarity in marketing communicates trust to customers and workers – The chief marketing and communications officer of a Fortune 500 company was known for red-penning press releases filled with company and industry jargon. Her rationale: if she didn’t understand what was being communicated, than no one else would either, regardless of the industry they worked in.
Think about this. Do your public relations people draft press releases filled with industry jargon and superlatives? Bernoff notes that when clarity and truth are core values for marketers, “they can spend time trumpeting what works rather than concealing what doesn’t.”
Fuzzy writing enables fuzzy thinking – When writing is clear, it utilizes well-organized, active-voice sentences to explain what is happening, what ought to happen and what people need to do. Conversely, gaps in thinking are reflected through inexact and passive language.
A culture of clear writing makes managers more productive – If you’re a senior manager, you can either waste your time trudging through subordinates’ fuzzy writing, or use the time to change your company’s culture to one that adopts and applauses brevity, clarity, and directness. Says Bernoff, “[It’s] worth the effort, because it means everyone in the organization—especially management—will end up more productive.”
So, to follow Josh Bernoff’s lead, it’s time to clear out the bad writing from your inboxes and make those 25.5 hours normally spent reading, more efficient. “It’s time to commit to a culture of clarity. It could make a big difference in how smoothly your business runs, and it could make your day a lot less annoying.”