Thursday, 29 June 2017

How To Write The Most Compelling Content Of Your Career







"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint', then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced."


- Vincent Van Gogh. 




Self-doubt.



Our battle with this colossal monster is unrelenting. 


In our professional lives, we have doubted our abilities numerous times. 


Case in point, the scenarios below: 



Scenario 1: Just been promoted to the C-suite. 




Our inner critic (amid the rousing applause): 


Surely they would realise their grave error as soon as it becomes clear that I don’t have the foggiest idea about how to tackle that huge project. And I'd become the butt of many jokes. 



Scenario 2: Just been appointed the CEO of a beloved multinational in crisis.


Our inner critic (masked externally by cool confidence and an engaging smile): 


How on earth do they expect me to turn around this iconic organisation, this national treasure, in six months? I don't have a magic wand! 




And on the painful process goes...



The truth is that at some point in your career, you will need to battle that inner critic to get the job done. This would be in spite of your confidence, expertise and qualifications. If the stakes are high enough, you will get nervous and you will doubt your ability to succeed.


And that is fine. 





What is important is what you do despite the self-doubt, fear of the (un)known and circumstances you can't control.



One challenge that we must all tackle as our careers progress is the task of writing to a very important person or to a powerful group.


Whether it is writing a cover letter to a dream employer, or constructing an email to your boss requesting for a raise, or composing a formal letter to a politician to introduce your company or to a powerful committee to defend a case, there are important tips you must consider:


1) Consider your recipient’s interests

Before you start writing anythingtake five minutes to think about your recipient.



Note the spelling of his name. Take note of his position, title, qualifications and views.

Why should your email, report or letter be important? Is it going to provide information that will be pertinent to the recipient’s work? Will it refute a claim, make a recommendation or condemn an action? 


Realise that the recipient will determine the type of written communication you should use, as well as the style you should adopt (semi-formal or formal).








For example, a semi-formal letter to be sent to your boss, requesting for feedback on a report, depending on the level of familiarity, could be in the form of any of the three examples below:



(Subject: Urgent feedback required for X report by Ypm)



1) Dear Mr. X,




Thank you for your email. 



Regarding your request, kindly find attached for your consideration, the report on X. 



In view of your expressed concern about the urgency of the project, I would appreciate your kind feedback on any amendments you deem important by Ypm, in order to commence as soon as possible. 




Thank you in advance for your prompt action.




Kind regards,




Z


(Email signature block). 







2) Dear John, 



I trust that you're well. 



I received your email and as requested, I've attached the report on X for your consideration. 




Given your concern about the urgency of the project, I'd appreciate your comments by Ypm, so that we can proceed.




Thank you.




Best regards,



Z


(Email signature block).  





3) Hello Jane,




Thanks for your email.



As requested, I've attached the report on X. I'd appreciate your comments on it by Ypm in view of your concern about the tight deadline. 



Many thanks. 




Best regards,


Z


(Email signature).




By contrast, an email written to your CEO to request a change in a policy will have a different 'tone' and style. 



For example: 




(Subject: Non-compliance of senior staff for the STJ Open Door Policy) 




Dear  Dr. A, 



We wish to commend your efforts at boosting employee engagement by approving the STJ Open Door Policy in the company. We are hopeful that with this initiative, trust in management will improve thereby boosting discretionary employee efforts which will lead to higher productivity. 



However, we believe that the Policy would become more effective should the junior staff be permitted to discuss work concerns with their directors as recommended by Management. 



This concern has become necessary in view of the persistent unavailability of some senior staff during the approved schedules that were previously distributed to all staff via email. 



You have admirably displayed a commitment to the initiative and have expressed a desire in its success. Therefore, we humbly request that you kindly address the issue of the non-availability of senior staff for consultative sessions with their subordinates at the appointed times. 



We look forward to your feedback on this issue. 




Thank you for your kind consideration. 




Yours sincerely,




X Y



(Email signature).




In the emails to the bosses and the CEO, the lingering issue of why the recipients should take action is addressed in carefully worded requests. They must address the issues at stake otherwise: 





A) The project will be delayed. 



The bosses will be criticised since it will become evident that they could have provided information critical to the project, but failed to do so. This development will lead to perceptions of incompetence, which will smear the bosses' reputation. 




B) The lack of commitment of senior staff to the Policy championed by the CEO will lead to its failure.




If the CEO does not effectively enforce the STJ Open Door Policy by ensuring that senior managers make themselves available for consultations, the lack of interest from junior staff will cause him to lose face. It will also trigger distrust in management, leading to employee disengagement, which will increase turnover and cost the company in lost productivity.




In a nutshell, when considering your recipient’s needs, remember to align your written communication to his interests and use the appropriate style. Get straight to the point but carefully highlight the call-to-action (the desired action you want him to take), so that the consequences of inaction are clear. 




Also observe proper email etiquette: use polite terms and address your recipient by his proper name/title/designation. Don't ruffle any feathers because you misspelled your recipient's name or used 'Mr.' instead of 'Dr'. 




Addressing the what's-in-it-for-me concern of the recipient is a critical factor in whether or not your written communication will be treated seriously or ignored.  





2) Use the correct structure and observe protocols 






For all forms of written communication, the three beacons of effective communication: simplicity, brevity and clarity, should be considered.


Nevertheless, another critical element in business writing that is often overlooked is the sentence structure.


In emails, the structure is straightforward with the following visible components:


1) The subject line (which should be brief but as specific as possible);


2) The appropriate salutation (including the proper spellings of names, titles, etc.);


3) The main points;


4) The call-to-action;


5) The expression of gratitude;


6) The closing remarks and the appropriate signature.


You should also divide your paragraphs according to the points made, preferably in short sentences of no longer than five lines. Ensuring that double white spaces between paragraphs are used makes reading  easier.


When writing formal letters however, the structure differs and if you don't adhere to unspoken 'protocols', you run the risk of your formal document being discarded, thereby losing you opportunities.


As explained in detail in this post about writing a formal letter, the following elements should be present:


I) Your company address (preferably visible on the letterhead but can be stated);


II) The date;


III) Your recipient's address block, (which must include his name, title and official address);


IV) The salutation, (which must include the recipient’s preferred title/official designation);


V) The title/subject, (which should be as specific as possible);


VI) The opening remarks, (which should adhere to the 'unspoken' protocol of commending the recipient for whatever achievements or professional feats he has displayed);


VII) The mention of the call-to-action in the body of the letter.


The main points should be written in paragraphs containing short sentences of no longer than 15-20 words whenever feasible. Note that the longer the sentence, the more likely additional punctuation will be required. Bullet points can also be used for clarity;


VIII) The rephrasing of the call-to-action;


IX) The expression of gratitude;


X) The formal closing remarks;


XI) Your signature and personal contact details;


XII) The company seal (recommended if the recipient is a government official or otherwise a high profile individual).


With the exception of the last point, your formal letter is incomplete if any of the enumerated elements above is missing.


Now let's consider a practical scenario.


You're the CEO of a Lagos-based company that manufactures combine harvesters for commercial farming. You believe that your machinery will be beneficial to the pasta division of the Dangote Group. You thus wish to introduce your company and secure a meeting to discuss a potential business relationship with the organisation. You need to write a letter to Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the President/CEO of the Dangote Group, who is also currently listed by Forbes as the richest man in Africa.


Given the clout of your recipient, you realise that the letter you must write will be one of the most important letters of your professional life, so you need to compose it carefully.


Below is a sample that will have the desired impact:


                                                  Hozard Nigeria Limited
                                                  Lion House
                                                  3 Cherry Road
                                                  Victoria Island
                                                  Lagos


                                                  June 29, 2017

                                                                       

Alhaji Dangote, GCON
President/CEO
The Dangote Group
Union Marble House
1 Alfred Rewane Road
Ikoyi
Lagos 



Dear Alhaji Aliko Dangote, 



Request for Meeting to Introduce the Hozard Combine Harvester: the Highest Selling Combine Harvester in West Africa


It is with great respect that we write to you. We congratulate you on the sustained success of the Dangote Group and have noted with admiration, the expansion of its manufacturing activities to other African countries. Furthermore, its corporate social initiatives, championed by the Dangote Foundation, have positively impacted lives in Nigeria and beyond. 


We humbly request for a meeting at your office to discuss potential business relations with the Dangote Group. 


Kindly permit us to introduce our company, Hozard Nigeria Limited, for your consideration. 


Established in 1990, we are the sole manufacturer of combine harvesters in Nigeria and are based in Lagos State. With an annual turnover of NX billion, we share your vision of positioning Nigeria as the manufacturing hub for Africa. Our commitment to quality has resulted in our combine harvesters adopting the standards recommended by the International Organisation for Standardisation. Just like your organisation, we were awarded the NIS ISO 9001:2000 International Quality Management Award by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria. We have also won several awards in the country, one of which was the Governor's Award for the ‘Most Innovative Company for 2016’.  The Hozard Combine Harvester has been the highest selling combine harvester in West Africa for the third consecutive year, with an average quarterly volume of NX million.


Our research has shown that Dangote Group uses Heits Combine Harvesters from Germany. Kindly note however, that routine engineering tests conducted by the renowned engineering group, MUSE Plc, from the United Kingdom, have attested to the durability and competence of the Hozard Combine Harvester.  Our combine harvesters are also cheaper than Heits’ and are regularly serviced by highly skilled technicians for optimal performance. 


Furthermore, our unique environmentally friendly combine harvesters are powered by biodiesel and are specifically designed for the Nigerian terrain. They will be beneficial to your pasta division, in Dangote Flour Mills Plc, because they will reduce the harvesting time of wheat, minimise crop wastages and save fuelling costs. 


In view of the points above, we therefore humbly request for an invitation to your office to give a presentation of our operations. We would be grateful if we could discuss how we could add value to Dangote Flour Mills Plc. by efficiently harvesting the wheat yields with more powerful combine harvesters, at a fraction of the cost.


Kindly find attached for your consideration, our brochure, a list of clients and an official DVD of our operations. We look forward to receiving a response from you at your convenience. Thank you for your kind consideration. 


Yours sincerely,










Dr. Peter Hozard

President/CEO

Hozard Nigeria Limited

Email: Peter.hozard@hozard.com

Mobile: 0800 000 0001



As can be seen in the fictitious letter above, the prominent theme is providing value to the Dangote Group by highlighting why the superior Hozard Combine Harvester will save the organisation time and money.



The allure of value is undeniable in all communication, particularly in business writing. Therefore, explicitly state the benefit you would provide to your recipient for the response you seek.


Conclusion

So whether the most important content you will write in your career is an email, a letter, or a report, remember the two critical elements mentioned earlier: consider the recipient's needs and use the appropriate structure.





Realise that for whatever style you use, you should aim to be simple, brief and clear in your writing. Editing and proofreading your document for grammatical accuracy, logic and clarity must also be done.




So take a cue from the famous Post-Impressionist painter Van Gogh, and silence any nagging inner critic who tells you that you cannot write.



You can write. 

You will write. 

You must write. 


Since your career depends on it, write and that inner monster will be silenced every time.  Remember that the more you write, the better you get.



And now, over to you:


What other tips can you give for writing important documents in your career?



Kindly post your comments below.



P.S – The new page ‘Clients’ has been added to this blog. You can view it on the homepage. Kindly take a look. Remember that I provide customised communications coaching for individuals, groups and companies. Contact me for details if you need help. 


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Let me help you get results.



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N.B:   First image courtesy of Stuart Miles, via freedigitalphotos.net. Second and fourth image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, via freedigitalphotos.net. Third image courtesy of Becris, via freedigitalphotos.net. Last image courtesy of Geerati, via freedigitalphotos.net. Fictitious signature of Peter Hozard courtesy of author.