Executives are responsible for making the big decisions for an organization. While they may have a broad understanding of current matters at the company, they may not know the details of a particular initiative.
A memo is a tool to communicate the important aspects of a particular project. With many priorities competing for an executive’s time, you have to develop a product that the executive can quickly digest and act upon. Here are five things to remember when developing a brief memo for an executive:
1. Identify the information the reader needs to know.
Ask yourself, “What does this person need to know now?” Focus on the critical information.
Does the chief product officer need to know about problems the product is having? Does the vice president of communications need to know about public relations issues that may arise out of another department’s decision? Should the general counsel be briefed on new compliance efforts that need to be implemented based on recently passed legislation?
2. Use sections and clear headings.
Give the executive the headline. Towards the top of the document, include a “Re:” (the abbreviation for the word “regarding”) line to clearly indicate at the beginning what the memo is about.
Organize the body of the memo in a way that makes sense. You could use the STAR method: situation, task, action and result. You could use the IRAC method: issue, rule, analysis and conclusion. Or use another common sense framework that focuses on the issue, shares relevant background information, communicates the current status, includes a couple questions and proposes next steps. There is no one way to structure a memo. Use sections to make the memo easy for the reader to understand.
One way to make a memo easy to understand is to use clear headings. Clear headings can also allow the person to read the sections in the order they choose. A well organized and written memo will allow the person the flexibility to read the document the way they want to read it.
3. Write concise paragraphs, and use bullet points.
Make it easy for the reader to digest the information you are presenting by using short paragraphs. The longer the paragraph, the harder it is to follow. Bullet points are also a great way to get the reader focus on and digest pieces of information.
4. Include the date and contact information.
If a member of leadership wants to learn more information, they should know who to call or email. Include your name and contact information.
Include a date on the document. If the executive returns to a memo later that day and mistakenly reads a past memo, their decisions that day may be based on old information, which could have significant, unintended consequences.
5. Read what you wrote. Read your writing a second time. Then read it a third time.
Unclear writing and misspellings are unprofessional. Take a few minutes to read what you wrote. Consider reading the memo out loud or from the end to the beginning. Basic errors can take away from the substance and tarnish the quality of your work and reputation.
The ability to capture critical information in a concise way is an important skill to develop. You have the opportunity to communicate and impact the highest levels of an organization.
Know what information your audience needs to make decisions. Break the page up by using sections and writing brief paragraphs. Include the basics like the date and your contact information. Then read your writing to catch typos.