C what I mean

C what I mean

CEO these days too often stands for chief editing officer. Unfortunately it comes with the C-suite territory. C not only means chief, but communication.

Despite all the effort that goes into hiring and training, many of the best and brightest moving into well-paid positions lack a basic understanding of punctuation and grammar, and they are poor spellers. It means the boss is often left to correct correspondence, particularly reports.

Yet poorly written correspondence is still being posted online or going out on behalf of the company. Often the bosses have no real expertise in English either, but they at least have an idea of what is expected. 

Good writing is good editing. Few people outside of sub-editors, songwriters, poets and people compiling shopping lists take the time to jot, or seriously reassess their written words. It always pays to have a pen and paper handy.

Senior executives require the five Cs: clarity, concision, completeness, courtesy and courage. 

Clarity encompasses defining your reasons for writing, understanding your audience, and knowing your desired outcome. Put yourself in the shoes of the recipient and keep re-reading your document aloud to ensure it flows. This also leads to a logical ordering of ideas.  

Concision relates to sentence construction and length. Less is always more. One idea, one sentence is a useful guide, and keep sentences to a maximum of 30-35 words. Paragraphs are best at three sentences. 

Completeness means you have incorporated all the necessary information into the document. If you require a specific outcome, or action from the recipient, that should be clear. If your communication is an email, write the subject line last, or if it is a report, be prepared to change the section headlines. 

Courtesy relates to tone, and shouldn’t be confused with writing in a gushing style. For some recipients a direct style is preferred. Assess your audience, adopt the correct tone and in so doing, pay them a courtesy.

Finally, have the courage to write directly and honestly, and to be ruthless when you self-edit. It also takes courage to point out errors when assessing the writing of others.

It’s easy to add other words to the C-suite. Coaching and culture come to mind. Encourage everyone to adopt the five-C strategy, and inspire a culture of improvement in writing. Bring in outside coaches for a workshop if necessary.  

The aim is having confidence in everyone in the organisation to undertake any written task. Confidence, too, that they will seek advice and continually self-edit.

The end result should be clear and concise writing that engenders a sense of contentment.