Few Business Leaders Pay Attention to Their Company’s Business Writing Culture
For years I’ve been telling everyone I can that quality business writing, and a supportive business writing culture, are essential to business success. Frankly, many don’t find the topic very engaging or exciting—it’s just not something that grabs their attention or interest. They nod approval and feign understanding, but usually don’t really know what I mean. Just a casual bit of courteous respect, I suppose.
Sad, but true, businesses for the most part pay lip service to the subject of quality business writing—it never tops their list of priorities. I have yet to hear a business owner or executive say, “you know, I’ve worked diligently on this problem in recent months and am pleased with our program and processes for implementing an organization-wide writing culture, standards and protocols.” Business leaders don’t boast about engaging on the topic, much less measuring or changing outcomes.
Many say they pay attention to their company’s writing, and that it matters. Reality is they usually do it “later.” Much later. And poor writing remains all too common. In fact, quality business writing seems harder to find as business writing proliferates along our technology curve. Lately, explosive growth in content’s relevance causes some to pay closer attention to writing as they struggle to keep up with increasing content demands. Unfortunately, increasing demand for business writing makes it difficult to be as thoughtful (when writing), or as able to tend to quality, as we once were. There’s little time for that any more.
Business leaders take a lot of things very seriously. They bend over backward to ensure their operation’s personnel know how to operate machinery or systems or software properly. They double down on sales techniques and processes. They focus meticulously on solving many problems with the aim of besting the competition, improving the bottom line, increasing efficiency. They obsess over and spend lots of money on developing core competencies.
But they rarely focus on the business’ writing/communication talent, processes, consistency, style, and standards. Yet, this is an essential element of the enterprise’s identity and effectiveness. They won’t lift a finger to be sure their internal writing and documentation processes are top-notch and well-honed. They don’t think of maximizing impact by eliminating mistakes and poor grammar, writing styles, methods. Few notice that lousy or sloppy writing in the ranks has negative consequences for the business. Despite focusing on many other things to be their best and outshine competitors, very few “get” the power of deliberate focus in writing and its impact on virtually every aspect of the business. Fewer foster a culture of great business writing internally.
It’s always amazed me how many business owners and managers don’t really understand this point. One thing’s for sure, the resources devoted to one discipline (e.g., safety or sales training) may be undone if you’re user instructions, procedures manuals, and safety rules or techniques, and speeches are unclear, unread, or not readily accessible.
Enterprise-Wide Quality Writing Requires Focused Effort
Look, it’s clear that the most influential people in any realm, including business, are great at choosing their words wisely to maximize impact and attain objectives. They pay careful attention to what they say and how they say it. Our most memorable leaders say memorable things, deliberately. They work at it. It’s part of what they do. But how many businesses think of or approach all aspects of their company-wide communication with the same focus and care? Very few do, and it shows.
What’s the solution? Having a business writing culture within an enterprise is important since consistently writing very well requires attention to a lot of details. Consistent writing quality is the byproduct of a deliberate approach to all aspects of business writing throughout the organization. Creating such a culture includes establishing protocols, processes, and procedures to catch mistakes. It requires everyone’s focus. When everyone’s job is to notice and report typos, poor grammar, inconsistencies in usage, etc., and offer ideas for improvement, good things happen. By establishing a forum in which business writing matters are promptly addressed/corrected, the company looks much more professional, and avoids the embarrassment and other costs of poor business writing.
Encourage employees to participate in the company’s various writing processes by inviting them to comment on the writing they see produced by their coworkers, adding constructive comments and noting concerns. Even those who don’t consider themselves writers. Solicit the opinions of outsiders (clients/customers) too. Make it company policy to diligently pursue high writing standards at all levels. Have an open dialog within the company about business writing. Make it an ongoing dialog. Even informal collaboration advances the company’s writing to a higher level by leveraging the team’s insight and experience.
These are good first steps for the culture.