I learned a valuable lesson about wasting time from my elementary school Math teacher, Mrs. Milliren. If you were unlucky enough to stumble into her class late, she made you do arithmetic. In your head. In front of the whole class.
“How late are you?” she would demand. You’d look at the clock in horror and answer sheepishly, “Three minutes. I’m sorry, Mrs. Milliren.”
“And how many people are there in the class?” Fortunately—given the next step in Mrs. Milliren’s equation of punishment—my school kept classes small.
Then she would say, “You have just wasted three minutes of time for the 14 people in this class. How much time have you wasted?”
Woe to the newcomer who spat out, “Three minutes.” Mrs. Milliren’s veterans knew the answer she expected: You’d wasted three minutes for 14 people, a total of 42 minutes. Even a 10-year-old knew that was serious time.
Is poor writing wasting time for your people?
I’ll spare you the suspense: the answer is Yes.
How much time do your people spend reading reports full of convoluted reasoning? Or overly long emails without clear calls to action? Or mission statements that sound like someone put a personal development book in a blender and pressed “chop”?
How much time do they spend listening to speeches that don’t relate to their work or directly address their challenges? What percentage of those speeches lack clearly articulated messages?
How much time do they have to take away from doing what you actually hired them to do and devote it to writing—something they struggle to do well?
Add up all that time and multiply by the number of people in your organization. I won’t be a hard-liner like Mrs. Milliren: You may use a calculator. Heck, ask Siri do to the math.
I just want you to see that good communication skills are not optional—unless you’re okay with wasting time and money.
Poor writing slows your people down. And that, as my virtual colleague Josh Bernoff writes, slows your organization down.
Now I have one more question for you.
What are you going to do about it?
Let’s make this a multiple choice question (although Mrs. Milliren hated those):
a) hire a writing coach for my organization
b) hire some expert help to write for us
c) actually, both of those options look pretty smart
“C” you back here tomorrow.