A reader writes:
I am a contracts manager for a Fortune 500 company; I would liken my position to that of a paralegal.
I work for the vice president of sales for my business unit. Because the nature of my job is words, I can be quite “wordy.” However, I try to remember to keep things brief with him because at his level and higher, that’s the way it is.
In my 2015 year-end performance review, despite my efforts to the contrary, he dinged me for “not being concise enough” in my communications – written and verbal. He has now asked me to put together a plan for my 2016 performance management to address. He wants to meet with me next week to discuss my plan and I am panic-stricken. Do you have any suggestions for such a plan?
Ooooh, I do! I tend to find long-windedness pretty frustrating, so I’m excited for the chance to help someone put together a plan to tackle it.
I can’t tell whether your boss has given you feedback on this in the past and is now resorting to a more formal plan because the earlier feedback hasn’t worked, or whether this is the first time you’re hearing about it. Either way, I’d take it seriously, but especially if it’s the former, approach this with the attitude that it’s truly a business necessity to resolve, rather than just a stylistic quirk or preference. Sometimes people who tend toward long-windedness see it as “simply their way” and not a big deal … but it can actually be a serious issue that can make them less efficient and even frustrating to work with, so you want to show that you get that.
In any case, I don’t think your plan has to be long (in fact, given the subject matter, it probably shouldn’t be!). If you were my employee, I’d just want to hear the following:
1. In both written and in-person communication, you’ll focus on high-level takeaways, and save background, context, and details for when/if they’re specifically requested.
2. You’ll be vigilant about starting with what the point of the conversation or email is — for example, “this is just FYI,” “I’m seeking your input about question X,” or “I need your approval for action Y.”
3. Whenever possible, you’ll keep your emails to 1-2 paragraphs and use bullet points to make them even more easily digestible. You’ll review emails before sending them with an eye toward where you can trim them down.
4. You’ll be watchful about how long you speak in meetings and other in-person conversations and will strive to give short overviews or summaries rather than complete briefings (unless complete briefings are requested). Where possible, you’ll do some “pre-thinking” before these meetings — meaning that you’ll think through ahead of time what the most important things you need to convey are, so that you can present those from the outset rather than thinking out loud (if the latter has been a problem).
And of course, follow the rules above in presenting this plan! It really doesn’t need to be much longer than what I have above, although you might also ask your boss for input about other steps that he thinks will help.