Stepping back and looking over my many years at Procter & Gamble (P&G), then Microsoft, and then being a member of numerous corporate boards of directors, there is clearly one business tool that I was exposed to that has been the most valuable business approach I picked up.
As background, P&G is legendary for requiring that brief, thorough, persuasive documents be written in proposing change. Literally every key decision P&G makes has one individual who is the advocate charged with pulling together a concise document with supporting data. It is developed and forwarded to top management for approval. Let me describe the required structure of those documents and I think you will see how it forces quality thinking:
- Recommendation: The first sentence or two of the document explains clearly what you recommend. This might be a request for funds and what they would be for, or a request to make a change of some sort, such as a product, advertising or media change, or anything that is important enough that you need to ask for approval from a certain level to execute the proposed plan.
- Background: Next comes a set of paragraphs that provide the background information and data exhibits required by the reader to understand the current situation and the opportunity you want to pursue, problem you want to tackle, etc.
- Rationale: This describes the key reasons why the reader should agree with your proposal. The reasons should be stated in order of priority and should be supported by the related data exhibits. This rational section should be of impeccable logic/thinking in providing the reasons why your recommendation makes sense. It should represent a compelling argument that is clear and concise.
Next Steps: This section should make it very clear what actions will be taken if approved.
The advantages of requiring such thinking and such documents are as follows:
- 1.) It forces QUALITY thinking and action plans – It requires carefully analyzing available facts and options, resulting in a well-thought-out proposed action plan and the rationale for pursuing it.
- 2.) It focuses responsibility – The writer realizes his/her name is on the document and that driving this change depends on them. It helps the management know that a specific person is responsible for making sure the plan is implemented well and the results are achieved.
- 3.) It generates healthy debate -The document is a fabulous tool for soliciting feedback and perspectives during the document’s development and the process of getting it approved.
The thinking framework represented here is a great way to tackle just about any decision/situation you face in business or life in general. Leaders need to encourage such quality thinking when tackling problems and opportunities.