Very recently, Fortune magazine had Jeff Bezos of Amazon at the top of its list of the greatest leaders in the world. The article praised him for being the father of e-retailing, cloud services, and e-books. When considering what has enabled Bezos and Amazon to achieve at such a level, I am reminded of a past Fortune article that described how he requires his people to write thorough documents when they want to propose an idea/product/direction for Amazon to pursue. His view is that there in no way to write a persuasive, thorough proposal and not have clear thinking.
The reason why his comment stuck with me was that all my years in marketing at Procter & Gamble taught me exactly the same thing. In fact, P&G is legendary for requiring that tight, thorough, persuasive documents be written in order to propose change. Let me describe the required structure of those documents and I think you will see how they force quality thinking:
1.) 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 an organization change, or anything that is important enough that you need to ask for approval from a certain level to execute your plan.
2.) Background: Next comes a set of paragraphs that provide the background information required by the reader to understand the current situation and the opportunity you want to pursue, problem you want to tackle, etc.
3.) Rationale: This is the guts of the document and 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 data and a compelling argument that is clear and concise. This rational section should be of impeccable logic and thinking in providing the reasons why what you recommend makes sense.
4.) Next Steps: This concluding section should make it very clear what actions will be taken as a result of getting approval of your recommendation.
The advantages of requiring such documents are as follows:
1.) It forces quality thinking – It requires carefully analyzing available facts and options, resulting in a proposed action plan and the rationale for pursuing it.
2.) It focuses responsibility – The writer realizes their name is on the document and that driving change depends on them. It helps the management insure that someone is personally responsible, in that the writer’s performance will be directly impacted by the quality of the proposal and the thinking, and the implementation if approved.
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 approval from the appropriate levels of management.
Leaders need to encourage quality thinking. Requiring sound, persuasive proposals is a great tool.