Want to be a better strategic thinker? For most businesspeople, the time-tested P&G (Procter & Gamble) memo is a great place to start. At its core, the format of a classic P&G recommendation memo forces you to sequentially structure your thoughts, which in turn forces you to sequentially structure your communication. The clarity provided by this disciplined approach to thinking is invaluable, and its ability to help scrutinize ideas is unmatched.
Here’s the variation I use to begin packaging my ideas to sell.
We start with a template. You can download your free copy here. It’s a simple pre-formatted word processing document with spaces for each section. I read several of these memos daily, edit at least a few and most importantly, start every single product idea with a template just like this one. No matter how much I think I understand about what I want to do and why, I still take the time to write a document that will stand alone, without me there to explain or present the contents. This virtually ensures that I’ll be able to communicate the idea when I have to “sell it” to someone else.
What are you proposing? Make it short. One sentence is best. Wordsmith this for a bit. If you work in a large organization, this will become the “hallway handle.” (That’s the way people passing in the hallway will refer to your project.)
Imagine the following: Two colleagues pass each other in the hallway, purposefully walking in opposite directions. They spot each other, and without stopping to chat, they begin a very short dialogue: “Hey Joe!” “Yo! John.” “What are you working on?” “The XYZ project.” “Yeah, I heard about that. That’s awesome!”
Not every idea lends itself to a hallway handle, but if yours does, give it a great hallway handle as a title. It will stick.
Background (Sometimes labeled ‘Perspective’)
This section has two specific functions: It connects the idea(s) being presented to the prevailing brand or corporate strategy, and it sets up the problem that the recommendation will solve. Go deep here. This is the place where you will state your assumptions, cultural insights, product insights and market insights. What conditions have coalesced or converged that led to this recommendation?
This section comes with a warning: Be sure that any assumptions you make in the background section are axiomatic to your audience. If a reader of your memo disagrees with your assumptions, the recommendation will instantly die. If there are questions about certain conditions—there usually are, and should be—add a bullet in the Next Steps section that outlines the research you will do to get the required data. If you think you must make an assumption that is questionable, the memo has done its job. Rethink the foundational ideas upon which your recommendation is based. In success, all readers will immediately agree with the background and understand why your recommendation needs to be considered.
How it works (Sometimes labeled ‘Recommendation’)
This is where you put the details of your recommendation or idea. Start with how. Then support it with what, who, when and where.
There is some mythology about P&G memos being “one page.” Ignore this. You are going to write a two- to four-pager, and there is no limit on the size or amount of supporting documentation. However, as this memo matures (and it will be rewritten dozens of times), it will get shorter and tighter. The best practices final memos I’ve seen are usually two-ish pages in length with a few pages of supporting exhibits (such as spreadsheets, graphics or videos).