YOU CAN LEAD ‘EM TO WATER … WRITING A DECISION PAPER THAT WILL MAKE THEM DRINK
By Brandon Soublet
Some time ago, I was given a document to review on the risks and benefits of two courses of action associated with a business decision. Based on the information provided, I decided the first option was my preferred course of action. When I shared my decision with the author, she seemed displeased.
As it turns out, the author wanted readers to select the second option. Needless to say, the document needed to be rewritten to more clearly articulate the proposed recommended solution. I began to think about recommendations for developing documents intended to inform decision making.
One obvious best practice is to involve your communications team early and often. Had the communications team been engaged upfront in developing this document, it might have resulted in a clearer recommendation. A good communications team will also ensure the intent of the message comes across in all of your documents. And, they can help eliminate any “curse of knowledge” bias that may exist in your document — that is, an assumption that your reader has the same level of knowledge on a subject as you do, which can sometimes result in gaps in logic.
In developing a decision document, make your recommendation clear. This might seem basic, but your recommendation should be easily understood and reinforced throughout the document. Think back to grade school when you learned to write a five-paragraph essay. State your primary point upfront, make sure the body of your document reinforces that point, and then summarize your main point in the conclusion. A decision document is useless if it doesn’t lead your reader to make the decision you’re recommending, and your reader can’t reach your recommendation if he or she doesn’t know what it is.
Always keep your audience in mind. If you’re trying to influence a decision-maker, think about their background, their stakeholders, and their available resources. You might make a significant and compelling argument, but if it ignores your decision-maker’s constraints, you could just be wasting ink.
Finally, be sure you provide enough analysis of all options to convince your reader that your recommendation is the one he or she should choose. Analyzing only one of many potential choices makes your recommendation seem incomplete, diminishing your credibility with the reader. Similarly, a recommendation that is not based in fact can easily be dismissed by your audience. Be factual and logical to make your point.
Hopefully, these tips will help you as you craft recommendation documents in the future.