As an employer or manager you can sometimes get frustrated by the poor writing skills of your staff, but before coming down too hard on them ask yourself if you’re doing the right things to nurture good writing within your organisation. A lot of time is spent getting clarification or correcting errors in written communications such as emails, proposal, reports, etc. and this can cost a company a lot of money (I talk more about this in a previous post on the cost of bad writing). One way of avoiding this loss is hiring people who already have great effective writing skills, but (not to toot my own horn) we are rather hard to find. Another way of tackling this issue is to invest in coaching.
When I talk about coaching it’s not just about teaching correct grammar and sentence structure, it’s also coaching your employees on what exactly you expect. Make your expectations clear, what kind of document do you want and who is the intended user of the document. From my experience I’ve learnt that every manager has their preferences when it comes to reports. They have specific things they like to see and other things they don’t pay as much attention to; make this as clear as possible. If you have previously written documents that are great examples of what you expect, share them.
However, bear in mind that just because a report isn’t written exactly how you would write it or how you are used to having it done, it doesn’t mean it isn’t well written. Everyone has their own writing style and what matters most is that the necessary information is communicated clearly and coherently. If you would put one section before another but doing so doesn’t add value to the flow of the document then don’t be difficult about it. This can actually lead to decreased employee morale.
The key is to coach. Instead of going over a piece of work, crossing things out and underlining every other sentence, use the editing process as an opportunity to teach. Sit down with the employee(s) and go through the document with them, explaining where and how improvements can be made. This may take up more of your time than just sending out the corrections but in the long run it will save you from having to correct the same errors over and over. Additionally, by investing in the upskilling of employees it will save you time when new recruits join the team because they can be coached by their peers.
Another alternative is getting a professional to do the coaching. Amras Communications, for example, offers business writing workshops tailored to employees at all levels. Coaching from professional writers outside the organisation can also ensure that the bad writing habits of managers aren’t passed on to others. Remember, you have to ask yourself that as much as staff may not have the best written communication skills, do the people they are reporting to have the right skill set either?
Coaching, not instructing, is what builds the greatest teams. Your employees can be your most valuable asset or biggest liability, it all comes down to how you choose to invest in them.