As management guru Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying, “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” Few CEOs would argue with this point. However, most CEOs would argue that creating and retaining customers is becoming an increasingly difficult task due to changing consumer preferences and a challenging economic climate.
The challenge CEOs and other executives face is trying to identify exactly where they should place their focus. Traditionally, CEOs meet with their executive teams to discuss ideas for innovation and review the status of current projects. Nearly every company uses the same format for their executive meetings. One executive after another stands before the group and uses a PowerPoint presentation to outline what they’re focused on and to provide an update on all projects. The majority of the PowerPoint presentations contain very little information, as the goal is to quickly walk through each project. It’s also easier for presenters to walk through slides if they contain minimal information.
In my experience as a consultant who has attended hundreds of corporate meetings, I learned that the goal of many presenters is to get through their presentations as fast as possible while making few (if any) changes to their budgets or projects. In my opinion, most corporate meetings offer very little in terms of value to their companies because they use PowerPoint presentations.
I’m not the only person who feels this way. In 2004, Jeff Bezos, former CEO and founder of Amazon, sent an email to his senior team—also known as the STeam—explaining why Amazon would no longer be using PowerPoint presentations. (Full disclosure: I was formerly the worldwide expansion leader of Amazon Fresh and Pantry.) Bezos’ email indicated that he wanted a well-structured narrative that would provide the necessary details to fully understand an idea instead of glossing over the details with a PowerPoint presentation. To state it another way, there are better ways than PowerPoints to identify the vital few ideas among the trivial many ideas a company encounters daily.
The method Bezos had executives use to dedicate the required time and effort to explaining their ideas is called the six-page memo. Instead of using PowerPoint, Amazon executives sit around a table and read six-page memos in silence. This strategy allows a company’s executives to discuss the idea and review the details after reading the memo. The best ideas should move forward for consideration. Bad ideas should be quickly eliminated.
I wrote multiple six-page memos at Amazon, and I continue to believe that they are an effective tool that companies can utilize to determine which ideas to pursue, which projects to kill and where to invest capital.
In addition to the six-page memo, Amazon also adopted the practice of writing a backward press release (paywall). I believe the internal press releases are just as valuable as the six-page memos if companies use them correctly.
An internal press release allows a team or an individual to write about all of the great things that their idea will generate. To bring the document to life, you can write quotes from executives, famous people and invented customers in the document. For example, I wrote the following invented quote in a press release at Amazon: “I thought nothing could give me more pleasure than driving one of my Teslas,” stated Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla. “However, shopping at a Prime by Amazon grocery store is an incredible experience.”
These press releases should generate excitement about an idea. The six-page memo should provide all of the details about what it will take to turn the idea into a reality.
Why And How Companies Should Use The Six-Page Memo
There are multiple ways to approach writing six-page memos. For example, your group could delegate sections of the memo to different team members to write. Or you could have only one or two people write the first draft of the memo and then expand on the details by reading the memo as a group.
You can write a six-page memo about a specific idea or to cover a specific period of time. For example, you could write a six-page memo to outline the current state of a business, the historical data from the last period, the goals for this period and how an executive plans on achieving the goals.
I created my own six-page memo format. In this format, instead of writing a press release and a six-page memo, you combine the documents together and place the press release at the front of the document.
When they use them correctly, companies can leverage six-page memos to improve the ability of their executive teams to champion and justify the best ideas while also providing detailed plans for how to launch projects. Just as importantly, six-page memos should serve as a way to identify bad ideas and poor strategies.
I believe every company should leverage six-page memos, as doing so forces executives to thoroughly outline and support their ideas using details and data. PowerPoint isn’t enough. Writing effective six-pagers begins with first learning how to write internal press releases that generate excitement while clearly identifying how a product or service will add value to consumers. My advice is to go slow when you’re writing six-pagers for the first time. Focus on writing each section, and ask associates to read each section to make sure they can understand the message and data. Six-pagers take practice, but I’ve found that they’re worth the time and effort.
Business is hard. Companies need to utilize the best tools and processes available for making decisions. In my opinion, one of those is the six-page memo.