Executive Summaries

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Not just a summary. Not just waffle to senior. Not just a posh email. This is a seriously effective prelude to any fact driven email – going to anyone.

But WTF are executive summaries?!

These took me far too long to get good at. The language used, an appropriate ratio of facts to context and which facts to present, along with the format, tone and purpose. It all needs to be balanced in for effective Executive Summary. 

It’s almost an art, and that’s what I didn’t get. You have to learn that balance, that perfect cocktail of information, that changes for every new audience and email

I’m still grinding at it, but if you nail the below, you’ll get there pretty quick.

  • Understand the purpose – This is the crux. If you can understand what your manager is after, their reason for reading that mail – Is it just an update for them? Is it for them to update someone else? Is it for a Company response? I don’t know, but you need to know and then you’ll quickly be able to tailor your tone and format appropriately.
  • Make it pretty effective – ‘Pretty’ is misleading, effective is better. A summary needs to be understood, digested and regurgitated, which means your format has to be on point. Whether you’re reporting test results, updating on sales figures, or the current risk that just became an issue, will all effect the formatting required – coming back to Rule Uno.  However, there are standards – a prioritised bullet list is always a winner with appropriate mark-up (bold, or colour) and positioning to emphasise the important, is a dream to a busy manager.
  • Understand your purpose – You’re giving the update. This is a great chance to get some kudos, prove you know your stuff and are capable of running with important issues. How you present this summary shows how you’re claiming accountability (good or bad) or shying from the spotlight. This could be your route in to a better project, a promotion even. This stuff is damn imporant so consider what message you want to deliver and the inferences you’re implying by the use of ‘we’ve‘ vs they’ve‘ or ‘strong progress’ vs ‘good progress’.

This is a skill you need to get under your belt. Practice them on less important updates and less senior audiences and ask for feedback on them so you can refine them, ready for your moment.



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