The open book management report cover letter

Sep 15, 2008

I cannot recall any recent editorial in The Zweig Letter that drew the amount of inquiries my piece on open book management did (Issue 774, August 11, 2008). Because there is so much interest in the subject, it seemed to make sense to devote a little more space to it. One aspect of open book management I have never written anything about is the cover letter that should accompany the open book management report that goes out to every employee. There’s a lot to this letter and writing a good one takes a lot of thought. Here are my suggestions for how to write an open book management report cover letter that really works: It should come from the CEO, managing partner, or president— whomever the top person is in the management hierarchy. This is so important. It cannot be from “one of the principals” or the CFO and be nearly as effective as it would be coming from the top person in charge. Only the top person can really put the word out on what all the numbers mean to the employees of the firm. It needs to be brief but not too brief. The ideal length should be about a page long. It has to be long enough to provide a summary of what’s in the report along with a proper interpretation of what it all means. Whenever I see these reports the first thing— and sometimes the only thing— I read is the cover letter. Only if I need more detail will I go to the report itself. It needs to be realistic. If you are the leader of an A/E or environmental firm, one of the best ways to destroy your personal credibility is to lay out an expectation or goal that is unattainable. If this unrealistic expectation is communicated and reinforced through the cover letter on the open book report it will demoralize the staff. It needs to be optimistic. The open book management report should be a motivator. If the news is good, that will reinforce that the firm is on the right track. The cover letter should reinforce this fact. If the news is not good, it should also be a motivator. The results point to a need to do something different. The cover letter should spell out exactly what that “different” behavior needs to be. It needs to explain how some specific individuals are contributing or can contribute to the success of the enterprise. The open book report cover letter is a great place to say thanks and point out some specific people. It’s also a good place to explain how people in a particular position can contribute to the success of the enterprise or help solve a current problem. For example, what project managers can do to help solve a growing accounts receivable problem. I’ve said it before and I believe it today. A well-done open book management report, ALONG with a really great cover letter, is one of the most important management tools you’ve got at your disposal. I have never once seen a company embrace this idea and then change its mind later about its worth. Originally published 9/15/2008

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