Writing That’s Short, Sweet Linked to Jobs, Promotions

Writing That’s Short, Sweet Linked to Jobs, Promotions

By John Eckberg, Cincinnati Enquirer

The ability to write well is increasingly becoming an express ticket to a decent job.

A 2004 report from a questionnaire to 120 human-resources employees at corporations that employ 8 million workers concludes that workplace writing is a “threshold” skill for hiring and promoting salaried employees.

That means if you can’t write with aplomb, even verve, you won’t get past the threshold of the front door and certainly won’t make it to the corner office.

Produced in conjunction with 120 human resources representatives of companies in the Business Roundtable, which includes giants such as Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Sara Lee and Western & Southern Financial Group, the study found that writing ability is woefully lacking in corporate America.

Leaders believed that clear writing meant clear thinking and that an employee who can write well is an employee who is ready to be promoted.

“The strength of corporate complaints about the writing skills of college graduates was surprisingly powerful,” the report concluded.

Keep in mind that this imperative for better writing is coming from the corner of commerce that brought us phrases such as “paradigm shift,” “results-driven,” “robust networks,” “seamless integration” and “top-line growth.”

The human resources report also found that:

Half the companies surveyed almost always make writing a consideration before any promotion occurs.

The private-sector cost for providing writing training is projected at $3.1 billion during 2005. That’s about $2,500 to $3,500 per worker.

E-mail has replaced the one-page interoffice memo as the most common form of written communication.

One-third of employees do not have decent writing skills.

None of this surprises Thomas Clark, a professor at the Williams College of Business at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Clark teaches a communications class – a one-day, one-page memo seminar – for Procter & Gamble interns and new employees.

After 23 years and more than 1,000 workshops, Clark says that his message has not changed much: Clear writing means brevity. Get to who, what, why and when right away.

One trend that has been sweeping through the workplace, he said, is the increasing prominence of e-mail and voice mail.

“Highly effective e-mail and highly effective voice mail – if you practice it every day, it will be reflected in your presentations and in your reports,” Clark said.

Job-hunters should not rely on e-mail, though, particularly for thank-you notes.

“We recently had a student beat out another from another university for an internship at a top company in town,” Clark said. “She wrote a four-paragraph thank-you letter rather than a one-paragraph e-mail like the other candidate.

“The letter she got back stated that it was clear that she was more interested in the position than the competition.”

Does clear writing really matter? After all, unclear communication works, too.

Clark has no doubt: “Crisp, everyday communication is a competitive advantage.”

tclark administrator

Thomas Clark, PhD, President of CommuniSkills and Professor of Management at Xavier University, has been a writing and oral communication consultant for a wide variety of businesses including Procter & Gamble, “the business writing capital of the world,” where he has led over 500 business communication workshops. He has also taught workshops for other Fortune 500 companies, including General Electric, Microsoft, Nestle, AK Steel, General Cable, Mars Petcare and Kellogg. He has published three books on business communication and one on career strategies. He has been honored with two Teacher of the Year awards at Xavier, and The US Small Business Administration has recognized him with three national awards for teaching excellence in the field of entrepreneurship. He earned his doctorate at Indiana University and is certified as an instructor in both Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability. Richard Zaunbrecher, BChE, MBARichard Zaunbrecher, BSChE, MBA, Vice President and Director of Communiskills’ Boston office, has a diverse background that allows him to understand and give constructive feedback on a broad range of business communication issues. He first learned sound business communication principles at Procter & Gamble, the business communication capital of the world. He has worked with CommuniSkills for 25 years and has taught both oral and written communication skills to a variety of businesses including Microsoft, Safeway, P&G dos Brazil, Gillette, AliCorp, Credit Suisse First Boston, Coca-Cola, Citibank, Viacom, Clorox, KPMG, General Electric, Union Central Insurance, Clarica, Allstate, and Prudential Insurance.

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