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When to Fight Against the One-Page Memo

Managers have fallen in love with the one-page memo. "Charlie, give me a one-pager on how we should handle the quality problem we are having with our supplier."

You understand that the boss wants a summary of the issue, and some potential responses tagged with pros and cons.

The one-pager is truly a great format for both clarifying your own mind on what the essential business issues are, and for bringing your boss up to speed at decision time.

But it is not good for setting the groundwork in highly complex or bet-the-company situations, points out HBR.org blogger John Baldoni.

"In the effort to shrink the argument there is a tendency to reduce salient points as well as obstacles to neat bullet points. By doing so, we eliminate complexity and avoid nuance, both of which may be necessary to full understanding of the issues."
In these situations, preserve complexity by:
  • Setting the context. "Make it clear that you want your people to consider multiple variables when they research their pieces of the picture."
  • Insisting on two teams. "Ask for two separate decision-memos. One will be drafted for the argument; the other against it."
  • Forcing a debate. "Encourage them to express reservations they may have about the decision and its consequences."
Read his post, One-Page Memos, Without Reductionism.

(Memo image by typicalgenius, CC 3.0)