Just when I thought we’ve made progress convincing leaders to communicate differently with employees, a friend forwarded me an email she received from her company’s CEO. And while the length—more than 1,200 words—is ridiculous, even worse is the fact that it takes nine paragraphs (688 words) to get to the point of the message . . . which, by the way, is news that employees will be expected to return to the office starting next month.

How inconsiderate! Does the CEO really think that employees have nothing more important to do than spend nearly five minutes reading his philosophical musings? Especially when it comes to a topic that employees care so much about?

I’d love to share every ridiculous word of the email, so we could laugh at all the things that are wrong with it, including the subject line (“Message from Jay”), long paragraphs and lots of corporate speak. But my friend likes her job (even though she thinks the CEO is a bit egotistical) and, according to her company’s policy, she shouldn’t have shared this communication with me.

Get to the point

So let me move on to advice if you find yourself trying to help a CEO from making a 1,251-word mistake: Practice BLUF.

In case you haven’t heard of BLUF, it’s the acronym for Bottom Line Up Front, the technique used by the U.S. military to ensure that the point of a message comes first.

As Kabir Sehgal writes for the Harvard Business Review, BLUF “declares the purpose of the email and action required. BLUF helps readers quickly digest the announcement, decision, and when the new procedures go into effect. The reader doesn’t necessarily want to know all the background information that led to the decision. He or she likely wants to know ‘how does this email affect me?’ and BLUF should [immediately] answer this question.”

Makes sense, right? Then why doesn’t everyone use BLUF every time? In the case of Jay, I think there were two reasons:

  • He wanted to tell the story of the pandemic. “First, we quickly had to pivot to working from home and now . . .”
  • And Jay sought to explain why he was requiring employees to come back to the office . . . to provide rationale so that by the time employees got to the actual news, Jay had convinced them that it’s a good idea to return to the workplace.

The joke’s on Jay: My friend, like everyone else, skipped to the part of the email containing the news. And she never even bothered to go back and skim the first eight paragraphs.

To communicators everywhere: Be brave. Be brief. Be BLUF.

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