Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Crafting an Executive Summary: Are you fit for business ?

Booted and suited: Royal Holloway MBA students Rodrigo and Hannes  royalholloway.ac.uk/mba

Crafting an Executive Summary: Are you fit for business ?

So what is an executive summary ? 

Introducing a problem or opportunity, it is likely to summarise the skill and hard work that demonstrates credibility of the author (detailed analysis in the report body) and provide an unequivocal hard sell of the benefits vs. risks offered through a single, clear recommendation.

A page or two long, designed for the C-suite executive speed reader, it should "include news you don't want anyone to miss"

Why ?

In business the skill of writing concisely is an important skill.  Engaging functional summaries are required in many different communications formats including infamous elevator pitches and one liner email title headings.  The ability to get a clear and complete message across efficiently is very important.

On an industry focussed programme like the Royal Holloway MBA or my wider marketing teaching in the School of Management I believe it is very important to  challenge students to develop a full range of communication skills.  In my view writing short is under taught at schools and universities, but a critical skill for business.  Long is lovely, but short has impact.

How is it different from an traditional essay introduction ?

Whilst an academic essay introduction might seek to engage, surprise and entertain the reader using an evocative quotation or two, the odd metaphor and a hook to snare the reader to want to read on, and on, and on....... 

An effective executive summary should quickly establish a meaningful problem and show how it is going to be resolved, identifying costs, risk and a clear measure of successful business impact.   

A traditional essay might leave the big reveal (the answer or recommendation) until the end in the results or conclusion, hoping that the reader has not given up the ghost or topped and tailed the report (reading the first and last pages, skipping the rest).  

Essentially with an executive summary you are bolting together a summary of the introduction, conclusion and recommendations in as few words as possible.  

When do you write it ?

Whilst a essay introduction might be written first, sign posting the structure of the document, effective executive summaries should be written last.  Remembering that essays, unlike reports, require full prose and no headings.  

In many ways the executive summary is an elongated abstract, that concise and highly functional summary of an academic journal papers content designed to quickly answer the readers question "Is this useful to me ?"  

Tips ?

MBA Director: Justin O'Brien

(1) The executive summary should not be rushed, even though it is last on the to do list.
(2) It is your most important shop window, thus it must be written in flawless English. Check and double check for grammatical accuracy, flow and meaning. First (& only ?) impressions really count.  

(3) It should be concise, less is definitely more. It should carry only the most important details.  

(4) Read a range of academic journal paper abstracts and try to craft a 90 second elevator pitch to identify the bare essentials.  

Have you noticed how clipped this blog post is ?

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