Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Get It in Writing

"Get it in writing." 

It sounds so cold and mistrusting.  It's the sort of thing I would expect to hear after telling a skeptical friend about a great offer I got from a notoriously shady car dealer.

But it's not just a cynic's suggestion about dealing with an untrustworthy world. 

Everyone seems to be so very busy today that it's hard to imagine everyone "getting it all done."  There's just too much.  We need reminders.  We need to remind ourselves what we've committed to do.   I'm not suggesting that every agreement, every commitment, every transaction must be reduced to a cold, calculated, contractual arrangement.  Rather, I'm saying it's helpful to document the commitments we make, and the commitments others make to us. 

Here are some tips on how to "get it in writing" without being viewed as a hard-nosed, regimented, contract-driven beast:
  • Send a message (e.g., confirming email) to the person with whom you have reached an agreement: I just want to make sure I correctly understood our phone conversation this morning.  Here's what I noted: 1)...2)...3)... Did I get that right?  Please confirm or correct my understanding.
  • Send a message to others involved, along with the person with whom you have reached an agreement: All, I want to be sure everyone is in the loop, so I want to review what Bob and I agreed to this morning: 1).... 2)...3)...Bob, can you please confirm or correct my understanding?
  • Memorialize the agreement in a newsletter/message to the board/staff memo/etc. and ask parties to the agreement to proof it before pubication: Here is an article for the newsletter/board update/etc.; would you please proof it for content for me? " XYZ Association Treasurer Joe Jones has instructed staff to sell all remaining shares of Microsoft owned by XYZ Association.  The reason for the sale is to generate funds to purchase a new state-of-the-art membership management system for the Association."
  • Prepare a "to-do" list that includes items agreed and ask affected parties to review it: I want to make sure I know who is responsible for the XYZ project.  Please look at this list and let me know if you believe I failed to accurately record who's doing what; if I don't hear from each of you, I'll assume this list is correct: 1) Joe does Z; 2) Ben does Y; 3) I will contact Suzie; 4) Suzie does Q.
  • Add the "to-do" list to a calendar and, like the list itself (above), ask others to review the calendar for accuracy.
I know how valuable it can be to "get it in writing."  Just this morning, I learned quite by accident that someone who had agreed to a specific date for a specific action was telling others something that was at odds with our agreement.  Fortunately, I was able to direct the person to an email that documented what we had agreed and asked for any corrections to my notes.  I'm sure it was an honest mistake on his part; my "in writing" confirmation provided what he needed to correct his message before the process went haywire.

Get it in writing. It minimizes confusion and allows you to catch misunderstandings early.