People Suck at Communicating: Here’s a framework that will save your company time and money

Let’s face it, most people don’t communicate effectively. They end up burying important information under a mountain of details. Whether it’s in an email, a presentation, or during a meeting, presenters rarely frame the information in a productive way. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to coach your team on how to communicate effectively. Use our framework to help your team use it too and you’ll see faster and more effective communication. However, before you make a drastic change in the way you communicate and the way you expect your team to communicate, it’s important to explain why.

So often, our communication (emails, powerpoints, meetings, etc.) are lengthy, unclear, and take forever to comb through and thoroughly understand. Recipients tend to either skip over long emails (TLDR: Too Long Didn’t Read) or they don’t understand what the author is trying to convey. According to a study by Cognisco, miscommunication costs businesses approximately $37B in the US and UK alone.[1] The average executive spends approximately 14% of her/his time clearing up miscommunication. Furthermore, leaders spend on average, 7.5 hours per week sending emails. That’s 390 hours per year. We’re wasting the two most precious resources in business (time and money), hence why we need a better framework for communicating.

At CrossLead, we use an approach to help companies avoid falling into the trap of wasting time. We leverage a framework that was originally introduced by Commander Alfred H. Miles in A Code for Correspondence in 1934, which outlined a specific way that all military correspondence should be formatted.[2] We adopted this approach for today’s modes of communication to ensure everything is clear and concise, and recipients understand what’s expected. Clients have said that using this method saves them a ton of time.

The approach is called Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). The name is pretty indicative of what it does: put the most important point at the front, rather than hide it in the depths of the email. Additionally, use the subject line to orient the recipients towards the action you want them to take. For example, we include a reference to Inform, Decision, and Action to prepare our recipients for what’s expected. If I’m receiving an email, I better be able to quickly understand if this is something I need to know, a decision I need to make, or something I need to do. 

Here’s a breakdown for what to include in the subject line in each of those scenarios:

Inform: strictly informational to give recipients context and awareness for something that’s going on

Action: recipients need to take an action, and if it’s a timely matter, it should include a No Later Than (NLT) date

Decision: recipients need to make a decision, and if it’s a timely matter, it will include an NLT date

It’s also crucial to think about who should be on the To and CC lines. Most emails do not need to have the entire company cc’ed.

To: who is taking the action or making a decision

CC: who needs to be included for context and awareness

Of course, you can always include additional details in your emails or presentations, but make sure it’s placed below the BLUF and high-level explanation. That way your recipients read the most important information first. When you use this framework, you will spend less time writing emails, your team will spend less time reading emails, have fewer missed deadlines, and important information will be easier to find.

Here’s an example email:

At CrossLead, we believe effective communication is fundamental to any high-performing team. As a leader, it’s your job to set the tone and expectations. Start using BLUF with your team and explain the reasoning behind this shift and you’ll see huge improvements as we have with each of our clients. If you think your team needs help with being better communicators, reach out at sales@crosslead.com to learn about more ways we can help.

By Christy Sutherland


[1] http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/37-billion-us-and-uk-businesses-count-the-cost-of-employee-misunderstanding-870000.htm

[2] https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/1934-02/code-correspondence