Short for memorandum. A short note designating something to be remembered, esp. something to be done or acted upon in the future; reminder.
Date: November 17, 2009
To: Readers of "A Word on Marketing"
From: Dave Loomis
Re: The memo
I noticed that the word memorandum dates back to about 1500. But the word memo doesn't show up until around 1890. Figures that it coincided with the Industrial Revolution hitting its stride. Everyone trying to improve efficiency. Memo is 6 less letters!
Memos are often associated with the old paper-based processes inside companies and corporations. They came in different colors, filled up people's in-boxes (when they had physical ones) and required lots of time to write and read.
Nowadays, you don't here much about memos. Except today, I read a very interesting short article in the Harvard Business Review by Tony Tjan, a venture capitalist. He states that every CEO of his portfolio companies has to write a "memo to the Board" each year about this time. He suggests every company's CEO do the same. I'll take it one step further and suggest everyone write a "memo to the Boss" that covers the same topics Tony suggests. Here, from his article, is the specific guidance he gives for the memo, and I quote:
- "CEOs begin preparing an annual memo at the end of each year that summarizes their most important lessons over the past 12 months and their top four to five priorities for the coming 12 months. There are never more than five priorities for a 12 month period. An important rule for us: a new priority cannot be added until one is completed.
- The first of these priorities is almost always: "Achieve the financial plan." The memo should refer to the top line and bottom line target or to the date when these targets will be agreed upon between management and board.
- Other priorities reflect the top strategic initiatives for the year, which may include such things as new product launches, customer service enhancements, or new market locations.
- This memo is then used as a recurring framework for update discussions and board meetings. For example, the first page of each board meeting presentation throughout the year is often an update on the major priorities as stated in the annual memo. The priority agenda in the memo also offers an opportunity to drill deeper into one of the specific priorities for the key purpose of a board or update meeting.
- Regarding the lessons learned: we can accept failure, but we cannot accept not learning from past mistakes. Once a year, a CEO should share with the Board and with employees, what the most important lessons were and what it means for the organization going forward."
So, if you're not a CEO, fill in your own title and think about what you might put in a memo to the person or people you report to. Your goals might be more micro and less macro than the CEOs, but I think it might be an interesting exercise.
Please let me know any thoughts you might have on this process in a return memo at your earliest convenience. Green paper please.