That's right, instead of reading bullet points on a projector screen, Amazon employees read memos setting the tone of the meeting before anyone actually starts talking. I hadn't heard about this technique before, and was a bit skeptical of its legitimacy.
It sounds crazy, right?
But I was open to giving it a try at my company because it's hard to run a really good meeting. And if getting everyone literally on the same page improved meeting productivity, why not give it a shot?
I began by rolling out the memos at a few of our bigger meetings in the hopes of addressing the major time sink of starting every meeting with a lot of updates. Over the years, I've really tried to move away from update meetings, but they're necessary to some extent: It's important to keep everyone in the loop as the company grows. Nevertheless, going through a series of updates without any meaningful dialog or discussion is both boring and a poor use of everyone's time.
To my surprise, just a few months into this experiment, memos have caught on and been universally embraced across our company--by both those who write them and those who read them.
As we have extended the use of memos out across the organization, the advantages have become increasingly clear. Here are the top five benefits we have seen so far.
- Efficiency. While we don't necessarily make everyone read the memos in the meeting (which is what Bezos does), we do require everyone to read them before the meeting begins. We've found the memos give people a chance to get up to speed on a topic in advance, meaning we can hit the ground running. That saves valuable time.
- Better questions and discussions. Since everyone now starts with the same information and has time to process it, questions are a lot deeper and more thought-provoking, which makes the discussion more robust. People who have had time to think issues through arrive ready to make their points.
- A more level playing field. Too often, the same people in a company get all the attention. They're the ones who speak loudest or make the prettiest slides. Using memos gives all participants a chance to be heard and to share their thinking clearly, which makes it more likely that the best ideas and thinking will surface.
- Strategic thinking. To write a memo, team members need to take the time articulate a point of view that is supported by facts. While a PowerPoint slide can list facts and figures, a memo requires deep thinking and a narrative, and writers have to really make their case. This is a great practice and a lost art in today's fast-paced digital world.
- A historical record of ideas and decisions. If anyone misses a meeting, the memo is available to provide background and context. These memos also serve as a record of the reasoning behind decisions over time. You can save memos, make them searchable, add them to learning management system, use them for training, and more.
While you won't likely be getting business advice with your Prime subscription anytime soon, it looks as if Amazon, the company that rewrote the book on retail, is now doing the same thing for management.