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Property Casualty

‘BLUF’ Your Way to Better Risk Communication

Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
Vice President of Commercial Risk & Safety, Property Casualty

In my 20 years of insurance risk management experience, a common question I’ve received from risk and safety personnel is, “How can I gain my senior management’s commitment to safety?” When I dig a little deeper, a common follow-up sounds something like, “I’m not even sure they’re reading the emails or memos I’m sending. What can I do?”

Indeed, getting the attention of those in management ranks can be a challenge. One way to improve your chances is to turn your thought process upside-down.

Let’s back up. Remember when you first learned to write a memo? You were likely taught to assemble a logical path of facts and arguments leading up to your conclusion, recommendation, and call to action. It worked that way for years.

But here’s the rub — it doesn’t work that way anymore (at least for most readers, especially those in more senior roles). People are:

  • Short on time
  • Often reading your email on their phone
  • Anxiously awaiting the key takeaway

If that takeaway is buried mid-sentence in paragraph three, they may not make it that far. Is there a way to combat this problem?

Keep Communication Simple and to the Point

Enter the United States Army. Certainly, making a point quickly is of utmost importance in the military. In the Army, communicators know that “Army writing will be concise, organized, and to the point.” Two essential requirements include putting the main point at the beginning of the correspondence (bottom line up front, or BLUF) and using the active voice.

You may be aware of other theories that match this one. Newspaper writers are encouraged to “never bury the lead.” Amazon’s Jeff Bezos opted for the BLOT acronym, which stands for the similar “bottom line on top” to ensure quick decision making at Amazon. Executive summaries, cliff notes, and the “Reader’s Digest version” have been favored by readers for years. Countless blogs now start with the TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) takeaways at the top of the article. In short, many of us don’t mind a spoiled ending if it saves us a few minutes and aids in clarity.

But alas, won’t this appear to be a cold, direct method of doing business? Maybe. But that’s why it’s a tool you can try when it makes sense and leave it on the sidelines when it doesn’t. What might this look like in practice? Sort of like an inverted pyramid, as shown below.

An inverted triangle with three sections. The biggest section is Most Newsworthy info: who, what, when, where, why and how. The second is: important details. The last and smallest bit is other general info background info

As you can see, all the information is still there, but you’ve inverted it from the traditional narrative. Make the point quickly, then provide the details that support your position. You can even use transition statements such as “supporting this recommendation…” or “the reason I believe we should do this is…” so the reader can continue if they need to.

So, the next time you want to ensure your management gives your memo the time it deserves, be sure to “land the plane” instead of circling the runway. It works in the U.S. Army, and it can work for you, too.

Need more risk management tips? I’d love to chat. Just reach out!

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