30 January 2011

Guidelines for correspondence

Recently at an admin meeting I went over these guidelines with our team and wanted to share them with you.
  • When addressing correspondence you should ensure you have the correct date, name, title and full address.  It is worth the check to make sure this information is correct.  I have worked in many offices and it has never failed that some very strange spellings of my boss's name have appeared on a letter.  Do you think they are going to take those letters seriously?  I recall one letter where the year on the letter was 23000.  Talk about into the future!
  • You should have a salutation and closing.  I would suggest Dear Ms. Brown and end with Yours sincerely or Yours truly. 
  • If you are addressing dignitaries you should consult a protocol book or website to ensure you address it properly.  Here is a site the Canadian government put together, which gives proper addressing protocol for royalty, government dignitaries and other important people - Styles of Address
  • If there are attachments to the letter Enclosure(s) should be noted at the bottom of the correspondence.  It is acceptable to indicate what the enclosure is, but if you have put that in the letter, it is not necessary to note it again at the bottom.  You should also ensure you attach the enclosure before sending the letter.  Seems obvious, but keep it in the back of your mind to look for these types of things.  I put a yellow sticky on the letter when I bring it to by boss for signature with instructions on what I need to do next, i.e. enclosure attachments, make sure to send to whoever you want to be copied on the letter, scan and save it electronically, or whatever it is you have to do with it.
  • As a general rule letters should be sent to individuals and not to multiple recipients.  An exception would be if they are co-chairs or people of equal title that you are writing on the same topic or issue that you want their joint action or feedback.  Otherwise, if you just want them to be aware of the correspondence you would copy them on the letter with a c.c. at the bottom.  Alternatively, if you want to include someone on a letter, but do not want the recipient to know you are copying the other person(s), you would use a blind copy (b.c.c) and make sure to only to put it on the copy and not on the original.
  • If you are sending a letter by email, I prefer an orginal signature be on the letter and then scan it to send by email, but if you have an electronic signature you can insert it on electronic letterhead and then save it as a PDF.  You should always make sure you have permission when using someone's electronic signature and never send it in a Word document where someone could easily copy and paste the e-signature.
  • If you are sending a common notice such as an invitation by email to multiple recipients you should insert the email addresses in the b.c.c. section of the email and put your email address in the To section.  It is important to protect the privacy of the people you are sending to.  I once sent a personal email to a number of my friends and one person on the email distribution list took all those email addresses and started contacting them for a pyramid sales-type business.  You can see how that would not be a good thing to happen to your boss's business contacts.
  • As technical as we have become, I do not trust email 100% and usually follow up the emailed letter with a hard copy by regular mail.  This is not always necessary, but depending on the importance of the letter and how much you want to impress it upon the receiver, delivering it by regular mail is a good way to do that. 
  • You should save electronic letters just as you would hard copy letters --you need to keep a record of them too.  I have a folder that I call Correspondence and save letters in that folder by year.  That works for me, but you may need to make it more specific.  The goal is to be able to retrieve it easily if you need to find it later.
I hope these few tips will help.  Most are common sense, or maybe they are common sense to me because I have been doing it for so long, but since we don't know what we don't know, this might be helpful to someone so I thought I would share.

22 January 2011

Can you ever ask too many questions?

My current boss gave me some good advice when I first started working for him and it has served me well.  He suggested that when I set up a meeting or organize travel for him I should ask myself, if I was the one going to the meeting, or on a business trip, what would I need in order to be prepared?  So I do and when he has a meeting I make sure he has the agenda and any back-up materials, the location and directions if needed, the name and title of the person he is meeting, especially if he doesn't know them well, and the purpose of the meeting.  Most of this information you can get in your initial phone call or email correspondence with the other party when you are organizing it.  If they are not sure then they can ask their boss so both of them will be prepared to meet each other.  If my boss is travelling abroad I check to see if a visa is required and make a note to remind him to bring his passport with him.  I also register him with the Canadian Embassy in the country he is travelling.  If they travel a lot you never know when they will be in a country that it will important for the embassy to know where they are to bring them home safely.  If you look in the side bar of the blog under Travel, you will see links for useful sites to do this and get other information.

Another executive mentioned that when she is giving a presentation, she appreciates that her assistant ask herself what would she need if she was giving the presentation.  Does she need time to prepare the presentation ahead of time? If so, do you  have a reminder set and blocked off time for her to do so? Does the presentation have to be put on a memory stick?  Do you need to organize for a laptop, projector and screen or will there be one available when she gets there?  Do you need to make copies of the presentation for the participants?  What time will she be presenting and when would they like her to arrive.  Most places like them to be there at least 30 minutes before they present, so make sure to block that time off in the calendar as well as travel time to get there and back.  Who will the audience consist of?  And of course what is the location and the directions to get there?  There is more to it than just putting the date in the calendar.

If something raises a question with you then make sure you get the answer.  If you have set up a meeting and wonder how your boss will get there, then that is a good question to bring up with them.  Are they driving or will they need a reservation for a flight or train?  Will they need a hotel room?  It will not only show them that you are thinking ahead, but that you have their best interests in mind.  If the meeting is around lunch time and you wonder if something should be ordered in or will they take the client out for lunch and you need to make a reservation then those are good questions to ask. 

Often I have looked in my boss's Sent messages and notice he has emailed someone that he would be happy to speak at their conference, but when I look in his calendar I see he is scheduled to present at another conference in a different city on the same date.  This is a good thing to bring up with him or her.  They will certainly thank you and it will show you are looking after them.  You might also have to follow up to make sure they have emailed the other party to advise them they are no longer available.

It is always good to think ahead for your boss.  You have control of their schedules and are in the best position to make these observations and bring it to their attention.

If something prompts a question - ask!  If you read an email or something in their calendar doesn't seem clear - ask!  If you are wondering if they might need something for the meeting - ask! 

You can never ask too many questions, but having a good strategy on when to ask is good.  Scheduling yourself in for weekly meetings works well.  When you have a question, ask yourself if you need to ask it right now or if it can wait for your weekly meeting.  When you meet with them you will have their undivided attention and can take advantage of this time and ask all the questions you need to in order to organize their travel or prepare for a meeting or whatever it is you are doing for them.  Another thing you can do is try to answer your own question before bringing it to your boss.  Sometimes the answer is at your fingertips and a Google search will do it.  Or a colleague will have the answer, and is who your boss would have asked anyway, so you just have saved him the trouble and did it for him.

Questions, questions, questions!  Whether you are asking them of yourself, your colleagues or your boss, if you don't know how to do something, it is always good to ask.

4 January 2011

Taking Effective Meeting Minutes Webinar

Hi Everyone,
Once again I will be presenting on Taking Effective Meeting Minutes.  The webinar is scheduled for January 25, 2011 at 1 p.m. ET.  It is an informative session that will bring you from the pre-meeting checklist to taking the minutes, with ideas for formatting and suggested wording.

Please click on the link for more information or to register:  http://www.businessmanagementdaily.com/glp/35355/index.html?campaigncode=286EPR

I look forward to meeting you live on the webinar.

P.S. Here is a previous article I wrote on minute taking that will give you a flavour of some of the things the webinar will include: Minute Taking Made Easy

1 January 2011

Looking Forward in 2011

Happy New Year everyone! 

The new year is a good time to bring up the Look-Forward Agenda.  One of the challenges the recording secretary will have is to make sure they don't miss items that need to be dealt with at each meeting.  The Look-Forward Agenda is very helpful for this.  It is basically a list of items that are regularly dealt with throughout the year and provides a timetable of when these items need to be added to the agenda.  For example, our senior leadership team review financial statements each month at the first meeting after the 10th business day, and each year they need to set the annual budget in February to bring to our Board of Directors.  As well as business items, I put things such as the All-Staff Appreciation Breakfast and the Christmas Party.  These items are put on the agenda to make the decision on what date we will have it and who will arrange it. Small items, but still things we need to remember to look at.  Depending on what level of meeting you attend will depend on what needs to be on the Look-Forward Agenda.

The example below is for items for a Board of Directors' meeting, but you can customize it to your particular needs and the level of meeting you are responsible for.  We operate on a fiscal year so I put my timetable by quarter (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4), but you can also set it by month if you use the calendar year:

Item                                                                                      Timetable

Financial Matters
• Approve quarterly financial statements     
• Approve year-end audited financial statements
• Approve banking and signing resolutions (as required)

Appointment of Directors and Officers
• Appoint members to Board of Directors
• Appoint Chair of the Board
• Appoint Committee Members
• Appoint officers of the company (as required)

• Receive and review Chair's Report
• Receive and review CEO's Report
• Review reports on corporate performance measurements
• Review and approve amendments to by-laws or letters patent (as required)
• Approve corporate policies, code of business conduct, etc. (as required)
• Receive report of Corporate Secretary on disclosure by officers and Directors of conflicts of interest
• Meet in camera with and without the CEO at each Board of Directors meeting
• Approve appointment of auditors and their fees
• Receive and approve reports of Chairs of Committees
• Participation in Chair and CEO Review Process (as required)

Each time you set the draft agenda you should review the Look-Forward Agenda before bringing it to the Chair. It is a useful tool and the Chair and your team will be very appreciative that you have captured these items and have taken the guess work out of what needs to be on the agenda.