KPMG is a professional services firm offering audit, tax and advisory services; it operates in 156 countries with approximately 152,000 staff, including partners. KPMG’s Global Audit Learning and Development team creates training for the firm’s largest practice. Course material must accurately reflect professional standards and regulations, and provide detailed guidance. The challenge for the training team is to balance technical accuracy with clear, concise training materials that help learners understand complex concepts and immediately apply these concepts on audits in the field.
Because the team writes complex training materials, we created a hybrid course incorporating parts of Professional Business Writing and Writing Technical Reports. Global Audit L & D gave us writing samples, which we used to create before-and-after examples and exercises of well-written documents. We created customized checklists and job aids and gave learners time to work on their own writing and receive coaching from the facilitator.
We started by training the front-line learning and development team, then provided coaching for the partner-in-charge, and finally trained the technical reviewers. Now everyone on the team shares a common language and criteria—they are valuable resources for each other. They are confident that the training they produce is clear and relevant to their learners.
The partner in charge writes: “It’s rare that my team attends a training course where everyone without exception raves about the quality learning experience and expresses their commitment and confidence in putting the learning to work immediately in their job!”
York Region comprises a group of municipalities just north of Toronto. York Region councilors need to read more than 40 technical reports every month. To make these reports more readable, the Chief Administrative Officer’s office asked us to customize a report writing workshop. We started by presenting an executive session for the Commissioners and the CAO. Then we rolled out two-day Report Writing for Municipalities courses for all senior managers and report writers—over 500 people! We hear that the Councilors appreciate the talking headers, which allow them to scan the reports quickly. Improving their productivity allows them more time to do their jobs, look after their constituents and concentrate on local projects that really matter in their communities.
A Professional Ethics Department
This department is composed of Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) who investigate alleged ethics violations made by their peers. The department members present recommendation reports to an external committee, which decides on next steps.
The presentations were too detailed and hard to follow, and committee members had trouble making sound decisions based upon the information they heard. In addition, when the committee asked for clarification or had questions, the presenters became nervous and defensive.
These problems resulted from both poorly written summaries and confusing oral presentations. The summaries were poorly organized, jumped back and forth among allegations, history and evidence; furthermore, they were written in quasi-legal English. Committee members, who are supposed to review each summary before meeting, found they were spending between 30 minutes and four hours on each one. Thirty cases can be reviewed in a meeting, so they often gave up and came to meetings unprepared to discuss each case. As a result, countless hours were wasted in the meetings.
The entire department went through 1½ days of writing training followed immediately by 1½ days of presentation skills training. We created a before-and-after version of a case summary so participants could contrast the differences. We also crafted two templates: one for investigators to use when looking into a violation and one to use when writing a case summary.
The reports now take less time to write, review and edit. The presentations and summaries are much clearer and facilitate better decisions. Presenters sound more decisive and confident, and they portray a professional and competent image to the external committee. Consequently, the meetings are faster, and discussions are at a more strategic level.
If you were a local Ontario agricultural producer, you would know Agricorp—a Canadian Crown corporation that provides farmers with risk management programs. Employees in the Program Development division spend a lot of time communicating to the board, all in the form of briefing notes. Staff were feeling frustrated by having to force their message into a rigid briefing note template, and managers were spending way too much time rewriting.
We started by helping everyone see that briefing notes—like any report—can do different things: provide information and updates, make a recommendation, or show analysis. Together with managers, we created new briefing note templates for Agricorp and used their content to create sample reports for reference. We customized our Writing Business Reports workshop and created checklists to help staff write satisfying briefing notes and to help managers provide meaningful feedback. Managers and staff took the workshop together so everyone could share a common language and criteria.
After the workshop, we provided an additional half-day executive workshop for managers, where we reviewed a stack of typical briefing notes, and practiced formulating helpful feedback. The outcome? Managers have become coaches and they help make staff better, more independent writers. This frees them up to do their real job: providing strategic input. Staff feel more confident knowing they have the skill to express their ideas clearly.
“Good ideas to ensure readers are getting info they need in Briefing Notes. Good use of examples and good amount of information.” Donna B. Agricorp
Excellent. Instructor very knowledgeable, able to put it into terms everyone can understand. Good to get everyone on the same page.” Ellen B. Agricorp