Crafting a Powerful Executive Summary

by John Clayton

Responding to a request for proposals (RFP) is pretty straightforward. You describe your company's history, your product or service, its implementation schedule, and the support you'll provide. The one stumbling block is the one section that everyone will read: the executive summary.

What is its purpose? If you answered, to summarize the proposal , think again.

Thus the executive summary demands a whole different approach to writing than the rest of the proposal, one that balances efficient delivery of key information with a persuasive, well-substantiated pitch. Above all, the executive summary must demonstrate a clear understanding of the potential client's needs. A good way to do this is to include in it the ROI your services will deliver. "You need to describe outcomes," Sant says. "Describe the impact on performance—ideally a measurable impact."

Write with an eye to the audience A strong executive summary is crafted with the audience firmly in mind: busy executives interested in bottom-line deliverables, not details. "An executive reads for certain keywords, and for the price," says Stacia Kelly, president of Catklaw, a Woodbridge, Va.-based writing boutique. "If he likes it, he'll hand it to an assistant and ask them to read the whole thing."

For that reason, advises Bud Porter-Roth, author of Proposal Development: How to Respond and Win the Bid (PSI Research/Oasis, 1998), put the most critical information in the first couple of paragraphs. "The executive may not read any more," he says. But, he cautions, "the RFP writers will read the whole thing." Thus the executive summary has an additional, secondary audience: the middle managers who will make presentations about you and your proposal to senior management. So make sure the executive summary gives them the tools to act on your behalf, Porter-Roth says. To reach both of these audiences, an executive summary should do three things:

1. Establish the need or problem. This might be more challenging than first appears. Often, says Porter-Roth, "RFPs are poorly written. You may have to define the business issues, because the RFP was written by technical people who saw only technical issues."

"You need to convince them that this is a problem worth doing something about," Sant says. "Your biggest competitor may be that they do nothing, that they spend this money on something else."

2. Recommend the solution and explain its value. "Be sure to make a firm, clear recommendation," advises Sant. For example, say something along the lines of "We recommend that integrated content management software be implemented across the company." Then you need to explain the value of your solution. Here you're not focusing on what it is, but on what its return or benefits will be.

"Rather than technical details, you need to say things like 'This solution will reduce your work staff by five people' or 'This CRM will allow you to answer questions while online, rather than in a call back,'" says Porter-Roth.

3. Provide substantiation. Give the key reasons why your company is the right company to deliver the solution. Here's where you can differentiate yourself—highlight a unique methodology, for instance, or provide a quick case study of your past work. Another idea: Include testimonials from satisfied clients. Just don't get carried away and turn the focus away from the potential client and onto your company. "It's not about the vendor—it's about the customer," says Sant. His rule of thumb: Make sure the executive summary mentions the customer's name three times as often as your company's name.

Making it pitch-perfect Experts offer these other tips for putting together an executive summary that gets attention and gets business:

Use formatting and graphics to highlight your message. Bullets and headings will make the executive summary easier to skim, and a well-chosen graphic can drive a key point home. If you can find the information in the public record, use a graphic illustrating the client's dilemma.

"This can really rivet their understanding of how bad a situation is," says Sant.

Keep it clear, clean, and to the point. Strike out jargon, advises Catklaw's Kelly. Her pet peeves include world-class, turnkey, value-added , and leverage (as a verb). And proofread carefully, says Porter-Roth. "Always have a fresh pair of eyes review the executive summary for grammar, selling themes, and especially overall consistency. Too often the executive summary is a cut-and-paste job and it shows."

While you're in editing mode, make sure your executive summary stays true to its name. "Keep your executive summary short—one to two pages for the first twenty-five pages of proposal text and an additional page for each fifty pages thereafter," Sant says.

Reprinted with permission from "Writing an Executive Summary That Means Business," Harvard Management Communication Letter , August 2003.

See the latest issue of Harvard Management Communication Letter

John Clayton is an independent business writer based in Montana. He can be reached at [email protected] .


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Executive Summaries

Professional service firms were once great models for corporations—until they started to resemble them.

In the United States, HR management is perceived as a narrow specialty. In Japan, it’s a place to go to get ahead.

Unilever applies the principles of feature film directing and editing to turn so-so commercials into winners.

The trend is to downsize corporate headquarters—but sometimes a bigger HQ is better.

The furor over offshoring knowledge work is a tempest in a teapot.

Consumers make clear and consistent distinctions among sizes.

The “broken windows” theory of crime prevention—pay attention to the details—pertains to companies, too.

Earnings have stagnated for people in the world’s middle-wage countries.

Your choice of typeface tells customers whether your brand is attractive, innovative, dishonest, or unpleasant.

Decisions about talent should be made with the same rigor and logic as decisions about money, customers, and technology.

Companies want to be flexible, but they’re not flexible about people’s time.

Femtosecond lasers will revolutionize processes in a variety of industries.

HBR reviews four books.

Jim Hargrove, the marketing director of $820 million Neptune Gourmet Seafood, is having a bad week. Neptune is the most upmarket player in the $20 billion industry, and the company is doing everything it can to preserve its premium image among customers. But Neptune’s recent investment in state-of-the-art freezer trawlers, along with new fishing regulations, is resulting in catches that are bigger than ever. Though demand is at an all-time high, the company is saddled with excess inventory—and there’s no relief in sight.

Neptune’s sales head, Rita Sanchez, has come up with two strategies that Hargrove feels would destroy the company’s premium image: cut prices or launch a new mass-market brand. Not many executives in the company are in favor of cutting prices, but it’s clear that Sanchez is gaining ground in her bid to launch a low-priced brand. Reputation worries aside, Hargrove fears that an inexpensive brand would cannibalize the company’s premium line and antagonize the powerful association of seafood processors. How can he get others to see the danger, too?

The commentators for this fictional case study are Dan Schulman, the CEO of Virgin Mobile USA, a wireless voice and data services provider; Dipak C. Jain, a professor of marketing and the dean of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University; Oscar de la Renta, chairman, and Alexander L. Bolen, CEO, of Oscar de la Renta Limited, the New York–based luxury goods manufacturer; and Thomas T. Nagle, the chairman of the Strategic Pricing Group, a Massachusetts-based management consultancy that specializes in pricing.

It’s hard to find a better exemplar for competition than chess. The image of two brilliant minds locked in a battle of skill and will—in which chance plays little or no apparent role—is compelling. Even people who have scant knowledge of the game instinctively recognize that chess is unusual in terms of its intellectual complexity and the strategic demands it places on players.

Can strategists learn anything from chess players about what it takes to win? To find out, HBR senior editor Diane L. Coutu talked with Garry Kasparov, the world’s number one player since 1984. Kasparov believes that success in both chess and business is very much a question of psychological advantage; the complexity of the game demands that players rely heavily on their instincts and on gamesmanship.

In this wide-ranging interview, Kasparov explores the power of chess as a model for business competition; the balance that chess players strike between intuition and analysis; the significance of his loss to IBM’s chess-playing computer, Deep Blue; and how his legendary rivalry with Anatoly Karpov, Kasparov’s predecessor as World Chess Champion, affected his own success.

Kasparov also shares his solution to what he calls the champion’s dilemma, a question for all world masters, whether they are in business, sports, or chess: Where does a virtuoso go after he has accomplished everything he’s ever wanted to, even beyond his wildest imagination? If you are lucky, says Kasparov, your enemies will push you to be passionate about staying at the top.

Leaders tend to be so immersed in the specifics of strategy that they rarely stop to think how much of their reasoning is done by analogy. As a result, they miss useful insights that psychologists and other scientists have generated about analogies’ pitfalls. Managers who pay attention to their own analogical thinking will make better strategic decisions and fewer mistakes.

Charles Lazarus was inspired by the supermarket when he founded Toys R Us; Intel promoted its low-end chips to avoid becoming like U.S. Steel; and Circuit City created CarMax because it saw the used-car market as analogous to the consumer-electronics market. Each example displays the core elements of analogical reasoning: a novel problem or a new opportunity, a specific prior context that managers deem to be similar in its essentials, and a solution that managers can transfer from its original setting to the new one.

Analogical reasoning is a powerful tool for sparking breakthrough ideas. But dangers arise when analogies are built on surface similarities (headlong diversification based on loose analogies played a role in Enron’s collapse, for instance). Psychologists have discovered that it’s all too easy to overlook the superficiality of analogies. The situation is further complicated by people’s tendency to hang on to beliefs even after contrary evidence comes along (a phenomenon known as anchoring) and their tendency to seek only the data that confirm their beliefs (an effect known as the confirmation bias).

Four straightforward steps can improve a management team’s odds of using an analogy well: Recognize the analogy and identify its purpose; thoroughly understand its source; determine whether the resemblance is more than superficial; and decide whether the original strategy, properly translated, will work in the target industry.

Most developmental psychologists agree that what differentiates one leader from another is not so much philosophy of leadership, personality, or style of management. Rather, it’s internal “action logic”—how a leader interprets the surroundings and reacts when his or her power or safety is challenged. Relatively few leaders, however, try to understand their action logic, and fewer still have explored the possibility of changing it. They should, because leaders who undertake this voyage of personal understanding and development can transform not only their own capabilities but also those of their companies.

The authors draw on 25 years of consulting experience and collaboration with psychologist Susanne Cook-Greuter to present a typology of leadership based on the way managers personally make sense of the world around them. Rooke and Torbert classify leaders into seven distinct action-logic categories: Opportunists, Diplomats, Experts, Achievers, Individualists, Strategists, and Alchemists—the first three associated with below-average performance, the latter four with medium to high performance. These leadership styles are not fixed, the authors say, and executives who are willing to work at developing themselves and becoming more self-aware can almost certainly move toward one of the more effective action logics. A Diplomat, for instance, can succeed through hard work and self-reflection at transforming himself into a Strategist.

Few people may become Alchemists, but many will have the desire and potential to become Individualists and Strategists. Corporations that help their executives and leadership teams to examine their action logics can reap rich rewards.

Corporate treasurers and chief financial officers have become adept at quantifying and managing a wide variety of risks: financial (for example, currency fluctuations), hazard (chemical spills), and operational (computer system failures). To defend themselves, they use tried-and-true tools such as hedging, insurance, and backup systems. Some companies have even adopted the concept of enterprise risk management, integrating available risk management techniques in a comprehensive, organization-wide approach. But most managers have not addressed in a systematic way the greatest threat of all— strategic risks, the array of external events and trends that can devastate a company’s growth trajectory and shareholder value.

Strategic risks go beyond such familiar challenges as the possible failure of an acquisition or a product launch. A new technology may overtake your product. Gradual shifts in the market may slowly erode one of your brands beyond the point of viability. Or rapidly shifting customer priorities may suddenly change your industry. The key to surviving these strategic risks, the authors say, is knowing how to assess and respond to them.

In this article, they lay out a method for identifying and responding to strategic threats. They categorize the risks into seven major classes (industry, technology, brand, competitor, customer, project, and stagnation) and describe a particularly dangerous example within each category. The authors also offer countermeasures to take against these risks and describe how individual companies (American Express, Coach, and Air Liquide, among them) have deployed them to neutralize a threat and, in many cases, capitalize on it.

Besides limiting the downside of risk, strategic-risk management forces executives to think more systematically about the future, thus helping them identify opportunities for growth.

Companies have poured enormous amounts of money into customer relationship management, but in many cases the investment hasn’t really paid off. That’s because getting closer to customers isn’t about building an information technology system. It’s a learning journey—one that unfolds over four stages, requiring people and business units to coordinate in progressively more sophisticated ways.

The journey begins with the creation of a companywide repository containing each interaction a customer has with the company, organized not by product, purchase, or location, but by customer. Communal coordination is what’s called for at this stage, as each group contributes its information to the data pool separately from the others and then taps into it as needed.

In the second stage, one-way serial coordination from centralized IT through analytical units and out to the operating units allows companies to go beyond just assembling data to drawing inferences.

In stage three, companies shift their focus from past relationships to future behavior. Through symbiotic coordination, information flows back and forth between central analytic units and various organizational units like marketing, sales, and operations, as together they seek answers to questions like “How can we prevent customers from switching to a competitor?” and “Who would be most likely to buy a new product in the future?”

In stage four, firms begin to move past discrete, formal initiatives and, through integral coordination, bring an increasingly sophisticated understanding of their customers to bear in all day-to-day operations.

Skipping stages denies organizations the sure foundation they need to build a lasting customer-focused mind-set. Those that recognize this will invest their customer relationship dollars much more wisely—and will see their customer-focusing efforts pay off on the bottom line.

Most executives would say that adding a point of growth and gaining a point of operating-profit margin contribute about equally to shareholder value. Margin improvements hit the bottom line immediately, while growth compounds value over time. But the reality is that the two are rarely equivalent. Growth often is far more valuable than managers think. For some companies, convincing the market that they can grow by just one additional percentage point can be worth six, seven, or even ten points of margin improvement.

This article presents a new strategic metric, called the relative value of growth (RVG), which gives managers a clear picture of how growth projects and margin improvement initiatives affect shareholder value. Using basic balance sheet and income sheet data, managers can determine their companies’ RVGs, as well as those of their competitors. Calculating RVGs gives managers insights into which corporate strategies are working to deliver value and whether their companies are pulling the most powerful value-creation levers.

The author examines a number of well-known companies and explains what their RVG numbers say about their strategies. He reviews the unspoken assumption that growth and profits are incompatible over the long term and shows that a fair number of companies are effective at delivering both. Finally, he explains how managers can use the RVG framework to help them define strategies that balance growth and profitability at both the corporate and business unit levels.

To find the secrets of business success, what could be more natural than studying successful businesses?

In fact, nothing could be more dangerous, warns this Stanford professor. Generalizing from the examples of successful companies is like generalizing about New England weather from data taken only in the summer. That’s essentially what businesspeople do when they learn from good examples and what consultants, authors, and researchers do when they study only existing companies or—worse yet—only high-performing companies. They reach conclusions from unrepresentative data samples, falling into the classic statistical trap of selection bias.

Drawing on a wealth of case studies, for instance, one researcher concluded that great leaders share two key traits: They persist, often despite initial failures, and they are able to persuade others to join them. But those traits are also the hallmarks of spectacularly unsuccessful entrepreneurs, who must persist in the face of failure to incur large losses and must be able to persuade others to pour their money down the drain.

To discover what makes a business successful, then, managers should look at both successes and failures. Otherwise, they will overvalue risky business practices, seeing only those companies that won big and not the ones that lost dismally. They will not be able to tell if their current good fortune stems from smart business practices or if they are actually coasting on past accomplishments or good luck.

Fortunately, economists have developed relatively simple tools that can correct for selection bias even when data about failed companies are hard to come by. Success may be inspirational, but managers are more likely to find the secrets of high performance if they give the stories of their competitors’ failures as full a hearing as they do the stories of dazzling successes.

Many executives take for granted that the first company in a new product category gets an unbeatable head start and reaps long-lasting benefits. But that doesn’t always happen. The authors of this article discovered that much depends on the pace at which the category’s technology is changing and the speed at which the market is evolving. By analyzing these two factors, companies can improve their odds of succeeding as first movers with the resources they possess.

Gradual evolution in both the technology and the market provides a first mover with the best conditions for creating a dominant position that is long lasting (Hoover in the vacuum cleaner industry is a good example). In such calm waters, a company can defend its advantages even without exceptional skills or extensive financial resources.

When the market is changing rapidly and the product isn’t, a first entrant with extensive resources can obtain a long-lasting advantage (as Sony did with its Walkman personal stereo); a company with only limited resources probably must settle for a short-term benefit. When the market is static but the product is changing constantly, first-mover advantages of either kind—durable or short-lived—are unlikely. Only companies with very deep pockets can survive (think of Sony and the digital cameras it pioneered).

Rapid churn in both the technology and the market creates the worst conditions. But if companies have an acute sense of when to exit—as Netscape demonstrated when it agreed to be acquired by AOL—a worthwhile short-term gain is possible.

Before venturing into a newly forming market, you need to analyze the environment, assess your resources, then determine which type of first-mover advantage is most achievable. Once you’ve gone into the water, you have no choice but to swim.

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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

An executive summary is a thorough overview of a research report or other type of document that synthesizes key points for its readers, saving them time and preparing them to understand the study's overall content. It is a separate, stand-alone document of sufficient detail and clarity to ensure that the reader can completely understand the contents of the main research study. An executive summary can be anywhere from 1-10 pages long depending on the length of the report, or it can be the summary of more than one document [e.g., papers submitted for a group project].

Bailey, Edward, P. The Plain English Approach to Business Writing . (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 73-80.

Importance of a Good Executive Summary

Although an executive summary is similar to an abstract in that they both summarize the contents of a research study, there are several key differences. With research abstracts, the author's recommendations are rarely included, or if they are, they are implicit rather than explicit. Recommendations are generally not stated in academic abstracts because scholars operate in a discursive environment, where debates, discussions, and dialogs are meant to precede the implementation of any new research findings. The conceptual nature of much academic writing also means that recommendations arising from the findings are distributed widely and not easily or usefully encapsulated. Executive summaries are used mainly when a research study has been developed for an organizational partner, funding entity, or other external group that participated in the research . In such cases, the research report and executive summary are often written for policy makers outside of academe, while abstracts are written for the academic community. Professors, therefore, assign the writing of executive summaries so students can practice synthesizing and writing about the contents of comprehensive research studies for external stakeholder groups.

When preparing to write, keep in mind that:

Christensen, Jay. Executive Summaries Complete The Report. California State University Northridge; Clayton, John. "Writing an Executive Summary that Means Business." Harvard Management Communication Letter (July 2003): 2-4; Keller, Chuck. "Stay Healthy with a Winning Executive Summary." Technical Communication 41 (1994): 511-517; Murphy, Herta A., Herbert W. Hildebrandt, and Jane P. Thomas. Effective Business Communications . New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997; Vassallo, Philip. "Executive Summaries: Where Less Really is More." ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 60 (Spring 2003): 83-90 .

Structure and Writing Style

Writing an Executive Summary

Read the Entire Document This may go without saying, but it is critically important that you read the entire research study thoroughly from start to finish before you begin to write the executive summary. Take notes as you go along, highlighting important statements of fact, key findings, and recommended courses of action. This will better prepare you for how to organize and summarize the study. Remember this is not a brief abstract of 300 words or less but, essentially, a mini-paper of your paper, with a focus on recommendations.

Isolate the Major Points Within the Original Document Choose which parts of the document are the most important to those who will read it. These points must be included within the executive summary in order to provide a thorough and complete explanation of what the document is trying to convey.

Separate the Main Sections Closely examine each section of the original document and discern the main differences in each. After you have a firm understanding about what each section offers in respect to the other sections, write a few sentences for each section describing the main ideas. Although the format may vary, the main sections of an executive summary likely will include the following:

Combine the Information Use the information gathered to combine them into an executive summary that is no longer than 10% of the original document. Be concise! The purpose is to provide a brief explanation of the entire document with a focus on the recommendations that have emerged from your research. How you word this will likely differ depending on your audience and what they care about most. If necessary, selectively incorporate bullet points for emphasis and brevity. Re-read your Executive Summary After you've completed your executive summary, let it sit for a while before coming back to re-read it. Check to make sure that the summary will make sense as a separate document from the full research study. By taking some time before re-reading it, you allow yourself to see the summary with fresh, unbiased eyes.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Length of the Executive Summary As a general rule, the correct length of an executive summary is that it meets the criteria of no more pages than 10% of the number of pages in the original document, with an upper limit of no more than ten pages [i.e., ten pages for a 100 page document]. This requirement keeps the document short enough to be read by your audience, but long enough to allow it to be a complete, stand-alone synopsis. Cutting and Pasting With the exception of specific recommendations made in the study, do not simply cut and paste whole sections of the original document into the executive summary. You should paraphrase information from the longer document. Avoid taking up space with excessive subtitles and lists, unless they are absolutely necessary for the reader to have a complete understanding of the original document. Consider the Audience Although unlikely to be required by your professor, there is the possibility that more than one executive summary will have to be written for a given document [e.g., one for policy-makers, one for private industry, one for philanthropists]. This may only necessitate the rewriting of the introduction and conclusion, but it could require rewriting the entire summary in order to fit the needs of the reader. If necessary, be sure to consider the types of audiences who may benefit from your study and make adjustments accordingly. Clarity in Writing One of the biggest mistakes you can make is related to the clarity of your executive summary. Always note that your audience [or audiences] are likely seeing your research study for the first time. The best way to avoid a disorganized or cluttered executive summary is to write it after the study is completed. Always follow the same strategies for proofreading that you would for any research paper. Use Strong and Positive Language Don’t weaken your executive summary with passive, imprecise language. The executive summary is a stand-alone document intended to convince the reader to make a decision concerning whether to implement the recommendations you make. Once convinced, it is assumed that the full document will provide the details needed to implement the recommendations. Although you should resist the temptation to pad your summary with pleas or biased statements, do pay particular attention to ensuring that a sense of urgency is created in the implications, recommendations, and conclusions presented in the executive summary. Be sure to target readers who are likely to implement the recommendations.

Bailey, Edward, P. The Plain English Approach to Business Writing . (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 73-80; Christensen, Jay. Executive Summaries Complete The Report. California State University Northridge; Executive Summaries. [email protected] Colorado State University; Clayton, John. "Writing an Executive Summary That Means Business." Harvard Management Communication Letter , 2003; Executive Summary. University Writing Center. Texas A&M University;  Green, Duncan. Writing an Executive Summary.   Oxfam’s Research Guidelines series ; Guidelines for Writing an Executive Summary.; Markowitz, Eric. How to Write an Executive Summary. Inc. Magazine, September, 15, 2010; Kawaski, Guy. The Art of the Executive Summary. "How to Change the World" blog; Keller, Chuck. "Stay Healthy with a Winning Executive Summary." Technical Communication 41 (1994): 511-517; The Report Abstract and Executive Summary. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Writing Executive Summaries. Effective Writing Center. University of Maryland; Kolin, Philip. Successful Writing at Work . 10th edition. (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2013), p. 435-437; Moral, Mary. "Writing Recommendations and Executive Summaries." Keeping Good Companies 64 (June 2012): 274-278; Vassallo, Philip. "Executive Summaries: Todorovic, Zelimir William, PhD. and Frye, Marietta Wolczacka,B.A., B.B.A. "Writing Effective Executive Summaries: An Interdisciplinary Examination." United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, 2009; " Where Less Really is More." ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 60 (Spring 2003): 83-90 .

More From Forbes

Executive summary template: what to include.

What needs to be included in a successful executive summary for entrepreneurs that are looking to get funded?

An executive summary is a critical document for new and growing businesses. As described in my book, The Art of Startup Fundraising , it is vital for entrepreneurs to understand how this differs from other documents, like pitch decks and full business plans. It is a crucial tool that can make all the difference in funding a venture and empowering its potential.

Unfortunately, many get this all wrong. Here are the keys to a professional summary that works, and what to include in it.

What is an Executive Summary?

This is a brief that precedes a business plan when seeking new partners, business loans or a an early round of funding for a startup venture. It sums up the business plan and opportunity in a tight document.

This is your key to getting more capital. Only an effective one will unlock that door, or get commercial lenders or investors to give you any more attention.

Executive summaries may be more common for traditional businesses pursuing traditional forms of financing. Such as commercial real estate loans, small business loans from a bank or connecting with more mature partners. Yet, every entrepreneur and small business should have one.

Executive Summaries vs. Pitch Decks vs. Business Plans

This is effectively a summary or mini business plan. No one has the time nor desire to bog themselves down in inches thick of paper, unless they are already pretty sure they want to invest. In fact, lenders and investors will pretty much make up their mind whether to give you money based on this executive summary. If the details aren’t quite the way they want them in the full plan, they’ll probably help you through the process of optimizing it.

Pitch decks has largely taken over the place executive summaries used to dominate. They are far more visual, and can be used for both live pitches and over the internet. I recently covered the pitch deck template that was created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel, including the most critical slides ( see it here ). I also reviewed a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M ( see it here ).

Still, even if you only plan to go the ‘Shark Tank’ style route of raising money for your startup with a pitch deck, you want to make sure you have a summary and business plan to back it up.

Best Practices for a Successful Executive Summary

To get this right, you have to know what your executive summary is for. The goal should be to get the reader to say “This is interesting. It has potential. These people know what they are doing, and I want to get in on the action. At least if everything they’ve told me is accurate.”

Ashford University specifies that it should be no more than 1-3 pages long, and should be written in the third person.

The Miami School of Business and York University recommend it should be:

Aside from being long-winded, the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make here by far is being too salesy. This is not an advertisement or slogan targeted to the masses on Facebook or a billboard. Do not over-inflate projections or claims. Those that have the money to fund you are typically smart enough to know when you are exaggerating or just painting the most optimistic and speculative outcome. That won’t get you taken seriously.

You’ll win more respect and confidence by being more conservative in your numbers. If that concerns you, then offer a low, middle and high forecast so they can see the best and worst case scenario.

Elements to Include in Your Executive Summary

As this is either a follow on from your pitch deck and/or a compact version of your full plan, it will contain most of the same categories and data. In this Forbes report I detail exactly what to include in a pitch deck .

In this other Forbes article you’ll find a deeper breakdown of what to include in your complete business plan , along with tips from Brian Chesky (Airbnb) and David McClure (500 Startups).

The Small Business Administration (SBA) recommends the following flow:

In a modern summary you want to pay specific attention to the problem you solve, and your solution, and any traction you have so far. You can find sample executive summaries and templates from the SBA , Microsoft , and Bplans.

Once written, make sure you get outside feedback from an experienced mind before submitting or circulating it to avoid making big blunders. You’ve only got one shot to impress with this document.

Alejandro Cremades

Ryan P. Farrell

May 7, 2019

Executive Summary: Harvard Business Review’s May/June issue

Time is the scarcest resource for CEOs. According to a study from Harvard Business School, chief executives are working over 60 hours a week, 79% of weekend days and 70% of vacation days.

That doesn’t leave much time for reading.

If you didn’t get a chance to read the latest issue of Harvard Business Review— or were too overworked to retain any information — here are my nine key takeaways for business leaders.

1. Stop hiring, start promoting

From WWII to the 1970s, companies filled roughly 90% of roles from within. Today, it’s less than 33%. This shift, coupled with an increasing reliance on outside vendors and technology to find the best candidates, has not produced better results. A 2012 study from Matthew Bidwell at Wharton found outside hires take three years to perform as well as internal hires in the same job, while internal hires take seven years to earn as much as outside hires are paid.

One takeaway: It’s time to return to promoting from within to fill most positions. Also, firms need to begin measuring the effectiveness of outsourcing hiring and new technologies.

From Your Approach to Hiring is All Wrong by Peter Cappelli, professor, the Wharton School

2. Marketing in China: Focus on speed

Marketing in China is fundamentally different from marketing in the West. One example: the pace. Marketers in China make decisions more quickly, because funding tends to follow growth and market share, not efficiency.

One takeaway: To succeed in China, companies need to invest in process innovation (which drives speed) as much as product innovation.

From What Western Marketers Can Learn from China by Kimberly A. Whitler, assistant professor of marketing, Darden School of Business

3. Start pricing your carbon footprint

Many firms are preparing for “climate risk” (e.g., floods, heat waves, other effects of climate change), but not “carbon risk” (e.g., regulators placing a higher price on carbon emissions).

One takeaway: It is time for firms to set internal carbon prices (ICPs) on their own emissions to better prepare for success in a low-carbon world.

From Future-Proof Your Climate Strategy by Joseph E. Aldy, associate professor, Harvard Kennedy School and Gianfranco Gianfrate, associate professor, EDHEC Business School

4. Make a plan for the next recession

When a recession hits, the best-prepared companies often become the best performing ones.

One takeaway: Your business needs a contingency plan before the next recession. A strong plan will enable your company to do four things: deleverage before the downturn; decentralise decision-making (to increase agility); find alternatives to layoffs (e.g., hour reductions, furloughs, performance pay); and make smart investments in technology (to increase efficiency).

From How to Survive a Recession & Thrive Afterward by Walter Frick, deputy editor,

5. ESGs are now a top investor priority

Interviews with 70 executives at 43 global institutional investment firms found environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues have become much more important to long-term investors, like pension funds. The reason: “Firms that have trillions of dollars under management have no hedge against the global economy,” says author Robert G. Eccles. “They have become too big to let the planet fail.”

One takeaway: Shareholders—not just broader stakeholders like governments and NGOs—will increasingly hold companies accountable for their ESG performance.

From The Investor Revolution by Robert G. Eccles, visiting professor, Saïd Business School and Svetlana Klimenko, lead financial management specialist, World Bank

6. Workers are eager to retrain for the new economy

A survey of 6,500 business leaders and 11,000 employees on the future of work had two big insights: First, workers are far more willing and able to embrace change than their employers assume. Second, workers are seeking more support and guidance to prepare themselves for future employment than management is providing.

One takeaway: To keep up with the pace of change, and meet employee expectations, companies need to shift from offering occasional courses to a continuous learning model.

From Your Workforce Is More Adaptable Than You Think by Joseph B. Fuller, professor, Harvard Business School, Manjari Raman, program director, Managing the Future of Work, HBS, Judith K. Wallenstein, senior partner and managing director, BCG and Alice de Chalendar, consultant, BCG

7. Ethics is about culture, not compliance

Behavioural science research suggests most employees are not good or bad, but “ethically malleable.” How they behave is not so much a question of their beliefs, but their environment.

One takeaway: It’s not enough to simply educate employees on your company policies. Or, to punish bad behaviour. You need to design a system that makes being good as easy as possible.

From How to Design an Ethical Organization by Nicholas Epley, professor, University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Amit Kumar, assistant professor, University of Texas at Austin

8. Experts need a beginner’s mind

Expertise can hinder performance in two ways: It can make a person overconfident and it can make them intellectual complacent.

One takeaway: Executives should adopt what the Buddhists call “a beginner’s mind” by challenging their own expertise, seeking out new ideas and embracing experimentalism.

From Don’t Be Blinded by Your Own Expertise by Sydney Finkelstein, professor, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College

9. Celebrity endorser scandals: How should firms respond?

Based on a recent study of celebrity scandals and their impact on stock performance, silence is the worst option. However, if a firm shows an appropriate response, it can gain market value.

One takeaway: Make sure your team is doing scenario planning so you can respond quickly—ideally, in three days—and appropriately the next time a scandal arises.

From When Scandal Engulfs a Celebrity Endorser , based on the study “ Managing Negative Celebrity Endorser Publicity: How Announcements of Firm (Non) Responses Affect Stock Returns ,” by Stefan J. Hock and Sascha Raithel

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