Anatomy of the Update Email
Reaching the Audience
Effective email updates are a useful tool for communicating with a large audience.1 However, crafting a message that provides value to everyone can be challenging. With a diverse group of readers who have differing perspectives and domain knowledge, bridging the gap between your team and the rest of the organization is critical to effective communication.
To overcome these challenges, I've developed a template throughout my leadership career that delivers effective updates to company-wide audiences.2 By balancing high-level information with specific details, this approach helps you build better connections with your readers and increase awareness of the value that your team is delivering.
This template follows a simple structure which you can adapt to your own needs.
"The Big Picture"
Start with an executive summary. This should be short enough that most folks can glance at it, understand the major points, and stop reading.3 It needs to capture both what happened and why it's important in as few words as possible. This might be one sentence summarizing the update followed by several bullet points calling out the impact.
As an example, let's imagine we've just shipped a new onboarding flow which is measurably improving user conversion rates. Here's what our executive summary to the company might look like:
The Big Picture
This week Engineering shipped a new onboarding flow which is accelerating subscription growth.
- New onboarding showing 12% conversion improvement,
- Representing an $86,000 increase in monthly recurring revenue (MRR).
This work directly supports our quarterly company goal of $100,000 MRR uplift.
Our first line captures both what this update is about, "a new onboarding flow", as well as why it matters, "subscription growth". A busy executive or someone on the ground with no prior knowledge of this initiative will be able to read this and immediately understand its relevance: engineering shipped something that's resulting in more paying users.
Furthermore our bullet points quantify the impact; "12% conversion improvement" and thus our MRR is increasing by "$86,000".4
If we assume this supports a company-level goal, then we can cite that as well.
With an executive summary leading our update, we can now provide a section for more detailed description. Here we might talk about specifics like technology and introduce jargon that we left out of the previous section.5 It's also a good opportunity to call out relevant collaborators, particularly those who contributed or were otherwise key players.
To continue with our previous example, this section could look something like this:
Engineering shipped a new onboarding flow, dramatically reducing the number of steps required to complete sign up and payment.
During this project we were also able to modernize our tech stack by updating major versions of our frontend framework. Moving from version Y to version X resulted in an overall faster and less frustrating user experience.
This update has led to a more than 12% increase in conversions to paid subscriptions. As a result our MRR has increased by over $86,000, helping move us closer to our quarterly goal of $100,000 MRR.
This work would not have been possible without the close partnership of Marketing, who worked closely with Engineering to develop an optimized onboarding flow based on industry best practices.
This section also provides a valuable opportunity to reinforce the impact of the update. By explaining any nuances and connecting the update with its impact in a more in-depth manner, it goes beyond a simple repetition of the first section. This can help to better convey the significance of the update to our audience and ensure that it's understood and appreciated.
While it's true many readers will skim or skip this section entirely, it's important to invest in it. For instance, when giving an update about an initiative or project, some of your readers will be the same folks who worked directly on it. Ensure that their work is accurately represented. Additionally, other folks whose work overlaps or intersects will benefit from the opportunity to learn more about it.
Putting it Together
By combining these two components, we create a reusable template for company-wide communication that offers both a concise overview and a more in-depth examination, making it appealing to a diverse audience. This improves the effectiveness of communication, ensuring the message is understood by all stakeholders.
A notable side effect of this format is that it becomes much easier for virtually anyone at the company to both identify things like initiatives as well as their relative impact on the business.
As Will Larson says in his article on sending weekly updates,
"...one of the important contributions of leadership is creating ambient connective tissue across teams and projects. By sharing what I’ve learned about a new project, I find that often there are other folks who benefit from knowing, and that they wouldn’t have learned about the project otherwise."
This can be a valuable addition to your overall communication strategy and helps to raise visibility of your team's or department's work. By increasing awareness, you are better able to engage with stakeholders, build support, and drive positive results.
Delivering Effective Updates
We start with a succinct summation of the what and the why. Our goal is give our busiest readers the key insights at a glance. From this, they should understand what the update is about and why it's important in the context of the business.
The following, larger section goes into the specifics of the update. It's a chance to delve into the finer points that wouldn't fit in the summary, and recognize the individuals who played a key role.
The difficulty of communicating with a diverse and large audience is undeniable, but this straightforward framework helps overcome this challenge and brings value to a wide audience of folks by fostering better understanding and connection.
Will Larson notes,
"I’ve consistently noticed that emails generate far more discussion than other distribution methods, which really shouldn’t have surprised me: I’ve been sending company-internal updates for some time and they’ve frequently created important, spontaneous conversations."
At one company, the CEO found my updates so effective, they were forwarded directly to the board of directors. ↩
And most will stop reading here. ↩
These are fictional numbers, for the purpose of a more readable demonstration. ↩
Do take care to define technical terms so that even readers outside the domain will be able to follow along. It's best to spell out abbreviations before using them and define any terms folks may be unfamiliar with. It can also be helpful to explain things by way of analogy. ↩
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