A friend looked exhausted and she told me she had been up all night writing a report. She was having a stressful situation at work, she told me. This friend, I’ll call her Cathy, writes reports for a major corporation in the financial sector. The reports go to the CEO and the board, with fixed deadlines, and are critical documents for decision-making in the organisation.
Cathy is a capable and experienced writer and project manager, but she is new to the area, so it is important to her that her work is vetted before it goes to the board. She needs to be certain her facts and her interpretation of them are correct, as a mistake could be costly for the business.
The person who checks her work is a senior and rising figure in the organisation, who spends most of his day in meetings and rarely responds to emails or phone calls. I’ll call him the VIP. Cathy has negotiated a timetable for him to vet the reports and put the agreed times in his diary. The VIP consistently misses the deadlines to read and comment on the work.
When Cathy succeeds in setting up a meeting with him, he asks for more changes to the presentation of the documents before he reads them. He is evasive and wants to discuss other things in the meetings. He is adamant that documents should not go to anyone else for checking.
There is only one possible outcome to this and Cathy is watching with dread as it looms towards her. The documents will go to the board without being vetted. All she can do is to take double her normal care and to check and re-check as much as closely as possible. Thus the series of all night writing sessions. And thus the constant anxiety about what might go wrong if something is incorrect, which leaches all the pleasure out of her work.
Cathy is a person who accepts feedback and is glad of it if it improves the quality of the work. In fact, she loves the collaboration involved when two people dedicated to producing high quality work are closely questioning and refining a piece of writing.
Writing and editing are critical business processes. They help clarify thoughts, present arguments, and make effective decision-making possible. Every writer needs an intelligent reader to help develop the best document. In government, this can be overdone. I have seen one document go through twenty pairs of hands for checking and then miss its deadline. But in private enterprise it can be underdone.
One checker can be enough if they give it full time and careful attention but, when they play games, like VIP, they expose the business to unnecessary risk. Not to mention putting a valuable staff member under absurd stress.