Sometimes we can get lost in the repetition of the process, a good thing, to the neglect of humanity that can be found in our words. Your team wants to know what you are thinking.  They want to know your ideas, your plans, your real-time thoughts, and your reflections; they want to know what you are seeing. 

One of the most powerful, durable, and recordable ways to share your human thoughts as a leader is to write them out, personally addressed to your team.

Of course, you have doubt.  Poet Sylvia Path helps us confront our doubt saying, “…By the way, everything in life is writable if you have the outgoing guts to do it…The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

When you write a letter to your company you have immediately created a recorded history.  When your business is two, or ten, or forty years off into the future, those future team members and leaders will be installed with the founders or previous owners principles, ideas, innovations, and foundations. 

When you do not write a letter to your company, it gets lost to time. 

We are encouraging you and challenging you to write a letter to each member of your business every year and personally mail it to their home with their name on the top. 

To help you, we are going to walk you through a simple template you can use to write your powerful annual letter. 

The first exposure I had to a powerful annual letter is Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos in his 1997 Amazon Shareholder letter.  I used it in my first ever coaching session with a client as we built out their Vision Story.   

In his letter, Bezos works through some key elements that we can put into a simple template to help you think through your powerful letter. 

First, Bezos begins his letter with key milestones that Amazon has achieved throughout the year.  It is short and sweet and very powerful coming right out of the gate.  No fluff, dive right in.  You may say something like… 

Dear Hannah, 

We saw ACME, Co. grow beyond our projections by about 5% and YOU were a huge part of that.  Our goal is to move beyond where we are at now and for next year become the second largest XYZ company in our county… 

Next, Bezos then goes on to discuss multiple opportunities that are in front of them.  Even if you are staring down the barrel of a recession, the opportunity is in front of you.  What is it?  What could your business do even if you don’t know the “how” quite yet?  Writing this letter forces you to see an opportunity and then take the risk of sharing that opportunity. 

Use wisdom, use discretion, and be bold.  You can do all three together. 

Third, Bezos begins sharing true stories that are aligned with their unique core values of “long term” and “obsess over customers”.  With each of those stories, he is also diligent to layout bullet points of what the impact will be to Amazon from those stories, both the fun parts and the challenging parts.  

For instance, an impact of “long term” is “When forced to choose between optimizing the appearance of our GAAP accounting and maximizing the present value of future cash flows, we’ll take the cash flows.” 

He’s honest and discrete.  Bezos shares what he can share, but I’m sure doesn’t share everything.   

Also, remember that Amazon is a publicly-traded company so they will tend to be more open about their financial numbers due to their public transparency.  You may wish to not share those.   

With whatever you write, just ask yourself, “how will this impact particular team members when they read it.” 

The overall goal is to celebrate, encourage, inspire, motivate, show appropriate vulnerability, and vision cast through your annual letter.  Use your discretion with how much information to share. 

Next, Bezos shares some key metrics that make sense to the Amazon team.  What will make sense to your team?  Is it the number of increased contracts signed this year compared to last?  Is it the user ratings that have increased this year over last?  Your performance rating?  Safety metrics?   

What are those key metrics that matter to your team?  This may be a great place to share them. 

Fifth, Bezos devotes an entire section just to the Amazon team…to celebrating them.  He is aspirational saying things like, “The past year’s success is the product of a talented, smart, hard-working group, and I take great pride in being a part of this team.”  Bezos is also sober mentioning, “It’s not easy to work here…but we’re building something important.” 

Near the end of the letter Bezos then goes into full on vision casting and goal setting mode.  It is a sentence by sentence power punch to the soul of each team member as if to say, “I so value you that I’m going to stretch our horizon so you will always have a place to RUN by doing your highest and best work.” 

Where are you headed?  What are the broad steps that it will take for you to get there?  Remember the words to the Jewish Prophet Habakkuk, “write the vision down so those who read it may run!”   

Finally, Bezos signs off with a two-sentence summary.  This would be a great place to reinforce your mission statement saying something like, “This was a powerful year to (insert mission statement), and I am beyond grateful for you.  Thank you for your work, your commitment, and for your devotion to (insert a core value here).

To summarize, here are the eight elements that we have pulled from Jeff Bezos’ 1997 shareholder letter that will help you write a simple, powerful, and meaningful letter to your team.

Personal

Write their name at the top of the letter and mail it to their home

Celebrate Milestones

Key milestones that the business team has achieved throughout the year

Opportunities Ahead

There are always opportunities…find them and share them

Value-Based Stories & Their Realities

True stories and a simple layout of the impact of those stories

Key Metrics

What are those key metrics that matter to your team?  Highlight them.

Celebrate The Team

Highlighting all of the “insider” things that it means to be a team member.  “We say all of the time…”

Vision-Cast and Goal-Set

A broad vision of the future of the business along with a few broad steps of what it will take to get there. 

Sincere Summary

A simple, thoughtful summary of the letter and a shot of motivation to press on!

 That’s it.  Proof your letter, send it to a team member along with a trusted advisor for review, read over it one or two more times, and then personal address each one and send it to their homes. 

Scott Beebe is the founder of Business On Purpose, author of Let Your Business Burn: Stop Putting Out Fires, Discover Purpose, And Build A Business That Matters.  Scott also hosts The Business On Purpose Podcast and can be found at mybusinessonpurpose.com.