Amazon’s press release and FAQ protocol is widely admired for its effectiveness as a management tool supporting critical decision-making.
PowerPoint makes us stupid
CEO Jeff Bezos has banned PowerPoint. Instead, Amazon managers are required to write six-page narratives. In his 2017 letter to shareholders, he reports: “We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of ‘study hall.’”
As reported in Inc., these narratives take the form of a “future press release” and are “required before the launch of a new product or initiative.”
Well, if the press release and FAQ protocol is driving innovation and success at Amazon, why not try it at Prism?
Press release and FAQ: an illustration
Elmsford UFSD superintendent Marc Baiocco faced a difficult dilemma:
In light of the COVID-19 disruptions to his staff and students, how should the district grade students in the 3rd and 4th quarters?
The challenge was fraught and gnarly: there were innumerable rabbit holes to go down, plenty of potential for unintended consequences, and little guidance from the State Ed Department.
During a quickly evolving and unpredictable landscape where a thoughtful decision had to be rendered about grading, using Amazon’s press release and FAQ approach allowed our decision makers to “begin with the end in mind.”
As we worked to complete the press release, it encouraged members of the committee to envision the plan for grading student outcomes before indulging in discussion with the entire committee. Moreover, the FAQ’s provided a vehicle for laser-like focus on what questions students and parents/guardians may ask.Dr. Marc Baiocco, Superintendent, Elmsford UFSD
Marc decided to employ Amazon’s Press Release and FAQ protocol to resolve this dilemma. We proceeded in three steps.
#1: Governing assumptions & decision criteria
In a 60 minute Zoom call, his admin team
- Established governing assumptions:
- The grading policy will not include the option for failing a student in the 3rd quarter. Instead, it will include and option for “incomplete.” Students receiving “incomplete” in any class will have the opportunity to make up required work.
- PK-6 and grades 7-12 will design separate grading policies.
- Grades 7-12 will proceed in two phases: agree first to a grading policy for the 3rd quarter and then subsequently for the 4th quarter.
- Defined a set of decision criteria: our grading policy must be
- Aligned with any State Ed requirements
#2: Press release and FAQ
Marc then charged the admin team to draft their press release/FAQs with the following guidance:
- Backwards design: Start with the students and work backwards: what is the ideal grading policy in light of the COVID-19 disruptions?
- Deliberate thinking: The idea is that by enforcing the discipline of writing a PR/FAQ, you will be compelled to think through the details and be less likely to miss something critical or be victim to unintended consequences.
Press release criteria:
- Write the press release as your students, staff or parents would read it in The Journal News on the day that you’re ready to announce the grading policy to the public.
- Opening paragraph: describe the who, what, when, where, why
- Following paragraphs: explain the grading policy and address how it
- Meets students, staff and parent needs
- Addresses critical hurdles and challenges
- Meets our criteria: is fair, equitable, simple, flexible and adherent to NYSED guidance
- Include quotes from at least a few different stakeholders (e.g., superintendent, central office admin, building admin, teacher, student, parent, etc.)
Frequently asked questions (FAQ) criteria:
- Anticipate the key questions — including the hard ones — you will get from students, staff and parents and answer each clearly, simply and unambiguously.
- Does the grading policy ensure fairness for students who lack Internet access?
- Will this grading policy affect my college transcript?
- Does the grading policy address students with disabilities?
#3: Seek feedback on the press release and FAQ
Because he didn’t want the grading policy decision to be made unilaterally by administration, Marc engaged a teacher panel from whom he sought constructive feedback and — ultimately — support. He scheduled a Zoom call for 22 participants to evaluate the proposed grading policies as presented in the press release/FAQs.
Step #3 and the Zoom call are described in How to run successful virtual decision-making meetings.