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Get Them to Turn in Their Paperwork

In my business writing seminars, people frequently complain that they cannot get others to act. They would like others to turn in paperwork, complete surveys, respond with their lunch order off the catering menu, and take similar actions. These actions will make life easier for the people in my writing classes. I empathize with their frustration, but together we are often stumped about a reliable way to get the responses we need.

Last week I attended the Japan-Seattle Suzuki International Institute (a music camp for children and their parents), and I saw a good idea in action at the end of the camp. All attendees who turned in their evaluation of the camp, with their name on it, were eligible for a drawing (raffle) right there on the spot.

I have seen the drawing used as a way to collect business cards. People often hesitate to enter the drawing because they don’t want to get follow-up sales calls. And I have seen the online enticement of the “First 100 people to . . . will be entered in a raffle. . . .” It makes me wonder: How do I know whether I am one of the first 100 and whether my name is actually being entered in the raffle?

But at the end of music camp, everyone gladly completed the evaluation–and signed it. And because they signed it, they were probably more likely to comment thoughtfully.

Suggestion: If you need to gather people’s paperwork, perhaps at the end of a meeting or conference, why not have an instant drawing? You could offer prizes that relate to the theme of the event. At Suzuki camp, for example, we were lured by such prizes as CDs of resident artists and calligraphy by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, who died in 1998 at the age of 100.

I am going to try this inspired approach the next time I need to reel in paperwork from reluctant colleagues. I believe it will work much better than nagging or a threat. What do you think?


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

6 comments on “Get Them to Turn in Their Paperwork”

  • Dave, this can work if you use Outlook or have another way of adding meetings to people’s calendars: Instead of sending an email reminder about paperwork that is due, put a time to complete it on their calendar. The person who suggested it to me said it works well.

    Thanks for asking and reminding me of that tip.


  • This may work at a kids camp but in corporate world you don’t have funds to get things for a good prize. This article was not helpful at all.

  • You could always give away something that doesn’t require company funds, like a good parking space or some other kind of privilege. There are days when I would love to have first dibs on the microwave at lunch, and that doesn’t cost any extra money. I would definitely be motivated by the possibility of something like that. Ooh, or being allowed to leave an hour early on a Friday, although I guess that technically costs something.

  • I tried a lite version of this today. At the end of a training program, I handed people their certificates of completion when they handed me their evaluations. One woman came forward for her certificate, no evaluation in her hand, and I smilingly said something like “I give out the certificates when I receive the evaluations.” She returned in a minute with the evaluation, completed.

    I believe when we can offer people something they want in exchange for what we want, we both win. Sometimes people ask me, “But if it’s their JOB, shouldn’t they do it without getting a special reward of some kind?” Well, let’s try both approaches and see what works!

    Thank you, Dave, Jenny, and Katy, for comments.


  • Update: A friend who is a training manager told me he offered $10 Starbucks cards to managers in his own company to complete a 5-minute survey. Only two responded, although I can’t remember the size of the group. Apparently, $10 at Starbucks was not something that got their attention. I know it would have worked for me. I love gift cards.


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