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Jul
15
2008
Can You Understand What I’m Saying? Maranda Gibson

Clear Communications

In the same vein as our previous post on business communications, "Can You Hear What I'm Saying?," a business communication problem may crop up if clients can't understand what you're trying to say. All the personal and two-way conversations in the world won't help if you are not making yourself clear. A few business-friendly tips to keeping it clear.

1. Define terms. If your clients won't know the acronyms in your business, don't keep throwing them around without explanation. If you're a stock broker, and your new wealthy investor does not know what an ETF is--exchange-traded fund--how will you convince her to let you put her money into them? Your marketing communications and/or documents given to clients need to have the definitions spelled out as if no one has a clue. Yes, even easy ones, like the CDC or FDA. When in doubt, spell it out.

2. Don't recite a list of features. If you're company that has been in business for 5 years, and can provide 20 different services, listing all that as the main reason to choose your business may cause your customer's eyelids to glaze over. How about explaining how your services will ensure that they never have to worry about their heating and air conditioning service again? How about promising that the years of experience guarantees that the service personnel will "arrive on time or the service call is free"? (Yes, I'm dreaming. But wouldn't that be nice!) Make sure your best attributes are there, not for you to look and feel good, but so that your client looks and feels good. See the difference?

3. The shorter, the better. Some of the best marketing I've seen is short and sweet. A quick tag line summing up just what the client is looking for. A handyman service promises that your leaking gutter can be fixed in an hour while you're at work. A tanning salon wants to help us all relax. Find out what your client wants and then keep it short.

Business communications can be daunting to business owners. Calm down, it's not rocket science. You can outsource it to freelance marketing writers/copywriters/corporate writers, depending on what they call themselves. Which one to choose? It's up to you and your needs. If you have marketing collateral to rework or a web site to enlarge, any of the above freelance service providers will work. They will generally have an established web site showcasing their brilliant writing skills and will have impressive references. You'll want to ask for samples and make sure you get some rewrites included in the hefty fee. Shop around and don't settle. Make sure you find the best fit for you.

Or you can do it yourself. If that seems especially scary, remember the more you communicate and the more you try to do it clearly, the better you'll be.

Jul
14
2008
How To Help Your Employees Succeed Maranda Gibson

After a previous post about boosting productivity by allowing employees to surf Facebook (I’m sure you’re delighted to have me bring that point up again), I want to clarify exactly what I believe is a productivity booster and what is not. Some companies advocate naps at work (a few heavily creative jobs really do necessitate this) and others ban personal Internet surfing (which I really don’t think is entirely all good) and so I’d like to come into this discussion again squarely in the middle.

Canada.com recently cited a study that indicates allowing people to goof off at work (surfing the Internet) boosts morale and productivity.
"[A] new study by a U.K. research group might help boost the Internet's image. It found that taking short breaks to surf the Internet at work might actually be beneficial to an employee's productivity.

Conducted by MindLab International, the study involved European women from seven different countries who were asked to complete computer-based intelligence tests designed to induce stress. They were then offered a 10-minute break in which they could surf the Internet freely before returning to further testing. Stress levels and productivity were monitored throughout and the researchers found that the break resulted in both a reduction in stress and an increase in productivity."

On the other hand, some companies struggle with workers goofing off by gossiping and stirring up trouble among fellow employees. That is not my idea of boosting morale.
AfricanPath.com, a site geared to reporting news of and by Africans around the world talks about the problem of gossip in the workplace and I really liked blogger Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi’s June 26, 2008 checklist on the subject.

"Do you:

  1. Spread rumors about other people?
  2. Have you good things to say about others?
  3. Judge others only on the basis of facts?
  4. Encourage others to bring their rumors to you?
  5. Precede your conversations with a "don’t-tell-anyone, and you-didn’t-hear-it-from- me"?
  6. Keep" confidential "information confidential?
  7. Feel guilty about what you say concerning other people?
  8. Have an okra (slippery) mouth?
  9. Like to hear reports of scandals?"
These examples should serve as a caution to employers who cite lost productivity as the number one factor impacted by employee turnover, according to TalentKeepers’ 2008 Employee Turnover Trends research report.

 

"‘It used to be that employee turnover was considered solely an HR problem, but now top executives are beginning to see the far-reaching impact of turnover and its implications,’ explains Craig Taylor, VP of Client Services for TalentKeepers and senior research author of the 2008 Employee Turnover Trends report. ‘It starts a domino effect that will eventually touch all aspects of an organization. The key is to stop the chain reaction by implementing tactical retention strategies before the last domino falls.’"

Is allowing goof off time a tactical retention strategy? According to many employed workers, the rigidness of an employer is also a measure of their willingness to stick around for the long term. I think every employer must ultimately make the call about goof-off time that best suits their particular needs. But I urge moderation. Polling employees about their preferences and discussing these issues openly is the best next action for companies seeking a definitive policy.

Jul
10
2008
The Buck Stops Here Maranda Gibson

Leadership

Leadership. Even the word strikes fear into the hearts of those stalwart leaders and managers who must lead us every day. If you're a member of the leadership club, we've rounded up a few great news links to help you lessen the fear and actually become a better leader than you thought you could be. Yes, you can!

Furnitureworld.com highlights an important leadership quality that I think is so often overlooked in many of the top leadership how-to books and even in most news articles about leadership.

"You hear it all the time … aspiring managers or vice presidents want to know the most important key to an esteemed business leader's success. Thinking the answer must be something like inspiring leadership, technological innovation, savvy marketing or far-sighted financial planning — all of which are important — their jaws drop when they learn the truth.

Generally, a savvy leader's success is directly tied to his or her ability to focus on the business fundamentals — the daily blocking and tackling that every company must master to be a winner in its field. Strong, effective leaders stress fundamentals like discipline, accountability, strategic alignment, managing to his or her values, and empowering employees. Additionally, these leaders have mastered the six basic functions of management: leading, planning, organizing, staffing, controlling and communicating. But what's the one golden thread tying all those functions together — and the most important key to great leadership? Clear communication."

The Wall Street Journal hits upon a radical approach to leadership: group leadership.

"It's a common corporate approach to a problem: Build a team of experts from different parts of the company and ask them to find a solution.

But these teams could be a lot more effective if companies took one radical step: Share leadership.

This concept, of course, flies in the face of the traditional idea of how companies should operate -- one person is in charge, and the others follow. But in a team of specialists, one expert usually doesn't have the know-how to understand all the facets of the job at hand. Instead, a better approach is to share the top duties, so the person in charge at any moment is the one with the key knowledge, skills and abilities for the aspect of the job at hand. When that changes, a new expert should step to the fore."

These are two really good ideas for leaders seeking a renewal of their skills while in the midst of layoffs and harsh financial times for their company or department.

Take heart, leaders. These are interesting times, but the ability to look outside of proven typical solutions to gain new, bigger results is really quite smart. And just so you know, that's another sign of a good leader. Kudos to you!

Jul
08
2008
Can You Hear What I’m Saying? Maranda Gibson

One of the biggest issues facing businesses today and in the next few years is communicating effectively. The ability to communicate effectively is still the same: know your audience, speak in their language, and hear their questions.

But how do businesses do it?

The Business Ledger for Suburban Chicago discusses keeping current clients as the best way to navigate through the current economic conditions, and cites warmer, more personalized communications tactics as the best way to go.

"A continuing dependence on technology is also a barrier for attorneys to overcome when trying to develop more personal relationships with clients. With the emergence of e-mail as the primary communication tool in business, attorneys now must make a conscious effort to stay in close contact with their clients through phone conversations and face-to-face communication.

'I try to continue to have face-to-face contact with clients,' said Kenneth Clingen, a partner in Clingen Callow & McLean. 'Some younger lawyers are a little reticent to pick up the phone and call clients. They're more comfortable communicating by e-mail.

'It's an advantage to those lawyers who will continue to try to have face-to-face contact with their clients. If you don't have that, it may affect your ability to strengthen the relationship.'"

A surprising truth to most business leaders or managers seeking better ways to improve their leadership skills is learning to communicate.

Furnitureworld.com cites the importance of looking at communication as a two-way street and provides a helpful (and doable) list.

"First, you must realize and accept that clear communication is always a two-way process. It's not enough to speak clearly; you have to make sure you're being heard and understood. To facilitate this, use the following two-way communication primer:

1. Prepare how you'll communicate

  • Clarify the goal of the communication
  • Plan carefully before sending it or meeting in person
  • Anticipate the receiver's viewpoint and feelings

2. Deliver the message

  • Express your meaning with conviction
  • Relate the message to your larger goals
  • Identify the action to be taken
  • Confirm the other person understands

3. Receive the message

  • Keep an open mind
  • Identify key points in the message
  • Value constructive feedback and use it to grow
  • Confirm your understanding

4. Evaluate the effectiveness of the communication afterwards

5. Take corrective action as necessary"

In short, if you're talking in a vacuum, who is listening? You need to make business communications personal and relevant to clients, and above all, think of it as a conversation, not a lecture. Sometimes the most important things you'll ever learn about your business are things you'll "hear" from your own clients.

Jul
07
2008
Another Multifaceted Approach to Team-Building Maranda Gibson

Channel 8 News in Austin recently reported on a story that highlighted the philanthropic aspect of team-building.

"It was a double surprise when dozens of Frito Lay employees thought they were assembling bikes Wednesday as part of a team building exercise.

Later in the day, rather unexpectedly, 44 kids turned a corporate exercise into a much more meaningful event.

With numbers in hand, the children walked into a conference room to discover the bikes were for them.

One Frito Lay employee said it was the most worthwhile team building exercise they've done so far."

The London Free Press reports on a team-building exercise that has seen marvelous results from participants.

"Viewers of the Amazing Race know that participants rarely emerge from the contest unchanged.

Sometimes the twosome is drawn closer together, their friendship strengthened by the intensity of the experience. The more entertaining couples go the other way, bickering their way around the world, straining whatever relationship they began with.

The creative minds behind Conundrum Adventures Inc. hope their clients fall into the former category, working together to solve puzzles that lead them through downtown London.
‘It started with the idea of corporate team building, but we've also had a large family reunion do a Conundrum,’ says Teresa Boere, a recent addition to the company. She runs the London arm of the business, which is based in Toronto."

And to dig a little deeper into this subject, Ephraim Schwartz of InfoWorld.com talks about the essentials of global team-building, which focuses less on activities done together to build a team, but highlights essential education and knowledge required when going into a truly global team space.

"Just as a company puts a localization strategy in place when opening a new plant or launching a new product overseas, company leaders must learn about communication styles, attitudes toward meetings and deadlines, even the very notion of what makes a good leader in a given culture before entering into business negotiations with an organization overseas.

In the United States, a direct approach -- even when critiquing a team member -- is admired, but in most of Asia, directness is not regarded as highly. A leader who practices that approach humiliates the person she is criticizing; moreover, in the eyes of the other team members, she humiliates herself."

As business deals spread across the globe, taking care that your communication and assumptions are correct and appropriate goes a long way toward a strong team effort, probably more so than just solving a puzzle or building bikes for children. The essence of team-building is more complicated than a simple exercise, and we’ll be discussing this much more in the near future.

Jul
03
2008
Happy 4th Maranda Gibson

We hope everyone enjoys a wonderful July 4th this year. Make sure to watch fireworks, eat hot dogs and spend some time with friends and family.

Happy 4th

Jun
30
2008
Business Bending Toward Gen Y; Frustrating Other Generations Maranda Gibson

Generation Y vs Generation X

In the United States, learning to communicate between different age groups is the new challenge of business communications. Why? Generation X and Y groups speak differently than the Boomer generation.

- Diane Stafford, writing for the Kansas City Star, reports, "The entry of the techno-savvy Gen Ys is getting far more notice than the smaller, quieter absorption of Gen X, the demographic group sandwiched between the boomers and Gen Y.

Whereas Gen X pretty much got with the boomer program, Gen Y has a style of its own. That's created a cottage industry of commentary and consulting about the communication difficulties among the four generations at work."

In the 2008 World of Work survey recently completed by Harris Interactive Inc., workers were given "31 traits to choose from to identify co-workers in their same generation. The top five choices in the four generational groups showed just how differently the groups see themselves.

Gen Y most often described their own workplace personas with: Makes personal friends at the workplace; sociable; thinks out of the box; open to new ideas; and friendly.

Gen X's most frequent self descriptions were: Confident; competent; willing to take responsibility; willing to put in the extra time to get the job done; and ethical.

Boomers most often selected: Strong work ethic; competent; ethical; ability to handle a crisis; willing to take on responsibility; and good communication skills.

And the mature group self-identified with: Strong work ethic; ethical; committed to the company; competent; and confident."

The generations at the most odds, Gen Y, Boomers, and the mature group, have the hardest time communicating. Yet, "Gen Y was just about as hard on itself in evaluating its own work ethic and other 'serious' business traits as the older generations were in downgrading the Gen Y work ethic.

Gen Y is changing the face of global business, possibly the most dramatic upheaval in business culture since women entered the workplace during World War II. 'The significant factor is not how today's business views the newest members of the workforce … it's how Gen Y views business.'

'Gen X challenged the status quo. Gen Y chooses to press for more from their work life. They don't accept all the tried and true principles and practices. The old rules of thumb do not apply. Neither do many of the management techniques employers have used with previous generations.'"

Thus, the challenge in the next few years is for Gen Y to learn to understand how other generations view business and for other generations to allow Gen Y to redefine business in their terms.

Jun
27
2008
Five Tips To Reduce Your Company’s Expenses Maranda Gibson

Are you feeling the squeeze as a business owner? The papers are full of talk about rising food and gas prices for consumers, but the business owners have to deal with those issues as well. Not only are consumers not spending right now, but the price of gas increases the price of other supplies that businesses require to operate. And the mood among small business owners is dour, so here's a few tips to pep up your day.

  1. Check your utility bills for errors. Phone bills, water bills, electricity bills, any recurring cost of doing business expense has a bill and they are nowhere near fool-proof. Check them to make sure you're being charged the right amount. Check with the companies to see if they offer a promotion for being a loyal customer. Make sure you're paying for what your company is using and not extras that you're not.
  2. Renegotiate your contracts. This slides neatly into the second slot after number 1 above. Is there a better deal you can get by going with another company? If you pit two companies against each other, can you whittle them down bit by bit? Never be afraid to ask for a better deal. It's the name of the game. Especially now.
  3. Think outside the box. Rather than flying everyone to one location for a meeting, think about a conferencing service and instead of handing out cell phones willy-nilly, reconsider how many people in your company really need them. It only takes a little bit of brainstorming.
  4. Outsource. Trying to do it all as a small or mid-size business isn't smart and these days there are services for everything. Shop around and don't sign any long-term contracts until you know you'll use it. This can be for HR, teleconferencing, accounting, marketing, you name it. There must be one thing holding up progress in your company. Figure that out and the sky's the limit. And don't outsource everything; start with one thing.
  5. Show that you're cutting back. Be the example. Turn off the lights when not in the office. Eat a sack lunch twice a week. Print on both sides of the page. Recycle. And always praise employees who attempt to help you cut costs by doing any of the above. It goes a long way and builds morale, which improves productivity, which improves sales and on and on. You know the drill.

Jun
26
2008
Going Green, Along With Everybody Else Maranda Gibson

It's the biggest buzzword of the year, and may end up the most popular trend of our decade: green.

And everyone's jumping on the bandwagon, including whole sectors of business, government, and media.

The Chicago Tribune reports a list of celebrities who have not gone green yet including: Celine Dion, Tiger Woods, Elizabeth Hurley, Al Gore, John Travolta, Madonna, the Beckhams, and Bill Gates.

Why do these famous people get cited? And what is with Al Gore ? Isn't this his pet peeve?

The Trib reports that each celeb on the list uses more than the usual amount of water, has larger than above-average homes, and uses up a lot of resources traveling the world.
According to the BBC, "David Beckham may have had the largest carbon footprint of all in 2006. Add on his wife's carbon footprint, and they could be one of the most eco-unfriendly couples in the world."

The San Jose Mercury News tells us that public school districts in Miami, San Francisco, and Chicago will benefit from a partnership between a television network and an environmental media company.

"CBS Corp. and EcoMedia of New York City announced Thursday that they will sell special advertising content and programming. They will use part of the proceeds to install solar power, green roofs and organic gardens at schools in the three cities. This is the first step in what will be called the 'Green Schools Initiative.' It will cost about $250,000 per school for the upgrades. EcoMedia wants to expand the program in dozens of schools nationwide over the coming years."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on an upcoming initiative joining Seattle's blue collar workers together to create a new green economy.

"'This is hard-wired into Puget Sound's genetic code. We understand technological revolutions. We started one in aerospace in the '50s, and we started one in software in the '70s, and now we can start one in this,' said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., who will address the conference. 'Against a backdrop that for decades seemed to pit environmentalists and labor groups against each other, greens, labor and their allies worked together in the last few years to help pass state laws to improve energy-efficiency and require use of renewable energy. Now they're looking to make sure the jobs those requirements spawn end up in the Evergreen State.'"

What green trends do you see in your neighborhood?

Jun
23
2008
How to Go Back to School . . . and Still Keep Up With Life Maranda Gibson

There are so many options out there for getting that degree you never finished, brushing up on business skills, or even to retrain for a new career—all without changing your entire life in the process.

The New York Times reports on whether or not online education is right for you . . . and your current or future employer.

"While every employer is different, Susan Kryczka, director of distance education at Boston University, said that most treat online degrees as equivalent to degrees obtained by attending classes in classrooms.

Ms. Kryczka said that many employers would cover online education as part of existing tuition reimbursement programs, provided that employees could prove that the online degree pertained to their current job.

Once employees have completed their degrees, she added, many are rewarded with additional compensation for advancing their education. . . .

When employers are considering job applicants, online degrees are also becoming more accepted. Bob Leber, director of education and work-force development at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va., says that when employers are evaluating prospective employees, most don’t ask applicants to specify how they obtained their degrees, just where they obtained them."

So how do you find a good program?

OnlineEduBlog.com rates online universities here. This rating service offers news updates, ratings, and links to a wide selection of online education classes that are available.

"OnlineEduBlog is an education directory and guide that provides exclusive information, reviews, tips and suggestions on choosing the best online college, online course and online education resources that will help you complete your higher education very conveniently along with the degrees they offer for various levels."
The Denver Post reports that with the rising cost of gas these days, online classes are becoming the preferred choice of prospective students.

"As the price of gasoline swells by the day, online education appears to be one industry that has grown sweeter for those hoping to get a degree.

The wait list at the University of Colorado Denver's online program is up 90 percent from last fall. The number of students enrolled in CSU's distance-learning courses is up by 300 students from last year."

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