Friday, December 18, 2009

The Most Painfully Annoying Business Jargon by Christopher Steiner, Forbes

I read this article and had to laugh, out loud.  Why?  Because jargon has annoyed me for years .... and finally people are getting the message.  He also points out that buzz terms like "full service" is one of the biggest offenders - "You don't work at a gas station from the 1980s, so why borrow the cliché? "If I hear one more professional describe their business as full service, I'm going to scream," says Deborah Shames, co-author of Own The Room: Business Presentations that Engage, Persuade and Get Results. "Does this mean your investment firm drops off dry cleaning and provides babysitters?"

Well, the fact is - I have used the term "full service" to describe what we do... and I meant it and mean it.  In fact, people that know me and have worked with me are familiar with an expression I used "no job too small" when I would describe what I did for a company, or client - or in my previous incarnations in corporate.  As a trade show manager, I would be on my hands and knees repairing a carpet with glue before showtime, or getting gum off of an executives shoe... if I needed to.  In corporate, as an executive assistant, when asked by one executive what my goal was - I said "to make you weep at the thought of me going on vacation."

The difference for me is my customer service philosophy was founded in my early training as a waitress.  I truly learned what it meant to give good service - even if it included helping a customer get a spot out with club soda.  I'm not embarrassed to say I will do whatever is necessary to help a client or customer achieve their objectives as long as it is legal and doesn't humiliate me.

One client hosted an offsite retreat for her professional colleagues.  I was an attendee, I was the organizer and I was the event manager.  That meant wearing multiple hats, arranging the fruit, making sure hospitality was on top of their game... and my client's guests left feeling the "purrr" she wanted them to have.  Full Service.

So my advice to the business community is to ask for clarification when someone claims they offer "full service".  Just what does it mean?  Does it mean that you can call them at 4:00 a.m. if necessary?  Does that mean they will pick up your laundry?  If so - grab em.  They'll earn their money.

Now here is the rest of the article for your enjoyment:


"Learning" (the made-up, annoying noun version)
Like most educated people, Michael Travis, principal of Executive Search for Life Sciences, a headhunting firm, knows how to conjugate a verb. That's why he cringes when his colleagues use the word "learning" as a noun. As in: "I had a critical learning from that project," or "We documented the team's learnings." Whatever happened to simply saying: "I learned a lesson from that project?" Says Travis: "Aspiring managers would do well to remember that if you can't express your idea without buzzwords, there may not be an idea there at all."

"Full Service"
You don't work at a gas station from the 1980s, so why borrow the cliché? "If I hear one more professional describe their business as full service, I'm going to scream," says Deborah Shames, co-author of Own The Room: Business Presentations that Engage, Persuade and Get Results. "Does this mean your investment firm drops off dry cleaning and provides babysitters?"

"Over The Wall"
If you're not wielding a grappling hook, avoid this meaningless expression. Katie Clark, an account executive at Allison & Partners, a San Francisco public relations firm, got a request from her boss to send a document "over the wall." Did he want her to print out the document, make it into a paper airplane and send it whooshing across the office? Finally she asked for clarification. "It apparently means to send something to the client," she says. "Absurd!" Agreed.

This wannabe verb came to prominence, says Bryan Garner, editor in chief of Black's Law Dictionary, because most people don't understand the difference between the words "affect" and "effect." Rather than risk mixing them up, they say, "We will impact our competitor's sales with this new product." A tip: "Affect" is most commonly a verb, "effect" a noun. For instance: When you affect my thinking, you may have an effect on my actions.

"Out Of Pocket"
Many auto-reply e-mails now carry the phrase: "I'm out of pocket until next week." Mark Daly, an account manager at the Davies Murphy Group, a marketing firm, isn't sure where the phrase started, but he'd like for its use to stop: "Expenses come out of pockets, quarterbacks come out of the pocket, but Johnny, well he'll just be plain unavailable or out of the office."

"Take It To The Next Level"
In theory, this means to make something better. In practice, "the phrase means absolutely nothing," says Laurent Duperval, who runs an eponymous consulting company in Quebec. "Nobody knows what the next level actually looks like, so how am I supposed to know when I've reached it?" (For ways of actually measuring what's going on at your company, check out: "Nine Enlightening Business-Performance Metrics.")

This word has come to mean everything from the traditional way to solve a mathematical proof to a suite of efficiency-enhancing software--and it is perhaps the epitome of lingual laziness. Says Glen Turpin, a communications consultant: "It usually refers to a collection of technologies too abstract or complex to describe in a way that anyone would care about if they were explained in plain English."

And A Few More, While We're At It…

Utilize: "Use" will do. Tee it up: Not without a caddy. Circle back: We prefer straight lines, or just an appointment to talk again in the future. Synergize: What?! Let's talk "around" that: This is what politicians do. Those who aim to accomplish something must talk about things.

How to Turn Around a Demoralized, Underperforming Group by Steve Tobak

Fantastic writeup about what can erode group performance, and the steps you can take to correct it ... or at the very least, address it. 

For every highly motivated and high-performing workplace group, you’ll find one that’s demoralized and demotivated. No, I don’t have data to support that statement, but it’s a reasonable hypothesis based on decades of experience. And during these tough economic times, it’s probably an understatement.
Regardless of the shape of our economy, sometimes entire departments, divisions, or groups can become demoralized, unproductive, and ineffective. In my experience, it comes down to this: in every company, there are unloved groups that, for a variety of reasons, get the shaft. This phenomenon is usually the result of some combination of five factors:
  1. The group is not a key revenue or profit center, has been devalued due to a merger or change in strategy, or is an expense or administrative support function
  2. The company’s specific type of business or its DNA
  3. The CEO “just doesn’t get” what the group does or, perhaps, why it exists at all
  4. Incompetent management incapable of managing up: educating, promoting, and politicking for the function; or worse: overpromising and under-delivering
  5. The group actually performs poorly, resulting in a justified bad reputation
For example, in the high tech industry, engineering and even IT groups can be revered while perceived “soft” functions like marketing and HR can be left out in the cold. Sales is a tossup, mostly depending on factors 2 and 3.     
Sometimes one or two factors lead to others. Factor 4 can lead to 5 via the Peter Principle. Incompetent group management can influence CEO behavior, and vice versa. And poor performance, unchecked, can lead to a bad reputation, reinforcing poor group morale.    
Maybe it’s Karma or because I like to fix things, but for whatever reason, I’ve taken over quite a few demoralized groups. Each time I learned a bit more, resulting in a methodology that actually works:
5 Step Process For Turning Around a Demoralized, Underperforming Group
  1. Understand how it got that way. Take the time to meet one-on-one with key executives, stakeholders, and of course, your staff. Ask the tough, leading questions and make sure you get honest, non-sugarcoated answers by assuring confidentiality.
  2. Pick your team. Not only the “keepers,” but who needs to go once you’ve determined you can’t turn them around. Round out your team with key new hires. “Feed” your lieutenants with encouragement, team building, and most importantly, showing your confidence in them by making them responsible and holding them accountable.  
  3. Begin the process of rebuilding the group’s reputation within the company. Once you know executive management’s and key stakeholder’s “hot buttons” and have your team ready to go, you can begin a sort of turnaround process that includes the following.
  4. Set challenging but achievable goals and expectations with specific metrics and rally your team to meet them. This is critical to gaining credibility and beginning to turn around perception and morale. At the same time, educate executive management and key stakeholders on the group’s value proposition. 
  5. Once you begin to gain some credibility traction by meeting expectations and showing the group’s value to the company, you can begin to manage up, promote the group, and vie for resources more aggressively. The entire 5-step process, if well executed start to finish, takes a year or two.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What are the best practices for selecting, building, and engaging effective virtual teams?

I'd suggest you take a look at - they have a number of checklists, templates and guidelines on how to set up, manage and delegate responsibilities with geographically dispersed teams. The first link below is to their virtual teams area, which has links to various virtual team papers, checklists, etc., on the site. And specifically related to your mention of the selection process, the second link is a paper on selecting, getting 'aligned' in several key areas, and staying that way. (This paper is a free Member resource which requires a quick registration - but worth the few minutes to do so, in my experience using things from this site.) Some of the other virtual team resources listed at the first link may be part of their Premium subscription, but if any of those look interesting (in answer to your questions), there's a free trial that lets you get to Premium content for a couple of weeks at no charge. Finally, the third link is a totally open access short article on some practices to consider in building virtual teams. As to your question about what is the most difficult phase of dealing with virtual teams, I personally believe it is the kickoff off the project. That paper I mentioned above has a section with some recommendations for exactly how to do kickoff steps with virtual teams.

How could we use social communication channels to better leverage opportunities for change within organizations?

This question was originally posted on, my favorite of the Big 3 Social Networks, and brought back to mind several events I personally experienced in corporate that could have benefited by the open and social networks that exist today.  Unlike previous decades, today's companies have a broad selection of tools to keep their employees, stockholders, shareholders, customers and vendors "in the know" during transitions and internal changes that should be used liberally. Nothing undermines corporate morale more than uncertainty and unknowing.  Nothing will undermine consumer confidence than that of silence or a vacuum.  Today's marketers can make use of all these tools to actually use change and transition to their advantage.  Use of organic online conversations using social networks, blogs, micro blogs, messageboards, podcasts and the like should be employed liberally.  The following was my response.

Professionally speaking, one of the most disturbing things about M&A's and organizational changes (in the "old days") was the lack of knowledge within the rank & file. The void that accompanied the cloud of change would make the most seasoned professional uneasy - and now companies, particularly Human Resources, have tools that can keep employees "in the fold" so to speak. No longer are people relying on the water cooler chit chat to field questions, or dread wondering what discussions behind closed doors would yield. The vacuum that once fed, even encouraged misconceptions, supposition, or totally erroneous assumptions can be mitigated. This is also ideal for keeping the client or customer involved - assuaging concerns of instability or disconnection from its base. It is how companies use these new tools that is the challenge. Will they use them effectively to 'include' their people - their customers and their vendors in touch. Let's hope so. All of these social and new medias enable the C-suite to communicate more effectively than ever before. Let's hope they use them wisely.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Do you define who you are by what you do?

How much value do you attach to your job title - how well does it reflect your level of influence.  Years ago, a friend said something I found worthy of remembering.  I had been asked to speak to a C-level on behalf of other more-senior managers because even though my level of 'authority' was limited, they felt my level of 'influence' was great.

When I questioned that assertion, she used the following analogy (and this conversation took place during the administration of Ronald Reagan). "While Donald Regan may have a great deal of authority, he has very little influence; Nancy Reagan, on the other hand, while having no authority, has unlimited influence.

So my question is - do you consider yourself influential and do you use that influence to help others?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Core Value Statement

Still musing about C-Levels and the conversation about success.  Attributes, skills and talent surely do make up a hefty portion of what I call The Success Equation and then there are the values.  Are they ethical?  Are they trustworthy?  I watched a company slowly be destroyed through bad decisions, and bad juju.  It took more than 20 years.  The company had some of the industry's best minds and talent (who are incredibly successful today) - and a totally unique culture that survived multiple acquisitions and management-team changes.  After a while, many of us looked to senior management as rotational.  We all worked and did our jobs despite whoever was occupying corner offices.  I knew I had my fill when I looked at a VP and said, "Let me understand this... I need to teach you what I do for this company, so you can tell me if I do it well?"...  Oh yeah, time to make a change. 

Want to Move Up? Learn to Manage Like a CEO

I read this article, and I laughed out loud.  I established pretty good relationships with a lot of CEO's, in my 30+ years of working .... and I happen to agree with all that Steve Tobak said, and those who added their comments.  They were all good observations and recommendations.  I even have a few of my own (based on my experience).  The C-level executives that I have admired in my life, listenedReally listened.  I enjoyed a unique position.  Almost along the lines of a confidant to several.  They earned my trust, and I earned theirs.  I didn't tell them what they wanted to hear - I told them what they needed to hear. Sometimes I was even a little disrespectful.  But now let me tell all you CEO's and C-Levels another side you need to know about.  Once you gain the respect and the loyalty ... don't break it, or deceive it.  In addition to working with several CEO's that I truly admired, there were those who broke the trust.  Who feathered their nest and their cronies... who never really cared about the company or the people who made up that company. To truly be successful, you must establish a trust - and that trust - flows right through the organization and into your customer's mind.  It's called Brand Trust and it starts with you.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

LESSONS LEARNED - Event Management - ADA compliance

If you want to be sure a property is ADA compliant - do a site inspection in a wheelchair, especially the sleeping rooms.  Make sure you can reach the outlets, the phone, open the dresser drawers, open the closet - where is the iron?  Try to sit on the toilet - reach the sink - get the towels.  Find out the dimensions of the largest wheelchair - and see if the doorway into the room is wide enough; then look at the space between the bed and the wall... how about light fixtures... where are the switches.  How about that thermostat?  Where is it?  How high?

It's better if dressers do not have drawers, if all electrical is easily accessible by drop switches, if internet connections are not under a desk or on the wall above the desk or lamp... sinks need to be usable and faucets within reach.  They need to have access to and use of all the features in that room

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why are companies scared of Social Media?

“I don't think it is a fear-factor, as much as a question of making a commitment to use and master the new media as part of a communications platform. Once upon a time, companies planned for quarterly, semi-annually, monthly, weekly or annual campaigns. Now, the new dynamics have us thinking on our feet - daily. Taking the plunge requires dedicated resources who can keep the information fresh, consistent and responsive. It's a living media platform. No one should be afraid... it's dynamic.”

What marketing process is most effective for a junior marketing team to learn?

“One of the keys to getting a young team up and running quickly - is by giving them the information and resources that enable them to work alone, or know what questions need to be asked and who to ask.

During the time I have worked with start-ups and small companies, one of my techniques has been to create Rules of Engagement and Key Processes and Practices Guidelines. This is particularly valuable when socialized across an organization. If none exists, while a team is going through the program process, they have the opportunity to document real-time, what it takes in the current organization.

This enables the team to know other departments and how they impact Marketing's specific objective, their role in working with Marketing, what information they can provide and details the working relationships between the departments.

Standardizing materials removes the mystery and lessens the need for executive involvement through the project, except for project review meetings and an "as-needed" basis. Early practices in assigning and delegating projects should include a department kick-off meeting where marketers understand the project summary and objectives, target dates, company sponsors or key participants, resources, budgets, etc. If it is a campaign - they would have guidelines that detail a program from inception through to execution and implementation, along with milestones and checklists.

Guidelines should define types of program development, the elements, the timetables, turnaround, program participants, etc. This type of control not only informs, it helps establish a level of expectation, and if done early in an organization, will grow and expand as the company does. Most importantly, this type of knowledge share enhances efficiency and expediency by reducing (or eliminating) guesswork. I started this practice in administration, and carried it over into management.”

Is Social Media the New Grail?

“New Grail? No. I see the new medias as a higher octave marketing tool; very fluid, living, and real-time. It provides a fabulous tool for the marketer to get in depth information on prospects, clients and competitors. It reduces (if not totally eliminates) the distance that previously existed between a company and its market, and enhances the opportunity to create truly targeted marketing and gather real-time client knowledge FAST. For illustration, think about how we developed relationships in the 70, 80's and 90's.

In my case, we had what was called a "Customer Visit Program". This was a sales tool for both prospects and customers. If an Account Executive wanted to have a prospect or client visit corporate, they had to show detailed reason why this visit was needed - the purpose of the visit and their level of knowledge concerning this prospect or customer's needs. It was my job to pull together all of the internal talent, i.e. product development and engineering, customer support and the executives in the corner offices.

No two visits were the same. The CVP was a valued investment on the part of the company and treated respectfully. In advance of the visit - in addition to providing backgrounds on the company, the key individuals who were coming in, their specific areas of responsibility and expertise, the history with us or our competitors, what our objective was, what our competitors were doing, what sites could we bring them to demonstrate - real time - our products and capabilities - we met with each of the corporate participants. If it was an international organization or government ministry - we learned about the culture, the protocols and differentiators.

We provided Executive Briefings - and the corporate representatives understood what was expected of them and the significance of their presence and credibility at the table.

The new medias make this type of knowledge gather-and-share painless - literally abbreviating the process and has increased the volume on knowing your market, prospect, client or competition. It further enhances a company to speak in the vernacular of their audience - and leaves little wiggle room for not knowing your market and the perception of you and your product. This is a good thing.”

Everybody wants to be a Pepper...

Dr.Pepper is considered a new media success (based on the referenced article). Using social media advertising correctly.

Succession & Sustainability Planning - What's the Problem???

I've been an advocate of succession planning even before I knew I was. I would always put projects, or even my corporate function, into a handbook. My attitude was "if I get hit by a truck, someone needs to be able to pick up a book and know what I was working on, and what has to be done." That's when I also adopted the expression "The stations of the cross may be a mystery, but your job shouldn't be." So now I am researching succession planning - and sustainability. Mentoring your replacement, blah blah blah.
I worked with a lot of people who thought what I advocated threatened job security. I watched how people would scamper about to figure out what a former employee was working on - or what had to be done. What projects were at risk, and so on. Which might also explain why I'm still seeing how companies are struggling with succession planning and sustainability models -- it may inherently present an internal conflict to a culture that nurtures secrecy helps job security. "The need me" mentality.
Anyway, in my research, I came across a paper "Succession Planning & Management and Leadership Sustainability Through Professional Learning Communities" by WB Hall. It's a terrific 6 page paper that I'd be happy to send you, and while it was written for academia -- the essence and message is just as applicable to the business community and a great message for aspiring leaders. Oh, and I'd like to share a great line from it...

"As educational leaders, we have heard there are no Silver Bullets; or if such bullets do exist, they certainly do not work, are too costly, or are too impractical. I maintain a few Silver Bullets do exist. The problem has always been that we simply have never had a gun capable of firing any of them." WBHall, 2007.

Great line.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Welcome to RGS Business Solutions

Welcome to the inaugural blog of RGS Business Solutions.  As marketing generalists - our interests are about everything Marketing - from the concept/model/vision and user experiences to graphic creation and visual manifestation.  We're committed to doing more, with less... and are always looking for best practices and time savers.  We're also vocal advocates of using social and new media in the mix.  So, we'll share tips and articles (so please check back here often), and if you have a tip you want to share...please do. 

Sincere best regards,