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?