Rapid Growth Causes Overwhelm

Rapid growth causes overwhelm, especially for small business owners who haven’t taken the time to plan in advance. They set up their business and start the marketing without any road map for growth. Then as new business opportunities come their way, they step up to meet that demand, until one day they realize they have no time for anything else. They are overwhelmed and putting out fires.Stress and overwhelm caused by rapid growth

I’ve been meeting with a business owner who suffers from rapid growth and no plan to manage that growth. He wants my help with the company’s social media marketing. But the owner keeps missing meetings. He’s constantly putting out fires that get in the way of finalizing an agreement with me. His company has grown so fast, he is trying to serve his customers, take on new jobs, and cover all the bases ….without any office staff.

The business has grown beyond the point where the owner can handle all the back office work – accounting, payroll, taxes, hiring and training – as well as work in the business. Until he gets organized and hires one or more people to run the business operations, he likely isn’t ready for my marketing help.

He has established offices in several locations across the US and is in the process of training staff to manage the local work at those locations. Simultaneously the business regularly gets new projects to take on since it has successfully become the exclusive resource recommended by several realtors in the business owner’s headquarters location. Without staff, he has to serve those customers.

Meanwhile, he also handles back office paperwork and staff training, in addition to marketing and local community involvement. He’s understandably overwhelmed and things are falling through the cracks.

Does this sound familiar? Is your business suffering from rapid growth?

Marketing is not the issue here. Getting yourself organized and hiring at least one other person to handle the back office stuff is the key. If this resonates with you, it’s time to take a step back and analyze what’s happening in your business and the steps you need to take to rectify the situation. This is lesson 101 in Michael Gerber’s book The E-Myth.

Step One – decide what you really want from the business. First, write down the broad goals you want for the business. Then, begin working backward to today following the next steps. Look back at where you started and where you are today. Have you achieved the initial outcomes you set for yourself? Perhaps it’s time to set new outcomes, or a new target to reach for a year down the road.

Step Two – once you set that new target, identify the critical goals you need to achieve in order to reach the new target and how you are going to measure your progress toward those goals. These should include staffing and delegation, financial goals, community involvement, perhaps even head office relocation. Perhaps it’s time to move into a larger space that also affords you storage space for all the business materials you use.

Step Three – look again at your current situation and how stressed you are. What is and isn’t working right now? Analyze your own strengths and weaknesses as a business owner. What do you enjoy most about running the business? What do you enjoy the least? What do you do well and what tasks do you not do well? These will help you begin to see areas where you can delegate once you find and hire the right people to take on these tasks. This will add to the payroll. However, if you don’t do this, you may find your company retracting rather than growing. You have reached the point where you either choose to grow or you lose ground. Companies can’t remain static they must continually adapt and change. There is always someone else ready to move into your territory and take over. You need to get yourself organized and learn to delegate to staff and/or outside contractors so you can spend most of your time working ON your business rather than IN it.

Step Four – Look at the new outcome(s) you want to achieve a year or more down the road. Look at the goals you set in order to achieve those outcomes. Then take a look at your current situation and what is and isn’t working. You should see some areas which become the key strategies to focus on in order to keep growing in an organized fashion and reach the new outcomes. They may include:

Staffing/training:  Hiring a COO take over the operational details of running the business, and coordinating the operations at the various locations.

Financial:  Outsourcing your financial management, bookkeeping and tax management tasks so you can focus on doing what you enjoy and do best.

Marketing: Outsourcing your marketing and social media efforts to keep your business top of mind and maintain customer satisfaction.

New offices: Relocating out of the small office or even home office may now be necessary, especially as you contemplate hiring a COO, a bookkeeper or CFO, and/or marketing staff.

Rapid growth can be managed with planning.

Planning frees you up to manage your business. You need to spend your time focused on the long range outcomes for the business, maintaining community connections, and ensuring your staff  is delivering the quality service you demand for your customers.

Your job is now to provide the checks and balances to ensure everyone is doing the right kind of work towards achieving those targets you set. In fact, keep in mind that the primary job of leaders is planning and managing change. Some of your tasks will include:

  • Holding periodic meetings to get updates from everyone on what is working well and what isn’t, and make joint decisions about resolutions to any problems or challenges that arise.
  • Keeping people accountable for doing work that ties directly to the critical goals you’ve set in order to achieve those future outcomes.
  • Monitoring external factors and changes in the marketplace, the economy and your industry that could affect your company’s progress towards achieving its future outcomes.

The result is that you’ll be better organized, happier, and less stressed. Things will stop falling through the cracks. You’ll be able to make and keep commitments. Your customers will be more satisfied. Your staff will more satisfied and goal-oriented. You’ll have a team that is pulling together in the same direction, instead of trying to do things on their own without direction, and delivering less than excellent service. You’ll have a much better chance of actually achieving those new future outcomes for your business. It won’t be without its own challenges. Things will occur that may derail your progress, but if you revert back to these steps and stay focused on the key strategies and goals, you’ll get yourself back on track quickly.

Cultural Awareness Often Overlooked

Cultural awareness is often overlookedCultural awareness is often overlooked despite the drive toward building a multi-racial workforce. The focus on culture often does not address ethnicity. More and more both organizational culture and ethnic culture are intertwined as companies hire more multicultural staff to better serve their communities. What happens too frequently is that little thought is given to how well employees of different ethnic backgrounds will assimilate into the largely Anglo, male dominated US organizational culture, or how well the existing predominantly Anglo staff will accept and/or work with these multicultural team members. How many companies provide cross-cultural training for their staffs rather than simply expecting the individuals to sink or swim on their own?

In the planning community, there’s a great deal of discussion about culture – but it refers to the organizational climate, the way employees are expected to behave in pursuing the organizational objectives.

Perhaps the Anglo/American approach to pursuing these objectives doesn’t mesh with the ethnic culture of some of the staff. It may be a subtle refusal to act a certain way, to ask questions in a meeting, or to share opinions. Performance may lag because the individual doesn’t have enough information to do the work or thinks there’s a better way, but his or her culture dictates that it isn’t appropriate to question a superior. Rather than assume the individual is disinterested or incapable of performing the tasks assigned to them, the manager should take time to meet one-on-one and ask questions. This will help get to the root of the issue at hand.

Some people are able to overcome their personal cultural attitudes and adapt to the culture of the predominant group. Over time, their very ethnicity becomes less an issue as they develop a persona that transcends all ethnic groups. They become role models for the rest of us. Examples include:

Oprah Winfrey, while a role model for African Americans is also a role model for all women.
U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, is a role model for Hispanic women proving they, too, can achieve greatness.
Cheech Marin and Sara Ramirez, while representing the Latino community, also break the boundaries of their ethnicity on screen and in television.
Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera have successfully broken across cultural boundaries.

And leadership in US government is becoming increasingly multicultural. Condoleezza Rice, as Secretary of State to the George W. Bush presidency, was the highest ranking African American woman in US government. And most recently, we have had an African American president and first lady in the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama, in particular, is a role model for not only African American women but for young women in general.

More and more television programs feature multi-racial families, as well as multi-racial casts. This has helped to bring cultural awareness into American households. From Latinos to African Americans to Asians, we are seeing them interact with one another both on the job and off. Over time this begins to color viewer attitudes towards ethnic differences, both in positive and  negative ways.

Does anyone remember the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton? Remember how controversial that movie was showing an interracial couple (Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton)? Now we don’t even blink at the concept. We see Asian/Anglo couples (Hawaii 50) Latino/African American relationships (Rosewood), and other interracial combinations on television and it just seems normal. Even television ads reflect this cultural awareness, not only in the actors but also in the language and dress used.

Despite these examples, some still find it difficult to adjust. Instead of building bridges across ethnic lines, they alienate not only the Anglo community but also their own culture. They flaunt their Latino or  Black or Middle Eastern culture, with an attitude and language that are off-putting, using their ethnicity as an excuse for bad behavior, rudeness, and inappropriate social graces. What’s worse, they aren’t coached about how their behavior affects their co-workers. It is detrimental to not only themselves and their career mobility, but to the cultural group they represent. Their behavior reflects poorly on their ability to become part of the team in which they work because they alienate their team members.

A lack of cultural awareness or consideration on the part of leadership, and inertia to address a real internal as well as external employee problem, can destroy the very goal the company is trying to accomplish. As we frequently hear, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” and in this case it’s ethnic culture affecting employee attitudes and behavior.

Here is an 8-step process for developing a rich, multicultural workforce that works together as a team instead of in factions working against one another:

Step 1   Smart Start Planning. First, determine the future vision of what the workforce should be. This starts at the executive leadership level and includes key stakeholders throughout the organization who can influence the success or failure of the “people management plan”. This will result in an inspirational statement describing where the organization wishes to be positioned to maximize its people as a competitive advantage. This also includes a description of the respective roles of senior management, line management, employees, and the Human Resources function in contributing to organizational success.

Step 2  Key Success Measures. Identify the high-level quantifiable outcome measures (key people success measures) that will be used to measure employee success in adding value to customers, shareholders, and the community. Include measures that take into account multicultural issues that must be addressed throughout the organization.

Step 3  Best Practices Assessment.  Evaluate the organization against the “Six People Edge Best Practices”, developed by the Haines Centre for Strategic Planning. Based on extensive research and consulting experience, these Six Best Practice areas are:

  • Acquiring the desired workforce
  •  Engaging the workforce
  • Organizing high performance teams
  • Creating a learning organization
  • Facilitating cultural change
  • Collaborating with stakeholders

Step 4  Strategy Development. Develop core “people management strategies” that are aligned to the direct business needs of the organization’s delivery system, and attuned to developing people’s hearts and minds in support of serving the customer. Both the alignment and attunement strategies should relate closely and support the core strategies of the organization’s overall Strategic Plan. They should also articulate the company’s strategies for developing their multicultural talent, helping them adapt to the organization’s corporate culture, and celebrating its multicultural environment.

Step 5  3-Year Planning. This involves development of actions that outline the key activities for the next three years in support of the core strategies. A three-year lay-out of all needed actions and programs is conducted. Then, these activities are focused down to the top three to four priority “must do” actions for the next year. This leads to the development of a one-year operational plan and budget for each major department. Again, these actions should articulate how each department is addressing multicultural aspects to build and support high performing teams.

Step 6  Plan to Implement. A one-year Implementation Plan is developed here, with the steps, processes, and structures required for successful implementation. This includes how the plan will be communicated and how the change process will be managed and coordinated. The key element is regular follow-up by the Executive/Employee/Leadership Development Boards which are established to ensure a successful implementation throughout the organization. Implementation is everyone’s job, not just the HR department.

Step 7  Implementation. This is the point of actual implementation, change management, completion of tasks and priorities, and periods of adjusting actions as needed during the year. It also involves managing the change process, measuring progress against the key people success measures, and celebrating achievements along the way.

Step 8  Annual Review and Update. The plan must be formally reviewed and updated on an annual basis. The key is to review the entire plan and update the annual priorities, taking into account ongoing changes in the business direction, the environment, and stakeholder expectations. Achievements are recognized and celebrated. Strategies are reviewed, and the three-year plan is updated.

They key to developing high performance teams is to include them in the planning and implementation process. Develop a strength in educating the entire workforce about multicultural differences and similarities. Celebrate the uniqueness of the cultures within the organization’s workforce and highlight them regularly. Make a conscious effort to put multicultural teams together to address organization-wide issues. Team them with a coach experienced in handling multicultural teams so issues can be addressed as they arise. This empowers the employees to see how they contribute to the success of the organization while learning about the similarities and differences of their ethnic counterparts.

Too often organizations forget about including specific ways to address, educate and include the multicultural backgrounds of their workforce, focusing instead on organizational design and workflow. Yet these multicultural backgrounds and experiences influence individual behavior within the organization and the way work gets done. Not recognizing and planning for this can result in misunderstandings, miscommunications, and divisive work environments instead of empowered, goal-oriented teamwork.

Shaping the overall organizational culture to sustain a competitive advantage is a key Best Practice leverage point, and is the job of leadership throughout the organization.

Contact us if you have questions about this. We look forward to your comments.

The CFO Role – Cost Control or Value Added?

By Eric A. Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International

There are some interesting future trends to be tracking regarding the the CFO ROLE and the business domain he/she leads. Technology and in particular shared technology is one of the key drivers in how their role will be changing over the next ten years.

cross fuinctional teamsShared data and cross-functional training give employees and their teams more real-time access to data and the acumen to use the information, they can assess the financial impact themselves, instead of relying on finance to do it for them. The consulting group, Accenture, estimates that by 2020, “more than 80% of traditional finance services will be delivered by cross-functional teams.

Traditional communications and control centers are becoming more nimble and responsive. They are consolidating previously separate in-house financial reporting services such as compliance, treasury and investor relations. This is resulting in task-specific professionals being able to better focus on optimizing their areas of responsibility in support of their company’s strategies.

How is your business reacting to these changing trends? Is your CFO more involved in creating and driving strategy? Are new technological and cross-functional training tools being deployed to stay ahead of the competition? Have your systems become too complex, creating new “siloed” systems? Does your CFO understand how to deliver strategic initiatives through project and program management? Does your organization have the core competencies to transition from transaction-based activities to value-added tasks?

All of this implies a shift to finance teams being more involved in planning and analysis with more advanced digital platforms. A key outcome is reduced complexity, increased productivity and reduced costs.

The strategic impact of these trends significantly affect long-term growth and viability for all types of organizations. As you consider how you might address the challenges of these trends, one valuable solution is to evaluate your organization’s competencies to address these challenges and take steps to improve skill sets, create strong cross-functional capabilities and deploy the needed technological tools.

For further details on this topic you can click here to read an article in CFO magazine.

Build Successful Teams by Improving Your Conversational Capacity

Eric & Jeri Denniston, Denner Group International

Conversational CapacityRecently we attended an afternoon workshop with Craig Weber on the topic of improving your Conversational Capacity to build successful teams. He brought up a recurring topic that we often see when working with teams, boards and organizations overall. The missing piece in many organizations is leaders’ understanding of how to maintain open, balanced dialogue among team members. This also applies to those who are following the leaders. A more open dialogue leads to greater understanding and teamwork.

That doesn’t mean the dialogue can’t be passionate or heated at times. In fact, that’s good. But the goal is to stay in what he calls “the sweet spot” between Minimizing and Winning.  What we find useful and different about this “sweet spot” concept, is that it makes it easier to focus when you have that “sweet spot” target.

On the Minimizing side, we tend to shut down, cover up our opinions, ask leading questions or withdraw from any discussions. We do this with our body language as well as our verbal interactions. We may show agreement in the meeting and then afterwards start an email dialogue with colleagues expressing just the opposite viewpoint.

On the Winning side, we want to be right. We raise our voices, get defensive and aggressive. Our speech gets rapid and animated and the volume goes way up.

Achieving that “sweet spot” is maximizing Conversational Capacity. Among the tips Craig mentioned that we see working best are building skills in candor and curiosity. Candor to ensure you are being understood clearly and doing so by dissenting with respect when appropriate. Curiosity to ensure you are seeking the root cause of problems or issues and not pre-judging. Another tip we liked is to keep a journal of triggers that take you far into Minimizing or Winning and away from the “sweet spot”.

The skills involved in achieving high Conversational Capacity can be fun to practice in work teams and can yield rapid and good results, improving team performance.

If you would like to learn more please contact us.

Digital tools modernize change management

Our line of work in creating strategic plans, coaching executives and managers through implementation, and change management in their organizations is constantly under pressure. there is an ever-present desire to find ways to simplify how it’s done, and shorten the time frame in achieving measurable results.

Business leaders resist the amount of work and time typically devoted to creating and updating strategic plans. The increasing pace of change in our business environment throws monkey wrenches into our well-laid plans. Yes, we are always seeking that silver bullet that will magically keep our plans on track, shorten the time frame to success, and basically keep everyone happy and productive.

Intuitively I know no such silver bullet exists, but in my own continual search for it, I occasionally come across a nugget, not a bullet, like this one that might actually help me and my clients.

An article from McKinsey by Boris Ewenstein, Wesley, Smith and Ashvin Sologar titled Changing Change Management, provides a compelling insight about one strategic element common to some recent successful change efforts.

Two clear challenges

The McKinsey article’s sub-title mentions two clearly visible issues or challenges for implementing change:
1) “Research tells us that most change efforts fail.”
2) “Yet change methodologies are stuck in a pre-digital era.”

The article’s main premise is that our traditional approach to change management is outdated and that using digital tools is the key to modernizing that approach. Aha! I say. While digital tools are not a new nugget for me, I did reap some new insights on the approaches to implementing those tools for more effective change management.

It has not occurred overnight but we have seen global companies that are now clear industry leaders disrupting their industries, experiencing astronomical growth and generally, success. Amazon, Uber and Facebook come to mind as examples of those who have employed digital tools to create their footprint in the world of business.

The McKinsey article mentions some of the digital tools many companies have employed and all have one thread in common. It is the result of closer, more rapid communication with their customers primarily and their other stakeholders as well. All brought about by the use of digital tools. That communication is now rich with data, tons of data, and not just junk data. Useful data that drives better, faster and more focused responses to fix problems and leverage successes.

Out with the old?

Does this mean we toss out our traditional methods and approaches for planning and executing change initiatives? I say no. We still need the training, practice, and discipline involved in the planning retreats, applying the best practices we can uncover for leading and managing people and for ensuring sustained continuous improvement in everything we do. Only now we must apply these digital tools to accomplish that faster, better and create more lasting change in our organizations.

I know I can’t tackle rewiring my home’s electrical system on my own without training in basic and advanced principles and practices. But, possibly, I can get that training faster with digital training tools. However, the practice is essential to prevent a disaster to myself or others, so a wise move would be to apprentice the work. Likewise, I know a business can’t avoid the work required to create long term plans and deliberately create the processes and systems to support the resulting change initiatives. They can only enhance the speed of achieving results and sustaining those results with the digital tools mentioned in the McKinsey article.

In our business, we are using more and more digitally-based communications with our clients, such as webinars, online courses, feedback resources, and more regular communication. We are still working on finding more effective touch points that are not intrusive. These all involve changes in practices and the culture of our business, just as it does for everyone else.

Why we have too few women leaders

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg looks at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions — and offers 3 powerful pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite. Women Leaders systematically underestimate their own abilities.

She focuses on three things women must do in order to stay in the workforce and make it to the C-suite.

  1. Sit at the table
  2. Make your partner a real partner
  3. Don’t leave before you leave

Feedback Moments can Lead to Root Cause Solutions

One of the things we talk about in our practice is the importance of accepting, and in fact, seeking out feedback, both positive and negative. Without feedback, you have no idea of how your project, idea, or behavior is impacting others. Feedback is also an important part of your strategic plan, for without it, you don’t know if you’re progressing down the right paths to achieve your future desired outcomes.

What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall GoldsmithMarshall Goldsmith, in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, talks about looking for feedback moments as a method for improving your personal behavior. Here are some of the ways he suggests to get feedback by paying close attention to how others react to you both verbally and physically.

1. Make a list of people’s casual remarks about you. For one day, write down all the comments you hear people make about you, both positive and negative. At the day, review the list to see if there are areas you need to address. Do this for a week, both at work and at home and see if there is a pattern that you need to change.

2. Turn the sound off. When you enter a meeting, observe everyone as though you couldn’t hear them. What are they doing? Where are they sitting relative to you? Do they make eye contact with you? Look for the subtle behaviors that might be obscured by their voices. Get to meetings early so you can see where people sit and how they acknowledge you when they enter the room. This will give you important feedback about what they think of you and areas where you may need to improve your interpersonal skills.

3. Complete the sentence. Pick one area where you want to improve; then list the positive benefits you’ll get by improving in that area. This method will help you get at the root cause of the behavior you want to change. The first few sentences will be more corporately focused or correct, but by the time you get to the fifth or sixth sentence, you’ll start to get at the heart of the issue. Keep doing this until you have no more sentences to complete.

Getting at the root cause of a problem

This last exercise is an excellent one to do with a team when problem-solving an issue. Go around the room and have each person complete the sentence, writing each one down on a flip chart. Continue doing so until everyone runs out of sentences to complete. Then review the sentences and see if there is a pattern or theme that is actually the root cause of the problem.

Once you’ve identified the root cause, you can begin to work on resolving the problem by asking, so it this is the root cause, what do we need to do to change it? Ask each person for ideas and write them on a white board or flip chart. Prioritize the answers in terms of 1) what can be done immediately, 2) what can be done in the next 3-6 months, and 3) what can be done in a year. If there are costs associated with the solutions the team has chosen, identify them, or assign someone to research what the costs will be.

Focus first on what can be done immediately; identify specific tasks for each solution, and assign a person to lead each one. Once the most pressing solutions are completed, focus on the next list of those that will take 3-6 months to complete, and so.

This way you have identified the root cause of a problem, the solutions to resolve it, and taken action to create change.

Desired State vs. Vision

Takeaways: Desired State and Vision are two powerful tools for helping to build cohesive teams. The subtle differences can be used effectively depending on the situation.

The other day I was coaching a friend about what can be done in the shortest amount of time to help her build a cohesive board. I suggested that having everyone agree on the future Desired state would help to build unity. It’s a small non-profit that funds the un-sexy need of school bus transportation so children can experience music, dance, art and science as part of their education.

Many board members are new to being on a board. The organization is not well-funded, everyone volunteers their time and skills, and most of the funds raised go to funding the bus transportation. There are no clearly defined roles and everyone just pitches in to do things. This has created ineffective communication, duplication of efforts, and finger pointing, with everyone turning to my friend to solve the problems and answer all questions.

I suggested to her that two of the most important things they could do were to get agreement on what and how the organization wants to BE a year down the road, their Desired State, and to clarify roles. Clarifying roles she understood. But she wasn’t clear about what I meant by Desired State. I explained that it’s similar to a Vision. That she understood.

That got me thinking about the distinction between the two. It’s subtle, but very powerful. This has become clearer after proofing my friend Timi Gleason’s re-write of her book, Coach as Strategic Partner. In it she describes effortlessly what a desired state is, and how to turn tactical conversations into strategic ones when they get mired down in details (Look for it soon under a new title.)

Desired State is a future state of BE-ing vs. DO-ing according to Timi. When you describe a Desired State you talk about it as though it’s already happened. You’ve already accomplished this. You incorporate all five senses –sight, feelings, sound, touch, and taste – to describe what it’s like to stand in that future situation.

Vision is a powerful magnet that draws you forward. It’s a possible Desired State to which you aspire. It sits in the future as something you are working towards. It’s the carrot held in front of your nose to keep you moving forward towards the goal.

With a Desired State, you see yourself already there. Once you write it down, you put it aside and let your subconscious actions start working to help you achieve that. You don’t need to think about it because it’s already done. You’re there. You act as though you’ve already accomplished that state. Team members begin to work more collaboratively from the perspective, ”If we’ve already accomplished this Desired State, then for this to be reality, Sales needs to be meeting regularly with Marketing, and Marketing needs to give IT sufficient lead time to prepare the technology, etc.” And it all just begins to happen – like magic.

rainbow handshakeWith a Vision, you hold that before you always as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that you are striving to get to. All your strategies and actions are held up against that Vision as a measuring stick. “Will this event, activity or effort help us get to that pot of gold? If not, we don’t do it.”

The team is still firmly planted in today but each member keeps that vision of the pot of gold as a beacon to work toward. Conversations are easier with less finger pointing because everyone has agreed on the path to the pot of gold. There is no blame when the only question to ask is “how will that effort help us reach the pot of gold?”

Both are powerful tools for helping to build cohesive teams. Depending on the issues at hand and the personalities involved, sometimes using a Vision is more effective than using a Desired State. An organization may actually use both. The Vision may be the over-arching goal of the organization – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Desired State is different for each department and even for each issue or challenge being faced, AND it also supports the overall Vision of the organization.

In fact, as Timi so eloquently describes in her book, every situation can be addressed by asking what’s the Desired State? That turns any conversation from a tactical one into a strategic one.

What are your thoughts on the distinction between Desired State and Vision?

Effective communication is key

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

Excerpts from Eric Barker’s column, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, Time.com
I have long believed that most problems in work and life are due to in-effective communication. What one person says and what is actually heard and interpreted by the listener are often two different things. When neither one checks to make sure the communication was properly understood, problems occur. Sometimes, they’re just small irritations. But other times, this ineffective communication can lead to major misdirection of efforts and even costly mistakes.

In his column Eric Barker provides 10 tips to ensure your communication is clear and well understood.

“Unless you speak the language of your intended audience, you won’t be heard by the people you want to reach.” In other words, you need to know how they interpret certain words. They’re past experience and cultural background may change the entire meaning of what you intended.

“Be as brief as possible… The most memorable political language is rarely longer than a sentence: I Like Ike”. Too often we drone on in an effort to be clear when all we’re doing is creating more confusion or telling someone how to do something instead of just asking to be sure they understand how to do the project.

“The words you use become you — and you become the words you use.” Always speak the truth. People will eventually find out if you’ve been hiding information or telling only part of the story to change its tone and meaning. Be truthful and open in your communications.

“By the time we begin to recognize and remember a particular message, it has already been changed… “The breakfast of champions” tagline for Wheaties was first launched back in 1935 and is still going today. Hallmark’s “When you care enough to send the very best” debuted in 1934.” Consistency is the key to everything. Companies that change their tag lines every year lose recall value. If it’s working, stick with the same message, otherwise you will confuse your audience and they’ll forget about you.

Novelty: offer something new
“In plain English, words that work often involve a new definition of an old idea… What matters most is that the message brings a sense of discovery. Wow. I never looked at it like that!” Enough said.

Sounds and texture
“A string of words that have the same first letter, the same sound, or the same syllabic cadence is more memorable than a random collection of sounds.” The word coined by Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins is a good example. It’s memorable because of the cadence: supercalifragilisticexpialidotious.

Speak aspirationally
“Personalize and humanize the message to trigger an emotional remembrance.” Tell a personal story as an example of the message you’re trying to convey. If it’s emotional it will be more memorable. When working with clients to create a vision, we often tell the story of the janitor who was asked what he was doing. His response was, “I’m putting a man on the moon.” Now that’s a vision!

“Paint a vivid picture. The slogans we remember have a visual component, something we can almost see and feel or hear.” The prior example does just this. You can see the space ship soaring towards the moon.

Ask a question
“Sometimes it’s not what you say but what you ask that really matters.” Verizon’s Can you hear me now? is such a memorable tag line. We remember it because we ask this question almost daily when talking with someone on our mobile phones.

Context and relevance
“Give people the “why” of a message before you tell them the “therefore” and the “so that.” Most of us need to understand why we’re being asked to do something. We want to know there’s a greater purpose and how we contribute to that. It’s a motivating factor, as many studies have shown.

Watch the Daniel Pink Ted Talk video on The Puzzle of Motivation for more insights about what motivates us.
Daniel Pink -  The Puzzle of Motivation


Texting is teaching bad grammar

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Spelling and grammar are important. Computers and texting have changed how we communicate. We’re raising a generation of people who don’t spell or use proper sentence construction and think it’s OK.

IBM Selectric typewriterRemember the IBM Selectric or the portable typewriter? Those of us who remember typewriters learned to add two spaces after every period and to hit the return key at the end of a line to prevent the typewriter from running off the right side of the page. Remember that? Or are you among the generation who is saying “what’s a typewriter?” The personal computer with its ability to wrap text onto the next line changed all that. It also changed the need to add two spaces after the period. In fact, that is now considered “old school” and incorrect, but I still see this issue cropping up.

Other punctuation errors I see all the time are highlighted in this article on the Kaye/Bassman blog (www.kbic.com), “17 Punctuation Mistakes That Can Make You Look Really Bad.”

It’s not that I’m perfect, but in my early days I was a journalist; and then I worked at a newspaper where the written word and how it’s used is a critical form of communication. I was always a good speller and learned to proofread so errors just jump out at me.

While I love technology and all the functionality it brings, I’m bothered by the new culture I see around me. Smart phone apps and texting are creating an entire generation that has not learned the art of communication – either face-to-face or in writing. They gather together and instead of talking with one another, they text. And they’re sitting side-by-side!

Texting is a great tool. It’s a way to quickly let someone know where you are or to communicate an important or friendly message. Because it’s usually done on a phone, it lends itself to shortcuts. Consequently, an entire new alphabet has emerged for texting. But you don’t use this language in business communication…not if you want to be understood by your peers and your superiors. Yet, some of these texting words show up in papers, memos and emails and on discussion forums.

When do you use she and I or me and her?

I hear this misused all the time, especially on television. Surely the writers know the construction is wrong. You don’t say “me” went to the store. It’s “I” went to the store. Yet somehow the TV writers think it’s fine to say “me and him” or even “him and me” went to the store, when clearly it’s not proper usage. This is one of my pet peeves because television is teaching incorrect grammar.

When do you use “its” versus “it’s”, for example, or “theirs” versus “there’s”? One of the secrets I learned in high school is to convert the abbreviation to “it is”. If it still makes sense in the sentence, then the correct form is “it’s”. “Its” is possessive as in “The cat played with its toy.” You wouldn’t say “The cat played with it is toy.” On the other hand, “It’s cold outside” can also be converted to “It is cold outside” and still make sense.

Theirs and there’s are more difficult is grammar and spelling are not your forté. Theirs is plural possessive as in “the toy is theirs.” “There’s” can be converted to “there is” and if the sentence still makes sense when you say “there is”, then you can also use the conjunction “there’s” as in the Beatles song, “There’s a place”.

Texting has taught us to write in incomplete sentences in the interest of keeping our thumbs from getting too worn out from typing. I even find myself doing this sometimes when responding to emails. Short, to the point, and without the proper sentence construction. It’s okay in some circumstances, but when over-used, it can make you look uneducated.

Then there are the run-on sentences with no punctuation. I see this in many discussion forums. No capitalization no commas or periods you can’t tell where one sentence ends and the other begins and then the thoughts change completely mid-stream which makes it even harder to follow. Did you like that example?

The reality is we have about three seconds to capture someone’s attention. If you make the person work too hard to understand you, they’ll just move on to another website or blog.

Punctuation and spelling matter!

Learn the rules of proper punctuation and spell check your work. MS Word makes it easy. The software even provides a Thesaurus for alternate word choices. Anything underlined in red is considered misspelled or unknown (not in the MS Word dictionary). Anything underlined in green is considered a grammatical error which can be corrected when you run the spell check option under the Review tab. There are plenty of free spelling and grammar checking tools, and many software and browser platforms have them built in. Just remember to use them.

The key is to not sound stuffy and old school. Write the way people speak. But write in short sentences using words that anyone with an 8th grade education would understand. That’s the rule of thumb most journalists use. Only if you’re writing for a specialized industry association journal or publication would you use jargon, industry abbreviations and terminology.

Just keep your audience in mind when you write, and spell-check your work.