One of the workshops I run is business writing for professionals. It’s hard to avoid getting a bit English-101 so we do dabble in some common errors of grammar, syntax & misused or confused words. (Are you disinterested in this topic? I suspect you mean uninterested but hopefully not that either).
I raise a few ‘rules’ of English & the inevitable myriad of exceptions. It’s not for academics or novelists. It’s for practical business communicators concerned with impact, risk & reputation – all of which can be effected (I think you mean affected) by our writing. So, I get the groups to generate their own rules / guidelines / principles for the real world. I’ve done this dozens of times & the results are always similar.
Reading efficiency, consistency, the writer should do the heavy-lifting for the reader, reader centricity, ambiguity is the enemy (97% fat-free & gluten free, anyone?) & my favourite: if in doubt, leave it out. Whom would have a problem with that?
How does your writing measure up?
If you don’t know who Bill Hicks was, you’re clearly not in the comedy business (art?) He is iconic and controversial – a comedians’ comedian. This blog isn’t about comedy though. Why mention him? He spoke up for what he believed and wore a ton of trouble for doing so. He kept on. I’m pretty sure most sensible business commentators / mentors etc would advise strongly against basing your professional communication on the model that was Bill Hicks.
I dunno though. The list below may or may not actually be from Hicks himself. Its one of those urban mythical things. That’s not important; Let’s assume that the principles are his. Have a read of the list. Put yourself in the picture. In your mind, change the references to being on “stage” to being in your market, role, industry, profession, whatever. You might want to change the word “funny” to whatever it is that you’re supposed to be. Change “audience” to “clients” or “customers.”
Go on. Give it a go. See how it makes sense now…
1. If you can be yourself on stage nobody else can be you and you have the law of supply and demand covered.
2. The act is something you fall back on if you can’t think of anything else to say.
3. Only do what you think is funny, never just what you think they will like, even though it’s not that funny to you.
4. Never ask them is this funny – you tell them this is funny.
5. You are not married to any of this shit – if something happens, taking you off on a tangent, NEVER go back and finish a bit, just move on.
6. NEVER ask the audience “How You Doing?” People who do that can’t think of an opening line. They came to see you to tell them how they’re doing, asking that stupid question up front just digs a hole. This is The Most Common Mistake made by performers. I want to leave as soon as they say that.
7. Write what entertains you. If you can’t be funny be interesting. You haven’t lost the crowd. Have something to say and then do it in a funny way.
8. I close my eyes and walk out there and that’s where I start, Honest.
9. Listen to what you are saying, ask yourself, “Why am I saying it and is it Necessary?” (This will filter all your material and cut the unnecessary words, economy of words)
10. Play to the top of the intelligence of the room. There aren’t any bad crowds, just wrong choices.
11. Remember this is the hardest thing there is to do. If you can do this you can do anything.
12. I love my roots. Get to know your family, be friends with them.
More ideas at http://gettingbetterbuyin.com/
Subscribe to the BrainBasedBoss monthly mailout & learn how to get better buy-in
I found a short and snappy graph today about where workplace leaders are supposedly falling short. This is from the US, is a survey of a thousand workers and I haven’t delved into its methodology at all but it might be a conversation starter. It asked employees but it was clearly offering a pre determined list of options – I’m pretty sure someone isn’t going to refer to themselves as a “subordinate.” Myself, most days, I feel at least ordinate.
I’ll probably trial this in the communication workshops I run. I might give my participants that list (without the results) and ask them where they think most managers fall short, or where their own manager falls short, or where they feel they themselves fall short, or all those things. Then reveal the results. To start a conversation.
Pretty shocking that 36% result for bosses not knowing their own employees’ names! (Employees now, not subordinates. Consistency please.) I’m self-employed and I manage to remember my employee’s name.
Gossip is a disease. This article makes several sensible correlations between the spread and effects of behind-backs-chitchat and that of actual disease. In both cases, it is better to catch it and cure it early. I’ll add my own 2-cents’ worth to the imagery – it’s far better to immunize beforehand than ever have to cure anything at all. Prevention better than cure said someone’s grandmother, I’m sure.
WikiHow has its 8-steps to solving office gossip, including such classics as “Know what gossip is” and “don’t participate in it yourself.”
This Forbes article does suggest that it’s really only ‘negative gossip’ you should crack down on while actively encouraging ‘positive gossip.’
The simplest solution would be not to employ people at all. If an organisation has 3 people, it’s going to have (at least) 3 separate gossip streams going at any one time. Best to employ robots. They don’t gossip and can be programmed to take the blame if things go south.
Here’s an entertaining and illuminating interview transcription with a chap who has become a ‘Buzzword’ guru, or perhaps more accurately, an anti-buzzword guru. He moots an inverse relationship between the volume of buzzwords in a workplace and it being conducive to employee engagement. His name is Steele Champion. Awesome.
Here’s a blog post about the dangers of non-specific feedback. The blogger references the work of psychologist Carol Dweck who I also quote in my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ on the subject of fixed versus growth mindsets. Here’s an excerpt:
The work of psychologist Carol Dweck is germane here. What she’s found is that, when children are praised in abstract–“You’re so smart” or “You’re so creative”–rather than concretely about how they improved their performance–“You put in an enormous amount of work, and it paid off”–the feedback is diminished. How come? Because the child takes from the teacher or parent the idea that she is innately smart or creative, and that she doesn’t need to work at it–so she doesn’t.
On the other hand, very specific feedback–especially about something an individual can control–can work wonders.
Quite rightly, the blogger points out that general statements such as ‘Good job’ might make you feel better and make you think that you’re dishing out some positive feedback but it needs to be more than merely positive to be useful and conducive to enhanced productivity. That phrase would need to:
- be said at the time the specific action warranting praise occurred or as immediately afterwards as possible.
- be said to the specific individual performing and controlling the praiseworthy action that you’d like to see more of.
- contain a few more details and expectations than 2 words of generality (what exactly was the bit that was good?)
- some connection to a greater goal, the wider team or higher purpose.
So, here’s some specific feedback to several new Twitter followers I’ve gotten recently – If you’ve only got 17 Twitter followers yourself, best not describe yourself as a ‘social media guru.’
Depressingly but unsurprisingly there may be a gap between what bosses think workers think and what workers actually think, or at least what they say they think.
This article references a couple of surveys making these ‘revelations.’
Supposedly, two out of five employers described staff morale as either ‘high’ or ‘very high.’ A different survey, this time of employees, showed that almost three out of five seemed to have adopted a ‘not bothered’ attitude to work.
Have a read and have a ponder on the implications. To me, one of the fundamental underpinnings of genuine employee engagement is a sense of common purpose and clear shared expectations between everyone involved in the work – be they employer or employee. A lack of that will lead to lower engagement and a subsequent loss of productivity and profitability benefits. The trouble with the results of those UK surveys (if they’re accurate) is not only is there that lack of a sense of common purpose and clear shared expectations between everyone involved in the work but there’s an absence of any meaningful and systemic communication to capture that gap and reduce it.
We shouldn’t be relying on external, averaged and general surveys to tell us what is entirely predictable and, if not avoidable, at least simply mitigated through observation and enquiry.
There’ll always be gaps between perceptions of employers and employees. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them change their spots.
This blog post by Kevin Herring kicks off by referencing the popular definition of insanity often credited to Einstein – that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. (If I’m going to write a blog called ‘The Brain-Based Boss’, it’s only fair that I entertain some metaphors and allegories on mental illness.)
Kevin supplies a great case study from his work with one manager and one high-potential / under-achieving employee. Years of repeated and ineffective ‘pep talks’ took place. They did the same thing over and over again and expected a different result. The boss chose to break the cycle and got a different (and better) result. If you want the details of the happy ending, go read Kevin’s post.
Maybe it’s a potentially great quote or maybe it’s something wise I actually thought of myself but I find myself saying sometimes that the two best times to change how things are done is when things are going badly and when things are going great. I am not a big fan of the ‘if things aint broke, don’t try and fix ’em’ school of thinking. The rate of change and the level of interdependence are such these days that to expect the external marketplace to keep on some hopeful status quo path is pretty unrealistic. Change when you choose to before you have to change when you’re forced to.
Kevin calls it a ‘conversation inventory’ – a deliberate, proactive and scheduled effort to catch yourself falling into these tickbox patterns of management behaviour, repeated cycles of failed attempts to influence the behaviour of others.
Worth a go. Be crazy not to.
This recent item from CBS News considers how looking to co-workers for feedback might be an improvement on the traditional linear boss-worker performance reviewer-reviewee relationship. According to a study it cites, 45 percent of HR leaders don’t believe that employees’ annual performance reviews accurately reflect the quality of their work. As an employee, I certainly never believed that (unless it equaled or exceeded my own expectations.)
The article doesn’t go into the practicalities of how it could or should be done but they stipulate 3 benefits:
- Capture feedback continuously
- Widen the circle
- Feedback is genuine
For all its downsides, the traditional one-on-one approach is simple. (But is that sufficient reason to keep it alive?) Probably all the benefits of a peer-to-peer feedback system could be incorporated into a traditional approach – if the manager could be bothered getting out and seeking and aggregating the feedback. Which is, of course, where it falls down.
The aggregation is important to keep it honest and timely so it’s not just all warm and fuzzy cuddle feedback but open and honest corrective feedback too. As grand as crowdsourced feedback would be if it could be practically done, there definitely needs to be a means of keeping a practical ratio of positive and negative.
Psychologist Marcial Losada’s 1999 study looked at communication in teams, particularly the ratio of positive to negative statements. Various teams were tagged as being high, medium or low performing teams based on profitability, customer satisfaction and evaluations from management. The lowest high performing teams has a ratio of positive to negative statements of 2.9013:1. (For us non-academics, let’s round that to 3:1.) The highest performing teams averaged around 6:1. But there were diminishing returns and eventually a negative effect. Some of the worst performing teams had an 11:1 ratio so everyone must have been so busy hugging and bestowing warm fuzzies on everyone else, that no one ever did any actual productive work. That level of positivity is over-the-top, unrealistic and evidently not productive.
What’s so special about this magical zone of positivity? Losada says a highly connected team balances internal and external focus while also balancing enquiry and advocacy. If you’ve ever been in a highly negative workplace, you’ll know what he’s talking about. If you do something and make a mistake and you get slapped with blame and negativity, that drives the behaviours of avoidance and defensiveness.
Isn’t that right, you moron?