Archive for category Business skills

A lesson in business and life from the Dutch

Years ago, a conference presenter spoke about doing business with the Dutch. He noted that while it generally took them much longer to commit to something, once they signed on, he said, they were committed 100 percent.

The speaker paused and then said, “Compare that to Americans.”

Wow, he’s right. How often have you seen people offer or promise to do something then miss a deadline or completely blow off the project? We’ve all been pulled away by competing priorities, and while it’s often understandable, the odds are good that someone was let down by the change of direction.

Years ago, the acronym DWYSYWD began circulating around Corporate America. It’s meaning, Do What You Say You Will Do, must seem obvious — perhaps even silly — to the Dutch. After all, why do you need to be told to do something you agreed to do?

Food for thought…..

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More than ever, short and simple is better

Ever feel like you’re on a treadmill that’s going faster and faster? That seems to be the new norm, with less downtime to just sit and relax for a moment.

As people feel the constant tug for their time and attention, the importance of clear, concise communications becomes more important.

So how do you reach someone who is reading your message while making dinner, helping the kids with homework, and answering an after-hours text message from her boss?

Some thoughts:

  • Begin with your most important message.
  • Use bullets. They help break up copy and make reading easier.
  • Opt for simple words and avoid jargon, acronyms, and words that readers may not understand.
  • Use examples to illustrate complicated points.
  • Offer a contrast or comparison to create an image in your readers’ mind (“The ship is the length of two football fields.”)
  • Stay away from too many fine details.

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A life lesson taught by a snow shovel

As I write this, we’re enjoying a beautiful late-winter day — and waiting for the arrival of a sizable winter storm.

Snow brings a unique and unmistakable beauty to a scene, particularly when it reflects the morning light. There is, however, the issue of clean-up.

As a kid, I didn’t mind snow because it often gave us a day off from school, as well as a few dollars for shoveling driveways. Year later, I clear the driveway that leads to my home, although my bright red snow blower stands ready when the snowfall exceeds a few inches.

In the early days, however, there was no snowblower, just me and my handy shovel. Sometimes the snow was heavy and the work exhausting. During those days, I learned to look down and focus on the work in front of me, not the long section that lay ahead. When I needed a quick break, I’d take deep breaths while purposefully looking back at the section that I had already shoveled. In an odd way, that motivated me.

The same can be done in life or work. When faced with a daunting task or project, keeping my head down and plugging away helps move things forward. And reviewing progress still prods me to continue the work still to be done.

Early in my career, I worked as a weekend sportscaster at the local CBS television affiliate. Some days, the clock would tell me we had 45 minutes until air time, and I’d wonder how the work would get done. I’d take a deep breath, and tell myself, “You did it last week, you can do it today.” Then, just like after a snowstorm, I’d put my head down and get to work.

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A few lessons from years in PR

One of the great honors of my career was receiving the Edward L. Bernays Award from the Maine Public Relations Council. It’s the organization’s highest honor, and I’m humbled to have my name listed alongside some of the great PR people in our state. My acceptance speech shared a handful of tips gleaned over the years, and I though you might find it of some value:

Thanks, Linda for that warm introduction.

And thank you to Kelly, the MPRC board, and to the Bernays Committee for this award.

I’m touched, honored, and humbled to know that my name will be listed alongside some of the best public relations people from our great state.

I wrote three different drafts of today’s remarks, but none felt right. I don’t particularly like talking about myself, and because this is a conference, every speaker should give the audience a takeaway or two, so how about if I to share a few tidbits of the best advice I’ve received through the year, with the hope that one or two might resonate with you.

  • Doing the right things is the always the right thing to do — particularly in PR. We need to be the conscience of an organization. A corollary to that is something Mark Twain said: the best thing about telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember anything.
  • The next one came from the big store at the top of the hill, L.L. Bean:  Put your customers first and remember that they’re the reason you’re in business.
  • At the end of the day, the person you have to answer to is the one in the mirror. If you do that, everything else seems to fall into place.
  • Perhaps my favorite quote is from Thomas Jefferson who said he was a big believer in luck and the harder he worked, the more if it he had.
  • Finally, trust your gut and trust your instinct. Or in the words of the great American philosopher Cosmo Kramer, “what does the little man inside you say? You’ve gotta listen to the little man…the little man knows all.”

In closing, I’d like to thank the many people who have provided guidance, encouragement, and unwavering support to me for so many year. I accept this award on behalf of all of you, and in my mind, your names are etched on this with mine. But, I’ll keep it at my house.

Thank you again for a few minutes of your time…..I hope you enjoy the rest of the afternoon….

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You’re just one word away from being a better writer

There is a simple secret to improve your writing — and your communications in general. Okay, it’s not really a secret, but it is very, very simple.

Use “you” more often.

Yup, I’m serious. Do that and you’re on your way to being a better writer and communicator.

Have a conversation
Using “you” (or forms of it) shifts your messages from talking at someone to speaking with them, making your message more personal and conversational.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to illustrate:
Old School: “Benefit enrollment packets will be mailed to employee’ homes in November.”
New style: “Look for your Benefit Enrollment Packets, coming in the mail in November.”

Old School: Students should return their permission forms by Tuesday.”
New Style: Please return your permission forms by Tuesday.”

Old School : “Members and their families are invited to attend the annual banquet….”
New Style: “You and your family are invited to the annual banquet…”

Be casual and clear
As you can see, incorporating “you” makes your writing more casual, conversational, and clear, while the old school way of referring to your audience in the third person is impersonal, and frankly, a little boring. And “you” is almost like calling someone by their name, one of the best attention grabbers available to communicators.

So give it a try and let me know what you think. While you’re at it, toss a “we” or two. I think you’ll like what you see.

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21 bits of investment wisdom from the years

I’ve been intrigued by investing for years, and lately find myself engaged in frequent conversations about the topic with friends.

Here are some of the best tips I’ve picked up over the years. Please keep in mind that I’m not a financial advisor, and you may want to consult with one if this motivates you to dabble in the market.

  1. Keep your costs low, whether you go with a low-fee mutual fund or a stock reinvestment program offered by many corporations.
  2. Time is your greatest ally – start young.
  3. In general, the greater the potential reward, the greater the risk — and many people don’t think enough about risk.
  4. Read everything you can about Warren Buffett.
  5. In most cases, your home is not an investment.
  6. Think twice about investing in things you don’t understand.
  7. Pay yourself first. A 401 (k) plan where you work is a great option and you’ll probably never miss the money from your paycheck.
  8. Playing too safe brings the risk of not keeping up with inflation, and seeing the purchasing power of your dollar drop.
  9. Putting your investments on autopilot is an easy way to save. For example, you can make automatic, monthly contributions to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) from your bank account.
  10. Every little bit helps, and adds up over time.
  11. Put enough into your employer’s 401 (k) to earn the company match. If the plan matches the first 6 percent of your contribution at 50 percent, you’re immediately turning $100, for example, into $150.
  12. People know the mantra “buy low and sell high,” but often do the opposite. A dip in the market might bring an opportunity.
  13. Diversifying your investments helps spread your risk by avoiding “too many eggs in one basket” syndrome.
  14. The web has a wealth of investment tools. Use them to help you make decisions about investment options, risk, retirement planning, and more.
  15. Spend less than you earn.
  16. Know your tolerance for risk and invest accordingly. It’s very likely different from mine, from your neighbors, co-workers, etc. Be realistic about how much you can risk, and how much of a loss you could tolerate.
  17. Building an emergency fund is a top priority.
  18. Follow the data, and invest in something because it makes sense, not because you love the company’s product line or because your neighbor says it’s a great investment.
  19. On the other hand, if you really like a product, consider looking into the company to see if it makes sense as an investment.
  20. While the stock market is generally considered the best long-term investment, making money in stocks is far from guaranteed.
  21. As with anything in life, if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.

Your turn. What’s the best investment advice you know?

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5 Lessons From the Sharks

I recently discovered ABC’s Shark Tank, a show that brings together entrepreneurs who ask a group of billionaire “Sharks” to invest in their product or service.

Even if you’re not an entrepreneur, the show is interesting and provides some good tips about business and finance:

Prepare
Whether you’re interviewing for a job or applying for a loan, the person on the other side of the table will have a list of questions for you. Anticipate what they might ask, and be ready with responses — and data to back them. How? See the next bullet….

Know your audience
It seems as if some of the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank have never watched the show. For example, offering a 5 percent share of your company in exchange for a Shark’s investment pretty much guarantees a black mark on you ledger, yet it continues to happen. Before you walk into a meeting, learn as much as possible about the interviewer, client, employer, etc., to avoid making obvious blunders.

Be respectful
The Sharks can be harsh at times, but the entrepreneurs pitching their products need to stay on the high road. Rudeness often brings a quick dismissal from center stage.

Listen to experts
In addition to their financial investment, the Sharks bring a wealth of knowledge. Some entrepreneurs take their advice to heart; to others it sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. If a successful person offers a suggestion, listen carefully.

Be flexible and realistic
Entrepreneurs often walk away empty-handed after turning down a counter offer from a Shark. One man declined a multi-million dollar deal for his company. Understandably, he has a passion for the product, but $4 million is a big hunk of change to pass up. Think carefully before you turn down an opportunity because it differs from your original plan.

Your turn. What lessons have you learned from watching Shark Tank?

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Pitcher’s new contract offers career lesson

Red Sox fans everywhere are kicking dirt because the team failed to lure much-coveted pitcher Jon Lester back to Beantown. The lefty was traded from the Sox to Oakland late in the year, but became a free agent after the season, able to sign with the team of his choice.

Despite optimistic predictions that he’d return to Boston, Lester agreed to a $155 million, six-year contract with the Chicago Cubs.

As I read the news, I recalled a recent article about changing jobs. It offered advice on what to do if you have another job offer, but your current employer ponies up more compensation to keep you.

The author contends that if your current employer wants to keep you, and sees value in your work, he/she should have compensated you fairly without the threat of a departure. The author argued that you should walk away. Just like Jon Lester did.

Many feel Lester’s decision was due to a low offer that came from the Sox in the spring  for $70 million over four years. Yeah, hardly chump change, but you could argue that the much larger offers Boston made in the fall couldn’t undo the damage of that lowball offer in March.

Your thoughts? Do you stay or walk away if your current employer offers a raise to keep you from jumping ship?

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Joking at the office? Keep this in mind

I’ve always been a bit of a jokester. In my last performance review, my boss mentioned my sense of humor more than anything else (I hope that’s good).

Years ago, a striking lesson taught me the best way to joke at the office, or anywhere else for that matter.

A coworker on the other side of the building had just moved into a new office, complete with a window — a rarity for that particularly company.

He was sitting there, quite pleased, when I stuck my head in. We chatted, spoke about his kids’ photos, etc, and I left with something like, “Cool office. You look right at home.”

The next day he stopped by my office to thank me. When I asked why, he said, “You’re the only one who didn’t make fun of me.” Apparently, others asked who he slept with to get the office, etc.

That hit me like a lightning bolt, and changed the way I joke with people.

Now, I focus on comments that are funny, but positive. For example, if asked about my boss, my reply is something like, “She’s awesome. The best. Very smart, supportive, and never hits me on the nose with a newspaper.”

Okay, it’s a little corny, but you get the point. It’s clever, gets a chuckle, and leaves a positive feeling.

Do no harm
There’s an old saying about truth in jest, and I’ve learned that negative jokes can leave people wondering if you’re serious.  Years ago, at a going-away party, my outgoing boss said, “I’ll miss all of you — well, all but one of you …” I thought he was clearly kidding, but a coworker later asked me who the boss meant.

Be funny and kind at the same time. Sometimes that takes a bit of creativity, but the goodwill it generates is worth the effort.

Your turn? How do you kid around the office?

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Giving advice? Follow these 7 tips to become a trusted advisor

People are well-meaning and sincerely want to help when giving advice,but sometimes our thoughts come across the wrong way.

Follow these seven tips next time you choose to give advice and you’ll be seen as a confidant and trusted adviser.

Listen first
Let’s say a friend is thinking about leaving her job. You think it’s a mistake, but before you tell her, ask why she’s leaving. Her response, and the facts she provides, might change your mind.

Support, rather than debate
Sometimes a decision is already made and the best guidance you can provide is helping the person reach their goal. If your daughter wants to backpack across Europe after college graduation, and is determined to do so, work with her to ensure her journey is both safe and enjoyable.

Put yourself in their shoes
Your coworker is miserable in her job and wants to quit. You like her boss and can’t understand why she’d leave such a good company. Telling her that would discount her feelings and potentially drive a wedge between you. Before you speak, remind yourself that we’re all different, and what you consider a great work environment might be horrible for others.

Don’t downplay the consequences
People try to be supportive by downplaying the possible consequences of a potential decision. For example, “The worst think that could happen is you’ll have to get a second job,” or “If it doesn’t work, you’ll only be out $50.”

Problem is, the person giving the advice doesn’t have to deal with the consequence, so of course it’s not such a big deal to them. It’s easy to shrug off the results if someone else is paying the piper.

Be positive
Whether you agree or disagree with what a person thinks, you’ll go farther with an encouraging approach. For example, your nephew Jimmy wants to play professional baseball. You can tell him that the odds are one in a million, or you can tell him to work hard, do his best, and see how things fall out.

Remember, history is full of successful people who were told they didn’t have what it takes. 

Be honest
This one’s tough, particularly if you don’t agree with what the person is thinking. If I’m not an expert on the topic, I’ll generally defer when asked my option. For example: “Geez, I couldn’t do that, but you may be better equipped to make that choice.”

If the topic is a subject where I do have expertise or knowledge, I’ll either offer an alternative (“Have you thought about calling instead of sending an email?”) or pointing to data that supports an alternative view (“I’ve read that eating a healthy breakfast every day actually helps with weight loss.”)

Show respect
The reason  someone asked for your opinion is that she likely respects you and wants your advice. Remember to return that respect in you interaction.

Your turn. What guidelines do you follow when giving advice?

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