Friday, December 07, 2012

Keep it Simple

Do you know what is one of the most annoying things in business today? It is the increasing use of business jargon.

I recently read that over 25% of business executives admitted to using jargon they didn't understand in meetings – why would you do that?

For some people I’m sure it’s a way of setting themselves apart, appearing an expert or looking really clever. However, if your intention is to sell or gain support, setting yourself apart surely puts a barrier between you and those you’re communicating with.

When it comes to selling technological things so many messages dissolve into a sort of linguistic swamp.

Here's a good example from an e-mail someone sent me recently:

At Blah-co we have just developed an email stationery online software package that allows one in house member of staff to deploy all email users with a professionally designed Email stationery template, designed by one of our team of designers to all users and to include their unique contact details, meaning not only will the presentation of their emails improve but equally as important all be consistent throughout your organisation. (whew!)

Well, I think I understand the beginning and the end and recognise many of the words in between but I have no idea what they are saying. And if they’ve paid for my email address, they’ve clearly wasted their time and money.

Would this explain it better:

Because of the way the templates are constructed our solutions avoid all types filtering ensuring your mail always arrives.

Here's another series of examples extracted from mailings sent by another firm.
  • Are you one of those lucky few who have bedded down IT operations?
  • Would you realise a significant increase in business agility, accelerated decision making, employees pursuing a common agenda and a heightened awareness of your strategy?
  • Miss or ignore priority system availability or leadership messages.
  • Adopting a new change driver that communicates change and strategy in a high impact and engaging way.
  • Intranets suffer the limitations of pull technology.
  • A controlled feedback channel enables you to capture a snapshot of employee morale in real time.
What are they actually talking about? If they used plain English, we might know.

So this month's idea comes from Winston Churchill, who said, "Use simple words that everyone knows, and then everyone will understand."

This is important especially if you're selling a financial or technical product or service. In the words of world renowned copywriter and direct marketing expert, Drayton Bird – “Use a bit of jargon to reassure the anoraks, but put the rest in English”.

PS - You might also like to check out Extensor's Buzzword Bingo game.  Ed.

How to Survive Christmas

This year at the beginning of November, I started to plan for Christmas. This is most unlike me, as I love to work against deadlines, but a work commitment will take me away from home for much of December. I am now all done – the food is ordered, the cards written, presents wrapped, battle of the grandparents solved, only the tree to put up – and all the decorations are down from the loft ready and waiting. This is not about me being smug, rather the exercise got me thinking about the pressure we put on ourselves at Christmas as this year I haven’t been caught up in the usual hubbub of the December rush.

What is it about Christmas? It’s supposed to be the season of joy and goodwill, yet for many of us Christmas can be incredibly stressful – and there are dozens of surveys to prove it!  Research commissioned by the Food Standards Agency reveals that preparing and cooking a traditional turkey is second only to shopping as the most stressful Christmas activity. A MORI survey of 2,000 adults found that many Christmas shoppers would prefer a trip to the dentist to the stress of hunting for presents and that only one in five adults actually enjoys the experience. And according to mental health charity MIND, one in five of us gets stressed during the festive season.

Christmas should be fun but – if you're not careful – it can also send your stress levels soaring. We are busy for weeks before the festive holiday even starts, buying presents and going to parties. We overload our bodies with rich food and stimulants – like alcohol and caffeine – which increase stress and, worst of all, we have high expectations of Christmas which piles on the pressure. But remember, you can make the choice not to be stressed now.

So write down a list of all the things you absolutely have to do.  If there are too many things on the list, put them in order of priority and cross off the bottom third or give those responsibilities to someone else.  Then, at the top of the list, write down your “Christmas mission statement”:

"To have a relaxing stress-free Christmas with lots of fun and laughter."
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Reversing the Trend

There’s growing evidence that the difficult economic environment is impairing the work-life balance of many managers. The Chartered institute of management issued a report this year “The Quality of Working Life” 2012, which presents some stark findings:
  • Job satisfaction has declined to 55%, as opposed to 62% in 2007
  • The percentage of managers who feel that senior managers are committed to promote employee well-being has declined from 55 to 39%
  • 46% of managers are now working at least 2 hours a day over standard working hours
  • 42% of managers report having experienced symptoms of stress – up from 35%
  • 43% of managers report working in a culture of “presenteeism” – where people do not take time of even when ill. This is up from 32% in 2007
  • 63% or parent managers are worried that working hours are impacting relationships with their children 
It’s a situation that doesn’t bode well for the future – particularly as we’re likely to see and extended period of economic difficulty. It’s interesting also to note that the report also states that the most widely used management style in the UK is authoritarian, bureaucratic and reactive – and that use of these styles is increasing.  It shouldn’t be a surprise, as it’s well known in management psychology that when under pressure people revert to more a more authoritarian management approach.
There’s a danger though -  that all of the good work achieved in the last 20 years in terms of progressive management styles, empowerment, and promotion of work-life balance could be undone by a prolonged period of economic gloom.

In an environment where the culture of the organisation doesn’t promote all the factors that enhance work-life balance, it’s essential that people take a hand in their own situation. The place to start is to re-assess your own values and make a determined effort to live according to them.

For too long work has assumed the number one role in people’s lives, where people have become willing to compromise not only their own work-life balance, but their health, well-being and family life as well.  This happens despite the fact that in surveys most people regularly cite family life as their number one priority.

The central question is: do you have the courage to challenge the status quo of your own life and really start to live according to your values? If well-being, fulfilment, personal satisfaction and family life are really the most important values, then what prevents you not living up to them?

Answering these questions may be difficult, and doing something about it may be even more difficult, but if you are able to get your personal values and priorities in synch with your work, it is likely that you will feel more satisfied and fulfilled overall.