Say Something

Often we can be scared to open our mouths and say something.

Expressions like “empty vessels make the most noise” and a pervasive social fear of rejection can make it difficult to open up.

Why is this the case?

Schools, universities and families typically work best when there is an open flow of communication. But on a day to day basis, and in the workplace, it can often seem best to say as little as possible.

The issue is that, as social animals, and whether we like it or not, we are constantly engaged in relationships with other people and the power dynamics that inevitably ensue.

If you are a junior employee with views on what your company should be doing, then calling the CEO to tell them may certainly get the CEO’s attention but it may also mark you as a trouble maker and hasten your exit from the firm.

There is always a power dynamic in play (and people who tell you differently are probably playing power games with you).

Speaking without thinking or sending an email which doesn’t convey a clear story backed by supporting data means that your communication is probably “criticism or noise” rather than being a meaningful contribution to the conversation.

The challenge then is not the speaking up part; the challenge is to first do the necessary research and thinking which can be used to foster a constructive dialogue.

You need to say something, but what?

Have you done your research?

The Truth

Will set you free

THIS expression has been a popular saying among business gurus like the late Jim Rohn, and has its origins in scripture.

“The truth will set you free” has a nice ring to it and makes people feel good, but what does it really mean?

Here are three practices that follow directly from the pursuit of truth, and which underpin sustainable business.

1. Accepting things for what they are. A core requirement of good strategic thinking is the ability to accept the world as it is. Business failures inevitably result when executives cling to the past, holding on to an existing business model which may remain profitable (for a time) but which no longer solves the problem it set out to solve in the most valuable or cost effective way.

A contemporary example is Eastman Kodak, which pioneered the core technology used in today’s digital cameras in 1975, but failed to accept the new reality and ultimately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2012.

2. Acting with integrity. In a world where most Economists and corporate executives believe (or have managed to convince themselves) that the purpose of business is to maximize profits, where do you draw a line in the sand? When is it possible to say enough is enough?

Acting with integrity means saying “no” to initiatives that produce short term profits in a way that causes lasting harm to employees, customers or members of the community.

Standing up for the truth is a sound and sustainable business practice and a contemporary example of where this didn’t happen is Enron.

Prior to its collapse Enron was one of the world’s largest energy companies but the pursuit of short term profits led executives Kenneth Lay, Jeff Skilling and others to embrace mark to market accounting, a dubious practice whereby anticipated future profits were booked on the day the deals were signed rather than when profits were actually earned.

These deceptions eventually led the company into bankruptcy and many of its executives were sued on criminal charges or committed suicide.

3. Seeing something, and saying something. Companies that fail to improve will ultimately fail to survive, and the first step in the improvement process is when employees see areas for improvement and speak out. If people are unwilling or unable to do this, then the performance of a company will suffer.

A contemporary example of where lack of communication crippled business performance was the terrible safety record of Korea Air from the 1970s to the late 1990s.

A cultural issue made it difficult for Korean co-pilots to tell the pilot about their mistakes and the resulting break down in communication led to the write off of 16 airplanes and the loss of over 700 human lives.

The truth will set you free is not just a pithy aphorism. The truth is a liberating force which can clear the way for continued growth and prosperity. A solid foundation on which to build sustainable business.

Ramp up your reputation with these five report-writing tips

This guest post is by Rob Ashton, chief executive of Emphasis – a business writing company that runs report-writing courses for consultants.

No matter how knowledgeable you are as a consultant, you’re only as good as your last report. Meetings come and go, but reports last. You may meet five or ten people while on an assignment, but your report could be read by hundreds. It’s the most tangible, lasting evidence of your expertise and the value you have provided. And it could still be finding an audience years after you’ve moved on to other projects.

This is both a blessing and a curse. Writing good client reports is a great way to build competitive advantage. They can establish and spread your reputation throughout a client company like nothing else. But you might as well pack up and go home if you get it wrong.
Many consultants are only too aware of what’s at stake, of course. That’s why they continually put off writing client reports and fail to type a single word until beads of blood have formed on their forehead. Others leap in with a stream of consciousness that fools them into thinking they’re giving their clients value, hitting them with a tome that would have made Tolstoy proud.

But there is another way – just remember to do these five things

  1. Make the report client-centred, rather than consultant-centred. When deadlines loom, it’s easy to fall into the ‘getting it done’ trap. But to do so is to focus on your needs, not the reader’s. Keep your client’s needs at the forefront of your mind as you write. What do they need to know? What do they want to know? (Not always the same thing.) How will they best understand it?
  2. Communicate your key message quickly. It’s common to start with background, outline your project and then – and only then – make your recommendation. But to do so risks hiding your most important points among the peripheral detail. In fact, many readers probably won’t make it to the end, or will head straight there anyway. Better to put your main message first, and then return to it later in more detail.
  3. Avoid unnecessary jargon and management-speak. Seek to impress with your ideas, not your language. Clients seldom appreciate long words, complicated sentences,
    management-speak and jargon that’s alien to them. Nor will they want to plough through lots of acronyms and abbreviations. All sectors have their own specialist language, and jargon does have its place. But you must be certain that your reader will understand it before you use it.
  4. Keep it human. Phrases like ‘It is recommended …’ or ‘It is estimated …’ do not sound more professional; they simply depersonalise your report and make it less accessible. Your client wants to know that their consultants are human beings, with opinions and expertise – so be bold and write: ‘We recommend …’ and ‘We estimate’. Besides, if your ideas are good ones, it makes sense to take credit for them.
  5. Make the conclusion work. As I’ve said, this may be the only part the real decision-makers read, so make sure it can stand alone and that it contains real information, including hard facts and figures. If your report includes recommendations, make sure that these are also in the executive summary, along with their implications, values and costs. Keep it short, concise and full of impact. You’re aiming for those last words to linger in the reader’s mind after they’ve stopped reading.

Print this list and stick it by your monitor. Read it whenever you’re avoiding writing. It will save your sanity – and your clients.