If you work in the corporate world, chances are you’ve seen it … Buzz Word Bingo. You know, a Bingo card full of jargon and trite business-y phrases that can make any 9:30 Tuesday meeting a little more entertaining? And here’s what I have to say about that. It’s sad. So, so, so very sad.
I’m not completely innocent of buzzing out a buzz word or two myself—particularly when I’m in the company of people who share the same insider vocabulary. But what I absolutely cannot stand is people who parade their jargon around like a secret code. It’s like saying, “Hey, I know more than you. And you’re going to have to pay me to find out all the unbelievable secrets I know.” It happens in marketing all the time; and, quite honestly, it’s embarrassing for our industry.
As communicators—marketers, public relations professionals, journalists, savvy business-people—we are taught to focus on clear, two-way communication. So, step one: don’t alienate your audience before the conversation even gets started by spewing an acronym-laden soliloquy their way. Every single business has a customer and/or audience; and communicating the way they communicate is key.
It reminds me a lot of Journalism school. Any old-school, inverted-pyramid journalists out there? (Yes, that bit of jargon was just for you.) We are taught to write on a third-grade level. It’s not to assume your audience’s ignorance; it is so the language is not too distracting to let the message and/or news shine through. Just like font choice or use of style shouldn’t impair your message, the words you choose should be simple, concise and clear.
So, next time you are formulating a message to any audience, make sure you’re not leading them down a rabbit hole of buzz words, industry jargon and overwrought language. Ask yourself if the recipient of what you are writing or saying would respond with a “Huh?” or an “Amen!”
The world is confusing enough. Don’t let your messaging make it worse.
My dad was once told by his company that he knew too much about too many things. His “specialty,” if you will, had become being a generalist, and having a deep understanding of the functionality of several areas of his field. But, suddenly, he felt his job might be in danger since his company thought he wasn’t specialized enough. And this is after said company spent more than 20 years intentionally cross-training him in various areas of the business.
As many people in my dad’s generation, he was loyal to his employer. He stayed there and worked until an accident forced him into early retirement. But that story has always stuck with me; and, to tell you the truth, it makes me a little angry.
My career shaped up similarly to my dad’s. Although my resume consists of several employers instead of just one, I still spent my time learning the ins and outs of different areas of my field, gaining additional education, insight and training to be the most well-rounded communicator I could be. About five or six years into my career, I began to purposefully seek out experiences that would add to my skillset—becoming a generalist was my goal.
So, why is it that “generalist” has become such a bad word? I agree that the world needs specialists in all fields and all industries; but there is a need for generalists too. Generalists help coordinate and amplify all the work that specialists do. Generalists “speak the language” of their field better than most specialists—they know “just enough to be dangerous,” as the saying goes.
I like to think of specialists as the spokes of a wheel. The hub is the field of study or the job at hand. And the generalists are the tire. They can complete some of the tasks or “spokes” themselves; and, other times, they will need to use a specialist. But, when it comes down to the big picture, they are involved with, and understand, all of it. They provide omniscient, informed support.
Generally speaking, I think being a generalist is pretty cool. I’m proud of the way my career has evolved—I feel it has enabled me to provide a wide range of expertise to my clients, and I love what I do. I just hate that companies sometimes don’t understand the value in such a skillset.
So, I just want to say this: To all the generalists out there, keep on generalizing yourselves. And if someone tries to give you flack for not being specialized enough, just remember ... they hate us ’cause they ain’t us. Well, in general, that is.
As a professional writer and communicator, I do a lot of ghostwriting. To non-writers, this might seem strange … to spend all your time and talent writing something that someone else is going to put their name on. But as a communicator, this is something I am proud to be able to do, and I’m always working to perfect my craft so I can appropriately channel my subject’s voice.
Recently, I was talking to another writer about a speechwriting project, and we were discussing what it would be like to ghostwrite a speech or presentation for someone you’d never met. You might find it interesting that we agreed that it would be next to impossible to do this well. Sure, you could cobble something together; but it wouldn’t be nearly as successful as what you would produce for someone you know or had been able to study. It’s the only way to make the words and the tone sound real and genuine.
It’s all about expert tailoring. And I mean that in the literal and figurative sense. Imagine someone wearing a brand new suit, right off the rack. They might look great! They might be able to rock that suit! But what if they had it tailored to their exact shape—a much different look, eh? No baggy sleeves, no pulling buttons, no loose ends.
The same goes for ghostwriting, particularly speechwriting. When the writer has studied the voice, dynamic and demeanor of the speaker, it shows. If done well, the piece is so tailored that the audience doesn’t notice anything about the writing or question, even for a moment, who wrote it. That speech fits snuggly and lays just right … just like that well-tailored suit.
So, if you’re a writer, remember how important it is to understand the voice of your subject, company or organization. And, more importantly, if you have someone writing for you, please see the value in their ability to channel you well and to help you tell your story.
I love rules. I’m a rule-follower. I like structure and order and consistency. Enter my calling as an editor.
Writing and editing are what I love to do; and my favorite part is how “left brain versus right brain” the activities are. To write, you need to be creative and inspired. And to edit, you need to be meticulous and disciplined. With experience, the line between the two becomes blurred; and this, in my opinion, is a good thing. Every writer needs to develop a good process that works for her or him. So, here’s some insight into mine.
Bring on the writing rules—the ones I love and the ones I don’t.
All that being said, I could go on for days with writing advice centered around my process, but this really isn’t about me. Everyone has his or her own way of doing things, and if you’re happy with the product, march on, dear friend!
Everybody’s a journalist. I know I don’t need to explain this phenomenon to you. Anyone who isn’t living under a rock knows that the decades-long explosion of the internet, social media and infotainment has made everyone with a phone, tablet or laptop a writer, editor and publisher.
The need to share personal views on everything—no matter how misinformed—has spread like a virus. No need to call the doctor. There is no cure. But is the plague of self-publishing a blessing or a curse? No matter how snarky I sound, I honestly can’t decide.
So, let’s talk curse first. As someone who went to school to be a writer and worked as a professional journalist for several years, I admittedly sometimes roll my eyes at the bevy of “journalists” out there. (If you didn’t imagine me making majorly emphatic air quotes with that last statement, you should have.) I don’t mind the extra competition in the marketplace because if you’re good, you’re good; but I do mind when said “journalists” start to work for squat, making the value of real journalism dwindle. (Note that I am referring to work for advertising-supported trade and consumer properties, not blogs and the like.)
The other part of the curse is having to combat “fake news.” (Omigod, did I just quote Trump?) When there are people out there publishing whatever their heart desires without vetting or editing anything, it just adds to the pool of misinformation that real journalists are forced to wade through.
But therein also lies the blessing. I’ll be the first to rally behind freedom of speech, and therefore, how can I complain about the growing arsenal of platforms available for people to speak their minds? Maybe all of the information and knowledge and opinions that are now being shared only add to and benefit our collective consciousness. Maybe there is indeed no harm in anyone saying what they’d like? Like I said, I can’t decide.
What do you think? Blessing or curse? I’m inviting you to be a, um, journalist on the topic.
I love old things. Old friends. Old memories. Old buildings. Old stories. I’ve even called myself a nostalgia addict in the past. So, as you might suspect, when someone or something messes with the “old” things that I treasure, I get a little sad, antsy and confused.
One thing that has been bothering me lately is the “makeover” that both my university and high school have been undergoing. The very definition of “renovation” is contradictory in that it includes the actions of both modernizing and restoring. So, which is it? Can it really be both?
In this case, there’s something special, cherished and even romantic about these older educational buildings. Maybe it’s because I expect school buildings to look a certain way … or maybe I just want them to look the way they did when I walked their halls on a daily basis. But when they made over the University Center at University of Tennessee, I think they lost a lot of the beauty and grandeur. It’s a pretty building now, don’t get me wrong, but it looks like that building, and that building and that building. All of the regal brickwork has been replaced with sleek glass. All of the old walls and doors that, if they could talk, could describe decades of intellectual conversation, have been replaced with the same cheap drywall as you find in any new office building. It’s like they ripped the stories and tradition right out of the University Center and pumped it full of Botox.
The same thing is happening at my high school, Bartlett High School. The pictures people are posting of the renovation make me so sad. They are even in the process of removing (or relocating, I hope) the sign that my class dedicated to the school. My gut reaction is, “What? It’s like we never existed!” I know the school needs to be updated, but it just breaks my heart that all these artifacts of my youth are being destroyed. Where is the window in the main building that we used to sneak out of during Algebra II? Where is the “C” building where I sat in Geography class and crushed hard on a certain upperclassman (who shall remain unnamed)? Where are the hallways I walked through collecting attendance slips and sneaking “hellos” to all of my friends? It just makes me sad.
I can hear what you’re all saying. Progress is necessary. I completely agree. And these bits of nostalgia will live forever in my heart and my mind. I just hope that these continued renovations don’t completely lose all semblance of what these institutions once were.
I guess I would beg that of any organization, company or institution. Yes, growth and advancement are vital; but don’t forget to balance it with hints of where you came from. Don’t lose great traditions or erase foundational stories as you move into the next era. It’s important to your culture and to the people who love your institution.
Moving forward is great. New stuff is cool. But you didn’t get to the present without the past. Remember that.
“My door is always open.” How many times have you heard this? Mostly, you hear it in the interview process, during your onboarding or in the first few meetings with a superior…or maybe you even heard it during a thinly veiled attempt by your supervisor to appear available to you. But the sad thing is, I venture to say these doors aren’t always as open as advertised.
Like most of you, I suspect, I have witnessed completely “open” doors, completely “closed” doors and everything in between. I’ve reported to middle managers who were too busy and important to share five minutes of discussion with me; but I’ve also been blessed to work in organizations where my boss’s boss would chat with me any time I had the smallest question or idea to vet. And, wow! What a difference!
The truth is that having an open door “policy” isn’t just about being available for a chat. It says so much more than that to your direct reports and your peers. It says, “Your opinions and ideas matter.” It says, “You are a valued part of this organization and my team.” It says, “I care about your future with this company.” And it even says, “I care about you as a person.”
As a manager, one of the most important things you can provide your employees is your time and attention. If your door is always closed, how will they ever know that their performance is completely awesome or totally off the mark? If your door is always closed, how will you train your successors to hold down the fort when you get your big, fat promotion? And if your door is always closed, won’t you be surprised when your employee (what’s her name again?) wants to discuss a possible raise or give her two weeks’ notice?
So, next time you are buried in your office with way too much to do, just remember the effects of your inaccessibility. It’s true that you might get more done if you shut that door and buckle down, but you might be creating a mess in the process that you’ll have to address later. Just keep that door open and engage with your team. It’s a simple action that, with minimal effort, can make a huge difference in your work relationships and in your team’s success.
I am one of those people you love to hate. My desire to begin decorating for Christmas starts in early October, and I’m usually able to hold off until the second week in November, but hardly ever longer than that. This year, it was especially tempting to start earlier. I have been daydreaming about our family stockings for years, and this Christmas, they are being hung with care for the first time.
We are a new family of four, this Christmas being the first for our youngest and only the second for our oldest. My husband and I have used our childhood stockings for the past 12 years. The mismatched stockings were adorably nostalgic, and I just kept putting off buying matching ones because I was holding out for kids. Fast-forward a couple years, and here we are. So, I was ecstatic to don our new matchy-matchy socks this year!
I started to think about why this tiny holiday detail excited me so, and it’s clear I’ve been here before in my professional work. What is essentially occurring with these new stockings is a consolidation of brands—a creation of a familial, “corporate” brand, if you will. Having gone through various rebrandings, along with the combination of several brands under a new corporate brand, this feeling is very familiar. The kids are new to the situation; but, especially for my husband and me, it is like we are finally unified, along with our children.
In the corporate world, combining brands is a tricky task. You have to respect the current brands individually while still creating something new enough for all those involved with the brands to feel appropriate ownership. Creating brand identity is a very intentional thing; and, just as my stockings did, should evoke a very specific feeling.
When it comes to sustaining multiple brands under one umbrella, I get it. You have your boutique brand, your more accessible brand, your white label, etc., and those should be kept separate but equal. But when it comes to combining companies —which oftentimes means combining families, histories, traditions and standards— you have to be careful not to continue to force those entities into the proverbial silos we are constantly trying to break out of. Therefore, we embark on the quest for the perfect, inclusive, united “family” brand.
I know y’all must think I’m crazy to equate matching Christmas stockings to the unifying of organizational brands, but this is the stuff that keeps me up at night. I find the parallels between the nitty-gritty of corporate culture and communications philosophies and the way we live our everyday lives to be very interesting. At the end of the day, it’s all about us wanting to be a part of something bigger than ourselves—and I think that’s a wonderful sentiment, especially during this holiday season.
I am on a new adventure. It’s called raising a toddler. I’m assuming any new mom feels at least a little bit of what I’m feeling: Am I doing everything right? Should I be doing more? Is it time to introduce new foods? New forms of discipline? Even a new type of pajamas? The questions are endless, and I’m sure I’ll never have all the answers; but I have decided that there is a part of raising a toddler that feels oddly familiar to me … like I’ve done this before. And it came to me in the middle of the night last night—raising a toddler is eerily similar to the development and nurturing of a healthy corporate culture.
Now, before anyone goes on the defensive and asks how dare I compare employees to toddlers, I’m not implying any potentially derogatory similarities, such as maturity level, the need to “babysit” or proneness to tantrums. It’s really just all about addressing and fulfilling the basic needs of your “audience.”
Just like toddlers, employees respond to structure. Tell them what to expect and then provide it to them. This is how you build trust.
Just like toddlers, employees respond to consequences. Show them that doing the wrong thing can feel yucky. This is how you enforce good behavior and teach respect.
Just like toddlers, employees respond to praise. Make them feel awesome when they do something worthy of an accolade of any size. This is how you encourage pride, confidence and dedication.
Just like toddlers, employees respond to unconditional love. Genuinely care about them and all aspects of their lives. This will make them loyal as they return that love.
And all the general parenting rules apply to employees too…. Don’t hover. Allow them to make their own decisions and mistakes. Always come to their defense—innocent until proven guilty. Keep them busy. Provide a variety of tasks and activities. Set an example—walk the walk. Always be teaching them something. And when they ask you why something is the way it is, never ever say, “Because I said so.”
Okay, okay, I’ll stop drawing parallels now. What it all boils down to is this: nurturing a healthy corporate culture is easy. Just be honest with employees; show them you care; and be sure you are meeting their needs. Always keep their best interest top of mind and you should be fine. Now, if I could just figure out this toddler parenting thing….
In ethnographic research, there’s a concern that the researcher might “go native.” Ethnographic research is so immersive that it is easy to gradually lose one’s sense of self and purpose – in essence, the researcher starts to think like the “natives” do. This, of course, makes it very difficult to have an objective point of view and inhibits one’s ability to analyze that environment, situation, problem, etc.
This phenomenon has always fascinated me – even more so when I started to notice it occurring all the time at work. Whether part of a huge corporation or a small nonprofit, it was clear that many team members had gone native already or were most definitely on their way.
Many workplaces are blessed to retain employees for 10, 20, 30 years; but I posit there is a lurking danger here as well. The danger is complacency, comfort and routine. It sometimes starts to happen even after a year or two in the same environment. Heck, I’ve even felt myself start to go native after a few months. So, my question is this: are you too comfortable in the belly of the beast?
Sure, it’s great to be a long-standing member of a team. I am not proposing that institutional knowledge and team-member bonds are throw-aways. There is huge value there. But sometimes the belly of the beast is a toxic place to be. Your group-thinking can prove poisonous and your creativity can become septic.
In the world of consulting, this is a defense that needs continuous bolstering. Consultants often get a bad name because they come in with a bunch of prescriptive gobbledygook; but I bet that, most of the time, that gobbledygook contains things your team would have never thought of and, more often than not, things they don’t want to hear.
I will concede that bringing in an outside consultant isn’t the only way to shake things up a bit. Providing your team with new forms of training and exposing them to a variety of philosophies and viewpoints should definitely break the monotony and the comfort. Outlawing statements like, “We have always done it this way,” or “But that’s the only thing that works for this team/manager/company,” should help as well. I just encourage you – whether your team is clearly stuck in a rut or just operating smoothly, business as usual – to seek external influence, encourage refreshing viewpoints and reward disruptive ideas. Don’t allow beast-belly comfort to stifle your team’s success.
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