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Archive for March, 2009

Lesson Learned: Document Readability

March 17th, 2009 No comments

I had the privilege of attending a talk by Dr Tom Sant,  author of  “The Language of Success” and “Persuasive Business Proposals” today and he shared a real nugget.  It is actually a feature built into Microsoft Word, though I was totally oblivious to it.  The feature  evaluates the document and creates a report on the readability of the document.

The first trick is to enable this feature:

  • Open up Microsoft Word
  • Open Options – in Office 12 click on Office button and click on the Word Button
  • Click on the Proofing option from the menu on the left.

wordoptionsetting1

  • As indicated by the A – Ensure that the “Show readability statistics” checkbox is checked.
  • As indicated by the B – Ensure that these boxes NOT checked
  • Now execute the Spell checker as normal
  • Handle the notifications regarding spelling or grammar warnings.
  • At the end of the check a popup will be displayed similar to the following:

wordreadabilitystatistics

Check the Averages

  • Words per sentence should be 15 to 17
  • Characters per word – for best readability this should be less than 6

Check the Readability

  • Passive Sentences should be less than 10%
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level should less than 10

So as you can see, the first paragraph of this blog post does not rate very high for readability.  It must be the names of Tom’s books.

Managing Expenses Proactively

March 11th, 2009 No comments

Considering the recession that we find ourselves in, I guess it is not surprising that I find myself having many discussions about how to handle the situation where cuts needs to be made.  Unfortunately, I have watched many leaders take an overly optimistic view and totally underestimate the dip of the market and then over estimate their available resources to weather the storm.  For startups with limited resources, this can be fatal.

market-trend-2

In this graphic, I have used the blue line to denote the revenue coming into a company.  The red line denotes the expense reductions that the company is making with the exact points of reduction marked with the A, B, C and D markers.  The area marked in green between the two lines is the bad zone for companies without sufficient reserves to weather the downturn.  Unfortunately, I have also seen  the plug getting pulled because of insufficient funds.

Although this approach is fairly common, it tends to have a rather disastrous affect on the people in the company.  The people are under continuous threat of additional cuts and therefore some of them resort to some rather significant self preservation behaviors.  In these circumstances, the teamwork takes a backseat and as such the productivity also take a massive hit.  In addition, talent retention is an issue and in most cases the best people walk first, because they can, leaving the lower caliber folks behind.

market-investment

This graph shows a totally different behavior and the blue line shows the incoming revenue while the green line shows expenditure.  In this case the expenditure has been drastically reduced when the incoming revenue has declined.  In this graph, I have created the impression that there is very little between the incoming revenue and the expenditure but there are some very successful companies that follow this model but have a much healthier buffer between the the incoming revenue and the expenditure.  In this case, cuts in expenditure are made at points A and B and these cuts do mean job cuts.  Nothing should be spared from the cuts.  e.g. it is far better to sacrifice the free sodas instead of your office mate.

The purple area is where the company is doubling down and investing for the market upturn.  This investment, provides the company with a head start on their competitors.  This approach has some significant benefits because the people trust the management more because they are actively managing the situation.  In addition because a strategy is being followed, it creates an open environment that is predictable for the employees and leads to much less fear and uncertainty.  I have found this approach to be much more acceptable to the high performers and therefore allows you keep the staff that you want to keep.

Lesson Learned: Am I Behaving Like a Teenager?

March 5th, 2009 No comments

Let’s call this executive Steve, he is a  senior level executive, in his early 60’s.  He is very well respected by the people in his organization in a large part due to his extremely calm demeanor.

Steve’s directs are all VP’s in the company and they had been struggling with an issue for close on 7 weeks and were all frustrated.  To make matters worse, these execs had allowed the issue  to impact their interpersonal relationships with some of them having their little versions of the “cold war”.

So during a meeting in the boardroom, Steve watched with mounting displeasure as his directs expressed their frustration at not being able to solve the problem.  Each of them proceeded to provide excuses or point at some or other reason why they could not address the issue on hand.  Steve demonstrated his patience and calmness again by allowing each of them to express their opinions. He then asked them how they were working together on addressing the issue.  Again they behaved in like ducks with watertight backs.  Steve then asked them about what they would do if they were in his shoes?  Again they had many words and Steve slowly stood up.  Some of his directs paid attention but others did not.

However, when Steve slammed his hands down on the table, the loud clap drowning out the expletive that he had just uttered.  All of his directs stared at Steve, dumbfounded, and then he said something:  “If I wanted to hear reasons why this cannot be done, I would have asked my teenage son!  I am paying you significantly more to solve problems.  So why don’t you stop behaving like teenagers and act like the professionals that I am paying you to be!”

Needless to say, his directs had a solution ready for him four hours later.

So the Lesson that I Learned from this, has changed how I approach things.  Now, when I am moaning or bitching about something, I simply ask myself:  ” am I behaving like a teenager?”  If the answer is yes, then I modify my behavior and to ensure that I am adding value.