Monday, August 29, 2011

. . . it is what they hear (part 2) – speaking their language

Continuing the idea we started: the focus in communication must be on the message received, not the message sent, let us look at language problems – starting with ours: You will need a CDL. Are you filing VFR or IFR? Make sure you bring the IEP to the CST meeting. Did HR collect his I-9 and make him aware of COBRA?

Sometimes we think of languages as being tied to a country or people – Spanish or French, perhaps even Chinese. That can present certain obvious problems; we will discuss in a later article. But, do we realize that even within our own language, there are some pretty confusing components?

Each profession and line of work has its language. They range from pretty simple – CDL  (commercial drivers license), to very involved – special education services (IEP – individual education program, CST – child study team) .

Although it is impossible to be familiar with all abbreviations and acronyms, if we are going to communicate effectively, we have to be aware  they exist, and that everyone may not be familiar with the ones used. Even more problematic are different understandings of the same letters – like the example below: the story of the water closet.

A newly married British couple looking for a house in the country, found one they decided was suitable. On their way home, the young wife happened to think that they had not noticed a water closet (toilet) in the place, so she decided to write to the real estate man about it.

Being very modest she hesitated about writing the word ”water closet,” so she referred to it as the WC. The real estate man interpreted it to mean the Western Church near there, and answered as follows:

Dear Madam:
    I regret very much the delay in answering your letter, but I now take the pleasure of informing you that the WC is located about nine miles from here and is capable of seating 1266 people; this is very fortunate indeed.
    If you are not in the habit of going regularly, no doubt you’ll be interested to know that a great many people take their lunch and make a day of it. Others, who cannot spare the time, usually arrive just in time, but are generally in too big a hurry to wait if the place is crowded.
    The first time my wife and I went was six years ago, and we had to stand up all the time.
    It might interest you to know they are planning to hold a bizarre in the near future to raise money for plush seats. I might mention that it pains me greatly to not be able to go more frequently. It surely is through no lack of desire, but as we grow older it seems more of an effort, particularly in cold weather.
(The Wrong Bottom Line p.108).

To communicate effectively, be sure everyone understands not only any abbreviations, but also important terminology; not understanding may make funny stories, but not good businesses.

Next week: It is what they hear (part 3) but not what I meant.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It isn’t what you say . . . it is what they hear.

It isn’t what you say . . . it is what they hear.

●    “Turn right here.” said the local, sitting in the passenger seat. “Okay,” responded the driver, new to the area, as he began to make a right turn into a dark alley. “What are you doing?!” exclaimed the local. “I am turning where you told me to!” responded the driver.  “No, no! You can’t turn right here, that is one-way!” came the excited response! “You have to turn left!” “But you said to turn right!” exclaimed the driver.

●    You brought home chicken noodle soup instead of the desired cream of chicken. The order was for “chicken soup.” 

●    The philosophy was to treat the customers as special guests: give them a sample of candy.
    The server offered something the customer did not like or want. Instead of offering something else, she just withdrew the original.

Ineffective communication can be costly. You may want to review your practices.

First, understand that the responsibility for effective communication is the sender’s – the communication initiator. Effective means that what you send, they get.

Second, know what you want to communicate, not just what you want to say. We all know people who wonder around the point until the real message becomes obscure. The more vague you are, the more likely the message will be misread, misunderstood, or, in some cases, missed completely.

Third, know your audience – the person or people you want to receive your message. For example, powder means a different thing to a Mary K rep, a ski enthusiast, or an explosive expert.

Fourth, choose the method of communication that facilitates the message best.  Merely talking with the person or people, may suffice. For those ideas or requirements that are more important, or that might be misunderstood, written statements accompanied by your verbal explanation can make the difference.

Fifth, do a test run. Aircraft manufactures are required to test their planes on the ground and in the air, before commercial use. That allows changes to be made before the actual presentation. Have someone you trust read your material or listen to your proposal. Pay attention to their response and their advice. If the people close to you can’t understand what you are trying to convey, do not expect those farther removed to get the points.

Sixth, check for understanding particularly on critical points. Find out if the group or individual got the message. Do not use the time waster “do you all understand?” Do an upbeat test: “the point number one was . . .” The story about the girl at the candy shop is an excellent example of understanding the procedure but not the concept – the result of ineffective communication.

Effective communication is a skill that is critical to optimal success.

Monday, August 15, 2011

How effective are your hiring practices?

If you are in a leadership or HR position, or if you teach business students, make sure everyone involved understands and uses effective hiring practices. Good practices save money and time, and promote a positive reputation. Poor practices do just the opposite. Let me give you an example and some recommendations.

Recently, in answer to an advertised position with a well-known international company, an individual forwarded the appropriate materials. A couple of weeks later he was contacted and invited to come in for an interview. Although the distance was significant and would take a long day’s drive and an overnight stay, the applicant made the trip.

The interviewer was impressed and encouraging. However, the company was not quite ready to hire. The interviewee returned home. Approximately a month later, he was again contacted and requested for another interview. The company representative was very encouraging. Since the applicant was out of work, and would have to bear the expense of the travel and another overnight stay, and in light of the very positive response of the company representative, he decided to move his family to that area.

After the move, time passed – one week, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, a month. While still encouraging, the representative related that they were just not quite ready to hire.

This is not a new story. Unfortunately, I am seeing too many of these. And, they aren’t about new businesses or those known to be inefficient or ineffective. On the contrary, these organizations have names recognized all over the world.

Here are some recommendations.

First, focus. Before adding to, or altering your organization, do a thorough review. Involve all appropriate sections. Determine exactly what you need and when it would be appropriate to fulfill that need.

Second, use the Canary principal (review: Getting the best ) have a specific list of required skills and attributes. That will enable you to be effective in evaluating applicants. This is particularly important at the interview stage.

Third, review with all interviewers, effective interview practices – specific questions, understanding glare, leading, etc. (review Glare  )(Who They Hired).

Fourth, have a timeline. If you cannot determine a timeline, you are not ready to open the position. That timeline should be shared with applicants.

Use appropriate hiring methods; everyone benefits.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Leaders, supervisors, teachers, and parents – a little knowledge…

We often hear the phrase “ a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” To that was added” and so is a lot.” Although, this often brings a smile, it should be taken seriously. Of course, acquiring and retaining as much knowledge as possible is a wise thing.

That is not the problem.

The problem lies in what sometimes happens to us when we think we know a lot. Management, leadership, teachers, and even parents are not immune to this problem. In fact, this condition can be more impacting at that level.

First, when we have a lot of knowledge, information, or experience, sometimes we stop listening and learning. We think we have the answers. We fail to listen to those individuals who may view things from a different perspective, or deal more directly with the issue.

Second, we can forget where the real focus should be. It can shift too much on us and our priorities instead of what is best for the organization or the individual.

Since the mere title of CEO, director, supervisor or boss often flavors the opinions of some of those who work for you – you sit on the handle bars while everyone else pedals – actions that illustrate a lack of tolerance or interest in their opinions, can negatively affect production. As worker knowledge and input is not solicited or accepted, the leader’s effectiveness diminishes.

Perhaps we should modify the saying slightly. Perhaps it should say:” any knowledge – a little or a lot –  is only a good beginning and gives us an opportunity to listen and learn.

If you are a parent or a teacher, this principle fits well. Adults tend to talk too much and listen too little; try reversing that.

(See “Leadership” articles in the list to the right)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ethics in pricing. . . or. . . it is how much?

The little plastic lever that actuates the water dispenser on the refrigerator, broke. Of course, this little device is not necessary for the operation of the refrigerator itself, but it is nice to have. Instead of incurring a service call that I assumed would be more expensive than the item, I decided to take care of it myself. As in most experiences,  this precipitated a learning chain.

First, I needed the part. Looking online revealed a price ranging from $80 to $120. Eighty to one-hundred and twenty dollars!  There must be some mistake. What I wanted was only a little piece of plastic. Nope! After looking everywhere, the conclusion: the little piece of plastic with a little light embedded, shipped, would be at least $100.

How fair was that price? What did it cost to make the item? Raw material, development, labor, etc. all cost. However, in my wildest dreams, I could not come up with a price approaching the ones quoted. I also noticed that the little tray at the bottom of the water dispenser cost $25.00 to replace. It is a stamped, plastic piece. But the experience did not stop there.

We needed a rack for the top of the vehicle. The price of a carrier rack – two bars running parallel – was  over $200. Simple math says that is a hundred dollars each bar! And, if you want crossbars or have it installed, the cost goes up.

Nor, is this price problem relegated to “things.” Services jump in next.

The bill for an MRI was $1120.00. However, because the individual had insurance, the cost was dropped to $444.53. Without that adjustment, the bill for someone who could not afford insurance was the total $1120.00, or $675.47 more than for the person who had insurance.

Does an MRI really cost less to use on a person with insurance and more to administer to a non-insured?

Of course, it is easy to throw rocks. However, ethical business practices and pricing should be built around some important questions: (1) How much does the item cost to produce or the service complexity require? (2) What is a fair percentage of profit? (3) Is the price fair for everyone?

There are laws that protect consumers from gross price manipulation. However, everything cannot be legislated. It is important that organizations and individuals operate using moral and ethical practices. The old “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” could be a nice addition to the organization’s policy book.