Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Compliments help Achievers over and out-perform!


There is this nice, feel-good video that is currently going viral on Social Media. It shows Chris Ulmer, a young teacher at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, Florida - a School for Special Children, beckon his wards one by one every morning. The teacher goes on to say to one boy, "You're an amazing student. I love having you in my class. I think everyone in here loves you." And to the second, "You're funny. You're athletic. You're a great soccer player. You're very smart. You've been doing a great job reading." And so on, one after another to every special boy in his class before sending them off with a high five. 

Chris opines that this simple practice helps shape his students’ world view turning them into better human beings. “If they have a mean, jaded teacher, they will think the world is mean and jaded. But if a teacher displays love, harmony and peace, that will become their norm. After a few weeks of this practice, my students started complementing one another consistently. They praise each other for accomplishments as if it was their own," Chris shares in his video.

You can see the body language of each student change from the time Ulmer calls for them to the moment he High Fives the little tots. It is quite evident that as Chris speaks his fine words to them these differently-abled children transform into confident, beautifully square-shouldered, enthusiastic, sprightly butterflies emboldened to take on any challenge that their uniquely special day throws at them. 

And therein lay a master class in Management Best practice and one of the finest strategies for Talent Retention. Sincere words of praise from people of authority – Super bosses, direct reporting, team leads, managers and people of significance – Top management, mentors, industry bigwigs, even prominent peers, are known to have a lasting impression on the recipient.

Several studies have shown that many a time, well-deserved compliments that are truly and well-delivered by the management – conveying acknowledgement of good work, recognition of the value the employee brings and appreciation of his talent - rate higher than even salary and perquisites. Moreover, using a public platform or a larger audience to express admiration of a great worker and his admirable output creates stronger bonds, reinforces mutual trust and respect, motivates other team members and instills a higher drive in the recipient.   

Compliments and acknowledgements can take varied form. They can be verbal pats on the back in official forums; they can be written affirmation on those formal appraisals; they can also be very visible endorsements of your special talent put up as showpieces for all to see and emulate from.

I was in a closed door once with my General Manager, the Company CFO and the irrepressible Mr. O, owner of the eponymously named chain of hotels, easily considered one of the finest in the world. We were discussing PR budgets, decision-making autonomy, our media engagements and some hairy issues when Mr. O’s eyes rested on the latest issue of Chronicle, the Hotel Newsletter. He quizzed me about how much we spent on it and right away got on the hotline to another hotel GM in his Chain. Without batting an eyelid, he told the gent how ‘our’ Chronicle was the finest in the Chain and produced at a lower cost too. Of course, our GM’s chest swelled with pride but Mr. O won a lifelong fan in me and an employee who would be a Brand Ambassador of his fine Company whether she continued working for him or not. To this day I remain an Oberoi loyalist.

Compliments or recognition of one’s performance must be genuine and sincere; otherwise, it is just meaningless fluff that gets blown away easily without having the desired effect. And it should not always be premeditated, practiced and pro forma. Truthful, honest praise comes straight from the heart and is an instant reaction to a job that has been done well and beyond the brief.

During Australia India New Horizons 1996-97, Australia’s biggest Country Promotion thus far, I was on the media team of Alexander Downer, the then Hon’ble Foreign Minister of Australia. At one of the national Press Conferences held at FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), the Minister was very pleased with the success of the Press meet and the huge number of press folk from prominent media that had gathered there. At the end of the Conference, the Minister turned towards Gai Brodtmann, the Counsellor Public Affairs, who was also the Head of PR & Publicity at the Australian High Commission in India and my immediate boss, to congratulate her for one of the best Media interfaces he had ever experienced. Gai, true to her form and character, got up, turned towards me and told the Minister that she “had nothing to do with it. That it was all my hard work;” in full attendance of the Australian and Indian Government officials and the Mission staff. With that profound gesture, my mentor-for-life, left behind some indelible management lessons for me and all others who were present – lessons in leadership, being secure in one’s own role and position, being proud of one’s team, giving credit where it is due at the right time in the right forum, best techniques in employee motivation and instilling the highest form of accountability in her team mates.   

Compliments need not be direct. Sometimes, a fine word let out by your significant others at work that travels back to you is the finest and most promising music that you need to hear to put your best foot forward at all times. I was meeting this journalist friend for lunch and during the course of our conversation, she recounted that she had met my boss at an Art exhibition the gone Sunday and how they got talking about me and how he had such great things to say about the kind of work I did. The fact that I remember the conversation to this day and that what the boss had to say about me still motivates me even when I have had several experiences under my belt since, shows the importance one can attach to such wonderfully inspiring feedback. Fair words of commendation not only serve to be great pick-ups when you are feeling low, but also, always, serve to maintain your confidence in yourself.

Compliments need not always be verbalized. Often times, actions do speak louder than words and leave a stronger mark. I had just joined this hotel as part of the Change Agent team with the mandate to turnaround and present the hotel with a completely new Brand Image and positioning. Before I joined the place, the Owner and the VP & GM had contracted all PR, Communications, Publicity and Advertising work to two agencies – A PR & Image Consultancy and an Advertising Agency. In my introductory briefing session, Pierre Jochem, the VP & GM (who I call my second mentor) thought aloud, “We will keep the agencies for three months. That should allow you enough time to warm up and begin earnest work on the PR roadmap.”  We had a catching up meeting on the fourth day in his lovely, glass-walled, mezzanine floor Corner office. Monsieur Jochem, carrying the Guest Services Directory mock-up I had given to him for his review, was happy to note the media coverage that had started to happen (with luck on my side one had got the hotel covered every single day of those first four days). And this is what he uttered to me, “You seem to have achieved what these folks had collectively done in three months. I guess we will just terminate their contracts and let them go. I think this way you will get more work done.”

Yes, this decision went into his report to the owners. After the initial sense of high and euphoria it brought in a higher sense of responsibility in me. Such trust and conviction must always be proved right. 

Compliments are the very vocal and visible endorsement of an employee’s good performance that is laudable and to be encouraged. Such validation of commendable work ensures that the employee continues to feel motivated, accountable and responsible. He/she becomes more result-oriented and holds a stronger level of ownership for his role and responsibility; endeavouring to maximize the wins and diminish the fails towards his/her goals achievement.

Compliments are, indeed, one of the finest strategies for retaining good talent and reshaping average work into stellar feats. Use it often, but judiciously. Compliment your team profusely at every given opportunity but with sincerity and deservingly!

So how have compliments helped you perform better and exceed targets? Tell me in your comments.


*****

Monday, 2 November 2015

Can a Leader Make or Break an Organization?


More times than not, the shape and personality an organization falls into directly depend on the dominant traits of the top leader at its helm. So whether the top dog is fair, biased, aggressive, assimilative, open-minded and inclusive or clique and coterie centered, insecure or confident, the organization tends to take on similar features and harbour the climate that screams of the same defining set of behavioural facets.

Leadership Key to Healthy Organization

In one’s career history, while growth and better opportunity are often the crucial reasons for moving out from one and into another organization, the other main reason that seldom gets talked about openly is a huge sense of disenchantment or dissatisfaction or unhappiness stemming from a sour equation with an immediate boss or the super boss or the politically charged peer group that makes it difficult for one to perform optimally. Complicated and unreasonable bosses or a set of ogre-like colleagues is, in fact, a bigger, often unspoken reason for people to move and seek greener pastures elsewhere. Several HR studies, globally, have proved this fact time and again.  

In the early 1990s, as a young, sprightly fresher with rose-tinted glasses, I joined the Public Affairs Section of a Diplomatic Mission in Delhi. This was my second job and I had often heard that it was Asians who were more cliquey, gossipy, with inherent biases and prone to apple-polishing. So, imagine my astonishment when I found some of my Western colleagues as guilty as their Asian counterparts. My first reaction was, “Hell, Here too!” And the second reaction post some thought, “We all are the same beneath the veneer.”

My first boss here was a grouchy, somewhat mean, cranky man given to favouritism and an unpleasant disposition.  He was tendentious towards one single person – obviously his favourite – instead of treating the entire team fairly; so much so that this person embodied the same attributes as the boss, adding extra doses of her viciousness to it. At one time when I was working along with her, she would rejoice in giving me some of the most menial tasks – “just do the filing,” “get me connected to so and so on the phone,” – and had the audacity to keep the official files hidden away and stashed under lock and key lest I lay my hands on them even when I had to file. Mind you, this was no confidential data but the ludicrous behavior continued, fanned by the boss’ strong inclination towards this person that allowed for many such unprofessional acts to flourish in the department. 

Then one day this boss was transferred out and in came a breath of fresh air in the form of a youthful, dynamic lady who brought in a sea change in the department in terms of how we viewed PR work, how we regarded each other as colleagues, how our work was perceived by other departments and the parent Government we had to report back to. 

What came across bright and clear were two different modes of leadership, two distinct personalities who contributed in their own way to the manner the department looked, breathed, felt and delivered. 

While one was a negative influence, the other used her high standard of skills, fine leadership style, fair & equal opportunity approach to make every work day a fun and productive day and ended up turning the Public Affairs Department into a highly respected and sought after department in the High Commission.

Leaders can Make or Break an Organization

My next stint for a period of more than a decade and a half has been with hotels. Now, hotels are completely multicultural organizations where the workforce is truly international, hailing from different countries; but of course, the largest base is of the countrymen from the place where the hotel is located. Yet, in hotels, it becomes extremely pertinent to know how to work together with people from as far and wide as France and Germany to Sri Lanka and China. Despite the cultural differences, this ends up adding a lot of fun elements to one’s day in the life of the organization as you end up learning about these cultures and understanding what makes the ‘other’ people tick. This, however, is a subject matter of another discourse.

In hotels, while the owner or the CEO of the hotel chain is the defining personality, the GM of the unit hotel where you may work is the lord of his own fiefdom. The team and staff pick out from this leader’s personality aspects and way of running his hotel as much as the top boss’ style percolates down. 

On hindsight, having worked with six different GMs across three hotel chains, I have been fortunate to sometimes thrive and at times strive & struggle in as many organizational climates. And where there has been striving, it really has been a battlefront that has made one as hard as a rock, yet more understanding of the complexities and dynamics of a fire-pit organization.

It has also brought home the point that leaders can really make or break an organization. Not just what corporate literature may tell you, from personal experience, too, I can list out the following – 

1. The organization can be a happy and fun place to which you look forward to returning every morning and to which you willingly want to give extra hours at the end of the day. Such organizations create an overriding sense of job engagement and satisfaction. 

2. It can be such that each day, nay, moment is difficult to pass with an impossible boss breathing menacingly down your neck; and a wicked set of colleagues rubbing their hands in malicious glee every time they pull you down like the proverbial crab.

3. The organization can be healthy, conducive to work with unsurpassed functionality and highly ethical work practices. Responsibilities and recognition, exemplary output and rewards go hand in hand in such places.

4. It can be sick, divisive, undermining and demoralizing. What might get you ahead is hoodwinking and proximity to the influential people like the bosses or the boss’ right-hand man; even if such easily ill-gotten prizes are short-lived and open to scrutiny.

5. The organization can be a place that allows you to blossom as a star worker with positive strokes that help germinate your skills and talent into wonderful fruits of productivity.

6. It can also be a place where there is so much of negative energy that all that can flower there is more bad blood splattered about by parasitic employees who eat into the climate.   

7. The organization can be a place where workers breathe in fresh air, enjoy positive influences, are allowed space to make mistakes and grow, have access to information, become a two-way process in clear communication and are given learning opportunities.

8. Then there are organizations that live in the dark zone of fear, punishment, connivance and control. They operate like secret missions where unnecessary stuff is hidden and kept out of reach of the employees thereby acting as a major impediment in the processes and execution of duty.

9. There are healthy and buzzing organizations that promote good work practices, innovation and creativity and encourage workers to take ownership of their actions.

10. And there are organizations where flattery, manipulation, bad performances, terrible attitudes and overall downward slope in almost all areas rule the roost.  

It is widely seen that the top man maneuvering the reins of the Organization can really lead by example, allowing for the finest personal and professional traits and benchmarked business best practices to shape the organization into an exemplary company; that boasts happy, engaged and optimally delivering team.


*******

Friday, 30 October 2015

Organizational Climate and how it affects us!




Organizations are really microcosms of the larger universe we live in. Hence they can be hot, cold, tropical or temperate. They can also be dry, balmy, Mediterranean or equatorial. The combined energy stemming from the top and flowing through all its elements makes them so.

Organizations are also carbon copies of the people who inhabit these institutions. While a lot of emphasis is given to well-designed buildings, defining looks in terms of the exterior and ergonomic layouts within, what forms the core is the characteristics the organizations imbibe from the organizational denizens. And by this analogy, organizations can be ethical, temperamental, dictatorial, friendly & warm, manipulating & politically charged and so on.

What Shapes Employee Behaviour?


Wikipedia defines organizational climate thus – “Organizational climate (sometimes known as Corporate Climate) is the process of quantifying the “culture” of an organization. It is a set of properties of the work environment, perceived directly or indirectly by the employees, that is assumed to be a major force in influencing employee behaviour.” What must be added is that, the Climate is actually a derivative of the employee bearing and actions intertwined with the Company brand philosophy. On the other hand, well set organizational climate shapes up employee deportment and impacts their efforts. It is, indeed, a complexly circular relationship with one being the causing agent of another and vice versa.

Nationalities do play an important role in defining organizational climate. So, there would be different organizational cultures in America or Europe that would differ from what exists in Africa or Asia. We have heard enough about how Americans or French or Japanese or Chinese or Indians work in their own milieu. And several hand books have been written on how to understand, perform and survive in these varying cultures. But then, with decreased geographical distances by virtue of shorter time spans required to travel around and increased virtual and technology thrusts, organizations have fast become multicultural and multinational bodies that should and have allowed thriving of people from different cultures, have respected the cultural sensibilities while all the time ensuring that it all dovetails back into the common vision and mission of the organization at large.

Organizational Culture as a Product of the Nature of Business


Secondly, nature of business plays a key role in defining the organizational culture. Therefore, government bodies function and feel differently from private companies. Old world professions like hospitals, hotels, banks etc. tend to be more formal than the relatively new businesses such as software firms, advertising agencies, media organisations or FMCG enterprises, where the culture is more informal, less starchy and more yuppy. So, while all-week Friday dressing or addressing the boss by his first name or grabbing a sandwich lunch while at one’s work station or engaging in informal and impromptu discussions in the corridors are all part and parcel of working in such organizations, all this would be simply sacrilege in the formal establishments.

Organizational Culture – a sum of different personality types and people traits


But what is single-handedly most important in defining an organization is the set of soft qualities that the employees and chiefly the top leadership bring into the organization. This, in fact, becomes one of the major rationales for the reputation oscillating between - does the organization manage to attract and retain good talent or is hiring, firing and frequent resigning more the norm at this place. These parameters essentially define whether the organization is known for its best practices and often comes out on top of the most respected organizations’ surveys year after year or is it a place where people may come for short gains and quick trials, where they end up making as swift an exit as their entry.

A few years back, my young para-legal expert and social activist niece came back one evening broken and shattered from her work place that had not only formed the foundation but also helped define her professional identity for the last three years. Her main set of grouses were – there was a huge amount of incongruence between what she was expected to do and was being asked to do; with no clear definition of her roles and no proper direction from a supervising authority she was being made to run around like a headless chicken, that the top boss was whimsical, highly temperamental and given to loud & severe emotional outbursts that would end up sapping a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm, that a lot of colleagues contributed to and festered on malefic grapevine which ended up becoming fodder for the daily news and basis for the existing, rotting climate within the organization. So much so that double promotions in a year and increase in salary structure were not proving to be strong retaining factors as against the severely damaging and driving out forces that lurked within.

It has been a grave Human Resource issue when bad organizational climate leads to absenteeism, increased number of sick leaves, wastage of a multitude of man hours, loss in yield - both individual and collective, and a sharp blow to the bottom line. On the other hand, a good and healthy organizational climate is promoting, nurturing, encouraging and leads to brilliance in work and success in business.

Given how much is invested into making companies function as composite entities and how much is at stake to ensure that they run as successful businesses, it is a matter of utter astonishment to note how the people – at all levels really, from the visionaries and strategists on top to the developers and managers in the middle down to the ones who really make things happen at the shop floor – work at cross purposes to the Organizational Vision and Mission. 

Organizations need to realize and take into account the huge amounts of time, energy and money they lose not only when good, well-trained and high performing employees leave but also when they continue to house under-performing, negative and poorly trained workforce that is more of a drain on the company’s resources as against the miniscule nothings that it ends up bringing to the table.

Organizational climate should feed off Organizational culture which in turn should be laid on the foundation of trust, respect, honesty, pleasantness, growth and excellence.

**********

Note 1 - Picture Courtesy - Google Images
Note 2 - This article has been featured on Hospitality Net - http://www.hospitalitynet.org/column/global/154000392/4072410.html

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

More Business communication bloopers to avoid!


Communication, any form, short or long, has the power to define your Brand and reinforce your Brand Image. Communication helps you seal Sales deals, build up your reputation, break down misconceptions and make strong relationships with your clients. 

Often, emails are the first interface with a potential client or a probable business prospect. So why have we begun cutting detestable corners while communicating – both verbally and via the written word! In trying to save time we end up dispensing more in damage control.

Here follow the remaining five mistakes we continue to make, despite our good intentions - 

6. Skirting around 

Instead of addressing the issue at hand or bringing a closure to the discussion; why do we like to engage in preambles, introductions and corollaried explanations?

A lot of my Communication compatriots (including yours truly) can be easily tried for the offense of being over-the-top in our business writing.

Research shows us that to-the-point text carries more weight and delivers more than the superfluous assemblage of words simply adding weight to the body copy.

Be brief. Brevity is indeed a virtue. It helps you capture the reader’s attention span for just the requisite amount of time and convey your piece with force and conviction.

Also, break your text into paras for an easy breeze-through read. And do adhere to that middle school diktat of Introduction – Body – Conclusion in most of your communication for easy comprehension and takeaways by the recipients. 

7. Not being Grammar-ly Good 

I am of the strong belief that no matter how less time we have with us, how small our gadgets become and in whatever part of the world we work in, Grammar will always be our guardian angel in effective communication.

Grammar sets apart a pro from a tyro, a zealous worker from a careless one, a professional who takes pride in his handiwork from one who is merely passing time.

Usage of proper Grammar uplifts the document making it engaging, easy on the eye and a pleasure to read.

Lack of good Grammar and its improper use can alter the meaning of what you wish to convey, and sometimes in acute cases put your text in the grey zone of libel.   

Grammar is no longer as stringent in dictating terms. The rules that applied, say in the 60s, have been relaxed. It is alright to write in an easier, fluent, conversational style. Yet the basic boundaries that bring shape to your syntax and coherence to your content must be observed.

A fabulous writing/editing web resource, Freestyle Editorial, corroborates the point by stating, “The most engaging, persuasive business writing is also the most conversational. So that means you can, and often should violate some stuffy grammatical rules. Which means; you can end sentences with a proposition, split the occasional infinitive, and begin sentences with a conjunction. After all, that is how we speak. However, breaking other grammatical rules can make you look…well…dumb. They can hurt your organization’s credibility and affect the conscious and unconscious purchasing decisions of your customers. According to a 2009 Survey, 94 percent of business service buyers report that grammar, punctuation, and spelling affect their purchasing decisions to some extent.”

There are a zillion Grammar minefields that you should try and avoid at all costs. It’s vs. Its; There, Their, They’re; Stationary vs. Stationery; Principle vs. Principal; Who vs. Whom; Affect vs. Effect; That vs. Which are some of the most common goof-ups we make.

Communication is a craft; please hone it and practice it well. Many a reputation and businesses have been broken on the wheel of weak Grammar and slip-shod structure. 

8. Using smileys and other emoticons

I am surely one of the biggest culprits of using the smiley face rampantly. To me, no communication is complete until I have sent a smiley back to close the conversation; and close a conversation one must. It is the closest to smiling back at a person; easily the nicest element in our non-verbal personality indicators and body language. 

I get away with it, in my formal dialogue with my editors, publishers and fellow professionals I meet and interact with on the Web. But in a more sacrosanct, corporate workspace I would flinch if I did it more than the rare few times I could indulge myself.

Emoting with the Emojis in your social media exchanges and with a certain set of people is absolutely fine. Go ahead and give that Thumbs up or send that snoozing fat kitten.

But, at large, and in most of your formal communication, please refrain from looking perplexed or agitated or elated or walloped, the last depicted by that copiously weeping round face. Also, even when you are bursting at your seams with mirth, there is no place for a ‘Ha Ha’ in official content.

Emoticons have their place in our messaging systems but a business communication text is not one of them.

9. Over usage of exclamation marks / Under usage of spacing options 

Can you please send it to me ASAP??????

Waiting for the report!!!!!!!!!!

I called your office to discuss the important matter at hand. I have been waiting for a call back?!?!?!?!?

Do these look familiar? I know, there are a gazillion instances that make us feel exasperated, push us to the end of the tether and make us hit our heads against the wall. Our corporate avatars are constantly barraged by issues and situations through the day that try our patience.

But exhibiting that vexation, on the formal platform, through the crutch of excessively used exclamation marks is certainly not a proper outlet. Everything has its place; don’t overuse it. That is why the chair and standing office exercises and 2-minute meditation techniques were invented.

One of my personal peeves is when people do not use the readily available Spacing Options intelligently and allow their text to tumble down their hill of overflowing thoughts.

Please use correct pauses in your clauses. Use indentations and line spacing to divide your copy and demarcate contexts and sub-contexts. This is not an embellishment of text; it is de rigueur in developing your communication.

10. Not being culturally sensitive

In the case of the simple, irritating, highly commonly used LOL, what is Laugh out Loud for the Goose may be Lots of Love for the Gander.

WTF, that ubiquitous, highly appropriate, extremely profane Americanism can stand for World Trade Fair (in business), What the Fish (a polite form of ‘that’ profanity), Walk to Freedom (US Army), Wire Transfer Form (in Money Matters), Weapons Tactics Force (in gaming),  Work Time Fun (PSP game) or Wikileaks Task Force (US CIA). 

In today’s livewire world of Social media and its 24X7 connectivity, people across the world are taking umbrage for just about anything. Now, it is not okay to write ‘He could make a difference to the role.’ To be politically correct, you must write ‘He or she could make a difference to the role,’ lest risk being labelled a sexist.

In the same vein avoid using old-practice generic words such as chairman, businessman, forefather, layman, mankind, manpower, spokesman and the like; switching them with the more unbiased, non-controversial and definitely proper alternatives viz., chairperson, businessperson, ancestor, layperson, humankind or human race, workforce, representative and so on.

It is not just the term ‘Black’ which is off limits. People prefer Asian from Oriental or the more specific Indian, Chinese, Korean, Pakistani (never the offensive Paki), Alaska Native or even Inuit-Yupik over Eskimo, Aboriginal people over Aborigines.

Remember, in a conscious effort to be more sensitive and inclusive, we no longer use crippled and disabled; replacing them with more respectful ‘special,’ or ‘differently abled.’

Do you recall the case of Justine Sacco, the Communications Director (no less) of New York-based internet empire InterActive Corp, who was roasted on slow fire for her tactless and thoughtless holiday tweet, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m White!” The mindless, heartless, insensitive communiqué not only set trolls on her back, discredited any good work she may have done, brought her infamy and made her resign from her enviable position.

Please remember, my COB could be your EOD...............

Finally, one of the dirtiest acts in the case of communications is not keeping your house clean and letting emails gather and collect dust. In spite of CCleaner, digital organizer and other organizing tools we still fail to de-clutter our inbox; inviting more trouble and stress.

I urge you to make your work and life easy by making your communication work for you. Become more effective, save time and heartache by imbibing some of the above-mentioned strategies.

For, after all, Y.O.L.O; err......You Only Live Once!



******

Friday, 18 September 2015

Business communication bloopers to avoid!


While people in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, well even 90’s and the early part of the millennium also had 24 hours in a day; somehow our 24 hours seem to have just shrunk miserably. There is always so much to do in such little time. The task list at work has grown bigger and the responsibilities at home are unceasing. Then there is the added pressure of staying on top of what is trending all over the internet and keeping up with the Joneses in our Social media world.

Given the constant onslaught on our senses, putting time into writing coherent, cogent, consciously thought out emails is really not on top of our prioritized heap. Hence, the quick fixes and short cuts we have begun to adopt, without realizing that we dig a deep hole for our professional avatars when paying disregard to how we communicate in our business roles.

It would help if we attempted to avoid some of the following ten bloopers when we hit the keypad – 

1. Incorrect salutation / Wrong form of addressing 

You have to believe it when I tell you how ridiculously I was called out by a telemarketer recently. When I picked up the call she asked to speak to “Dhir L. Aruna”. I asked her why was she addressing me in such an outlandish fashion and she said, without the virtual batting of an eyelid, “That is how it is written in the document I have in my hand.”

There are different ways to address people with different designations ranging from Mr., Ms. (helps to avoid Miss or Mrs. saving you from making more goof-ups. Further, in business matters, Ms. is more unequivocal, formal and professional than either Miss or Mrs.), Dr., Your Excellency, The Honourable and so on. We have set out guidelines available to us in each case. Please use them.

Also, when you are writing to a neutral-sounding name do a background check on what gender the person belongs to and address them correctly. Though not any less in others, this becomes quite important in the service industry where you have a direct relationship with a customer/guest.

I once addressed a certain Blaise M as “Ms. M” because I had encountered a female Blaise in the past but here I was dealing with a male Managing Director. I was pretty embarrassed about the faux pas, which could have been easily avoided. Andrea, Alex, Jordan, Jamie, Morgan, Taylor, Chandra, Kiran, Jyoti, Shashi....the world is full of people with unisex names. Do a little research on the relevant recipient in order to get your salutation right.

Then there follows the next thing after the salutation. What is the best form of addressing a business associate? If you are an American or Australian it may be OK to get on to Peter, Katherine or Edward or even to Pete, Kate or Ed in the second mail itself. Even in the case of these nationalities, please wait for the addressee to give you that leeway. The world, it seems, is filled with too many people who are eager to cross the bar and jump into the area of over-familiarity.

But do that with Europeans, Asians, Far East Asians and you are walking on thin ice that could quickly snap and sink you into the cold shoulder reservoir.

I don’t understand the recent practice of e-retailers who work on an algorithm that automatically picks up the first name. I find it quite atrocious and unprofessional bordering on rude to be addressed as Aruna by the virtual (nameless, faceless) book vendor, furniture supplier, banker, grocer, credit card rep and the like. Since their system is based on a pre-written code why can’t they get their salutation right and stick to the tried and tested, old fashioned way of writing to a Mr. or Ms. so and so?

Again, in the service industry – be it hotels, banks, hospitals, insurance..... - it is safe to stick to the conservative Mr. or Mrs. Smith to set the ball of official communication rolling.

2. Using SMS language or other Acronyms

We are surely and quite dreadfully becoming the generation that communicates in ‘textese.’ 

As if ASAP, BTW, THX, FYI, Ha Ha were not already pretty bad, we are now resorting to C U, IMHO, GR8, MSG, IDK in our emails. The latest inductee in the Communication Hall of Shame to get the Oxford Dictionary recognition is NBD. But in business communication, this matter is a Big Deal!

With modes of our daily communication getting smaller, the case of us using them to communicate officially is increasing. For a lot of practical reasons, the first casualty – which seems superfluous in the times of the tablet – to be crucified is punctuation.

We commit this error, even if it puts us in the category of cheats and felons. Sample this – 

Let’s eat Grandpa
Let’s eat, Grandpa

Using textese in official communication shows you in a bad light, makes you appear lazy and worst of all, threatens to change the import of your communication capsule.

Similarly, acronyms are extremely contextual and country specific. On my first trip to the US, when I failed to comprehend a colloquialism, a cousin scoffed saying I was F.O.B. The joke was lost on me.

Officially recognized acronyms such as UNICEF, NATO, WTO, AIDS are universally acceptable and understood. So, there is no problem in using them. Even CRM, DM, B2B, B2C, CPC, DNS, GA, HTML, KPI are an integral part of our Business lingo, easy to comprehend and relate to.

What causes a problem is the usage of the informal ones, even if you must send in a reply or submit a report ASAP.  Definitely steer clear of OMG, IMHO, NSFW, WYSIWYG, LOL, TTYL and some of the other new world language croppers that, IMO, take the essence and flow away from the text.

Be mindful about dipping into the overused FYI, FYA, BTW, B4, BRB, PLZ, CU, the abominable K, the illiterate UR and the incoherent TY.

Increasing and widespread usage of SMSese or chatspeak has, indeed, corrupted our language, affected our comprehension and limited our linguistic skills.

3. Sending too many attachments

Attachments can be hugely irksome; especially on hand-held devices.

A leading news website I wish to write for, gives specific instructions while inviting a writer pitch. “Please do not send attachements,” it says categorically. “Cut and paste or write into the body of the email all the responses we seek to our queries,” it adds.

Unless specifically asked for or when really important to the matter at hand – for instance attaching a CV to the job application, sending a report document, a brochure design PDF – desist from adding weight to your mail by needlessly pinning attachments to it.   

Attachments are, often, invited by the recipient or offered by the sender when you are in your second or third stage of dialogue. Also, send only the requisite amount, even when you must upsell yourself or your product.

4. Getting too familiar in our tone 

It could be because we have too much on our plate, or because we wish to save time for our other pursuits or diddle away precious time on our social media activities so much that we are in a maniacal frenzy to get the important work done. We may also feel that appearing close to a professional contact or a figure of authority will bring us some benefit. Whatever is our excuse, some of us are getting too familiar in the way we communicate officially.

I, recently, received a formal note from a junior colleague who wished to enlist my help in writing/editing with a “Hello, there.” No, it was not a SPAM or a lottery scam from Nigeria. The person was from my industry, was writing to seek formal help and was attempting to create an impression.

Some obnoxious notes end with a callously casual, “Do call me,” which is not only grammatically incorrect but also makes the sender come across as pompously presumptuous. 

More often than not, our disembodied voice and the content of our message conveyed over the phone or a business letter we send ahead of establishing a formal connection, are the first impressions we leave on the mind of the recipient. Then, why do we risk our reputation by doing a shoddy job when even that first instance can be used to our benefit.

Becoming too friendly instead of staying professionally warm makes you cross the line of decorum making you appear as a pushover and an eager-beaver.

5. Trusting the Autocorrect blindly / not using spell check

At my first hotel job with the Hyatt Group, I was sending a note to the General Manager and I missed the crucial “l” in my designation as a terrible typographical error. Though, in hindsight, it seemed like a comical caper, at the time I was hugely embarrassed and had a tough time facing the boss for days.

Autocorrect has been seen changing Goldman Sachs to Goddamn Sachs, Public to Pubic, Dear to Dead, Party to Patty and the always hilarious ‘meeting with clients’ to ‘mating with clients.’

Autocorrect has a brain of its own and is known to put not only your job in danger but destroy your painfully built reputation too. The web is filled with ‘Damn You Autocorrect’ sites that can help you kill time on a lazy Sunday afternoon but do not let the Computer fed, algorithmically driven Net mind to make you lose your own. 

In Part 2 of this article, we will look at the remaining five mistakes we commit, intentionally or inadvertently, in our communication.


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Tuesday, 15 September 2015

COMMUNICATING IN THE CORPORATE WORLD!


Communications is the single most important key to your Brand positioning, Brand awareness, Brand recognition and Brand association. Need I say more!

Whatever you may do – from providing medical care to creating an aspirational lifestyle; whatever you may wish to sell from air travel to Z-plus security, it must be communicated to your target audience. That is what Corporate Communications is all about - building and cementing relationships with your clientele and strategizing to deliver your Company message to them in the best possible ways that ensure easy relatability.

When the chips are down, companies often make the mistake of cutting corners in or completely eliminating activities that seem superfluous or ‘good-times’ functions such as advertising and public relations. But in the case of PR, they couldn’t go more wrong. For, it is in the dire times that you need a good mouthpiece to reclaim your positioning and hold on to your territory.

Above the line, below the line, subliminal, suggestive, word of mouth, through the drumbeats over a dense jungle - whatever be your mode of communication, your message must reach the intended lot. And it must be conveyed in the most creative manner with utmost clarity.

When in doubt about how to devise the most effective communication capsules, always remember to adhere to the 7 Cs of Communication – Be Clear, Concise, Concrete, Correct, Coherent, Complete and Courteous. With this simple formula you can never go wrong in ensuring maximum reach, frequency and penetration of your messages to the target audience.

As a CEO, you must ensure that your Company operates in an open atmosphere that encourages - along with prospects of growth, the milieu of respect, trust and belongingness - a culture of information sharing. This must be followed as a top to down approach so that every employee works in an inclusive environment and feels a sense of responsibility to do the same with his or her team. Not only does this working style build and equip all other brand ambassadors with enough information bases to represent the Brand with; this approach also provides an extremely fertile and fruitful foundation for a Communications person to operate from.

Corporate Communications is an integral senior management, strategy-level function. It must be kept in the know-how of all important things the Company is involved in for the following essential reasons – 

1. To be able to communicate Company’s immediate messages in the most efficient way and to the right audience.

2. To devise the optimal strategy to cover a wide audience base, in a direct outreach, and with cutting down of any loss of resource and effort.

3. To be razor-sharp with requisite knowledge of the issues or turn of events so as to handle the crisis situations better, in order to ensure no or minimum damage to the Brand value.

4. To keep up the morale of the internal publics by thoughtful communications strategy encouraging employee engagement and sense of identification with the Brand.

Further, with changing times and innovation of new technologies, the rules of the game have changed. If you wish to remain a dynamic and pertinent player then you must adapt, learn and evolve in the face of new challenges, opportunities and practices. Premium amongst the current need is to internalize Web 2.0, internet-driven PR and Communication strategies and become adept at getting the Social Media to work for you as an able ally.

There have been recent cases, where a PR person’s short-sightedness and apparent gaffe on, even, their personal Facebook and Twitter pages have caused grief to their Company’s reputation and jeopardized the professional’s career.

With new Communication channels being gaping open doors, easily searchable, playing round the clock and with the propensity for information to be dug out of the archives with just a mere click, it becomes imperative that the Communications professional and all the other Company spokespeople are cautious, clear, honest, conscientious and with a global outlook in the way they communicate, not only professionally but also personally.   

If Communication has the power to build a brand and keep it on top of the mind recall level, it also has the proclivity to break the brand and create reverse value in the minds of the publics.

So, for your Communications Strategy to be effective, here are some simple rules - 

1. Communication capsules must hold value for the target audience.

2. Communication must be purposeful – strengthening the bond with the audience. Generating feel good sentiment and respect for the brand are great purposes to bear in mind.

3. Messages may not always be about business. They can also be corporate socially responsible. You must positively reckon that genuine CSR activities create lasting value for the Brand.

4. Communication must be bottom-line focussed. At the end of the day, you must endeavour to run a successful business and all your initiatives must dovetail into that plank.

5. Communication must be meaningful – Untrained, unprepared Brand representatives speaking mindlessly at external platforms just for the sake of occupying space or bandwidth on some media without conveying messages of value – both for the Company and the end user, cut an extremely sorry figure, bringing a bad rep to themselves and their Brand.

6. Communication must generate respect and strong identification in the Brand even from internal customers. 

7. All brand ambassadors (read the entire employee base essentially, because one way or another each employee is an ambassador capable of propagating your brand value) must be trained to understand the Company ethos and convey it to the world at large, through their words, actions, demeanour and Brand association.

Still, being in Communications you are the chief custodian of the Brand. And with direct access to the media, you are the key Brand Ambassador.

Therefore, the best Communications Strategy for any Company would involve the following essential aspects – It bears value for the Brand and its products, carries a promise of service delivery, is coherent and customer-engaging, reliable and realistic and is delivered in a timely fashion.

With all the Communication tools and PR strategies at your disposal, you are in that enviable position to build a brand and reinforce its image consistently in the minds of the relevant publics.



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