Archive for August, 2008

3 broken rules

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

I know I amlinda an anomaly: I love grammar. Actually, I don’t love grammar so much as I love the order grammar gives to language. Its rules allow us to communicate with little misunderstanding. But, for communication to occur, the rules have to be followed.

I cringe whenever I hear three rules broken — and I heard all three broken time and again as I listened intently to the politicians at the Democratic National Convention last week. As Ann Landers used to say, they deserve 40 lashes of a wet noodle.

The three broken rules? Here they are:

1. “Graduate college (or high school).” Oh, were my ears pained when I heard the phrase,”When I graduated college.” Please! Graduate is almost always an intransitive verb, which means it cannot take a direct object. If the speaker meant to say s/he received a diploma from a college, the correct usage would be “graduate from,” as in “I graduated from Indiana University.”

That said, graduate can be used as a transitive verb, but it is used in this way only rarely. As a transitive verb, it means to confer a degree or certificate, as in “Indiana University graduated 5,000 individuals last spring in an outdoor ceremony.”

2. Over. Such a little word, but it drives me crazy when it is used to mean “more than.” The first definitions of “over” refer to spatial and time relationships, such as “the roof over your head” or “over a period of 10 years.” 

OK. I’ll concede: The dictionary does allow over to mean more than, but this meaning is far down on the list of definitions. So, if you are referring to a number, use more than, not over, as in “More than 38 million people tuned in to Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. That’s more than the number tuned in to the Olympics the week before.”

3. There is/there are. Strictly speaking, this phrase is grammatically correct. It is, however, editorially lazy. As an editor, whenever I see that phrase, I look to see if the sentence can be recast without it. And usually it can be. For example, “There are rules that govern speed limits” can be restated, “Rules govern speed limits.” Or “There is only one acceptable answer” can be restated, “Only one acceptable answer exists.”

Does that mean you should never use the phrase “there is”? Absolutely not. Just use it judiciously. This is a case of less is more.

Each year, the editors of Miriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary come out with new additions in American English in spelling and usage. Language does change, but at a very slow pace. Until it is official, please try not to break the rules of grammar!

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

Deal fairly with feedback

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Most of us think about communication as a face-to-face process of exchanging information. Communication, however, can occur on different lindalevels, and sometimes it may be anonymous.

This happens when managers undergo 360-degree performance-feedback. Generally, they ask their subordinates to complete a form that assesses leadership abilities and communication styles. Sometimes individuals also have the ability to write in anonymous comments. Anonymity is important in order to encourage openness and honesty. Subordinates will not participate (at least honestly) if they feel their remarks can be traced back to them.

One of the key benefits of this type of appraisal is that the manager can see how others perceive him/her: Is he a good communicator? Does she help subordinates grow? Is he too demanding and overbearing? Does she micro-manage? Does he share his vision of the organization? Is she someone who can be trusted?

Managers can learn a lot from 360-degree appraisals. But these appraisals have drawbacks. The principle one is that if the organization  of subordinates is too small, it is not possible to protect the anonymity of respondents. And that could be bad.

If you think using a 360-degree appraisal would benefit you, first ask yourself:

  • “How delicate is my ego?” Quite frankly, I’ve had many bosses over the years, and I could probably count on two fingers the number who were confident enough to receive feedback from their employees. Most had egos so delicate they could be deflated with a pinprick.

  • “Will I get honest feedback?” If not, don’t waste your time. And you won’t get honest feedback if only a few people are involved in giving you feedback.

  • “Can I ‘take’ what I learn?” Think about the way you react when someone close to you criticizes you. If you get defensive and overreact, maybe you aren’t ready for a 360-degree assessment.

  • “If I guess who said something negative about me — especially something I don’t agree with — can I still work with this person objectively? Or will I hold a grudge?” That’s an important question, and a hard one to answer. But it’s not fair to put employees in a position of giving feedback then retaliating against them for being honest. (And it may also be illegal!)

It’s important for you to give your employees feedback about their performance, and ideally, they should feel comfortable enough with you to give you feedback, too. So, if you aren’t already getting that feedback, maybe the lack of feedback IS feedback! Think about it. Then deal with that reality. Work on developing an environment that rewards genuineness, honesty, and caring — making sure those traits are demonstrated in your office first. Employees will always have an opinion about you and your leadership. If they feel good about the organization you have created, they will share their opinions with you. If they don’t feel good about the organization,  they will still share their opinions — only it won’t be with you.

Until next time,
Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

Answer the door

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Sometimes the decisions people make blow my mind. Case in point: Turning down the opportunity to be interviewed.

lindaAs I was working on a freelance writing assignment for a business magazine, I contacted several sources provided to me by the editor of the publication. The assignment was to interview these individuals about a specific topic; they were the experts and I was to get their opinions and ideas. There was nothing controversial about the article.

Two of the four individuals opted out of the interview. Their reason: They were too busy.

Too busy to get free publicity for their company? That’s what an interview for an article is — free publicity. It’s better than by-lining an article. It’s better buying an advertisement. It’s even better than authoring a book! It’s better because the writer is contacting you as an expert. Your expertise is being endorsed by a third party.

This isn’t the first time people have turned down the opportunity to be interviewed for an article. It won’t be the last. But it still astounds me. Opportunity knocks and they refuse to open the door.

Don’t make that mistake. If a reporter or a writer asks to interview you, make the time. Answer the door.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions

Communication: Key to motivating employees

Friday, August 8th, 2008

lindaIf you want to motivate your employees, you don’t have to dig deep into your pocketbook. Certainly, money is important, but as long as you are paying a fair and competitive wage, money is not the  motivator.

What do employees want, then? Interesting work. Appreciation. And communication.

These results come from university studies conducted originally in 1946, redone several times since then. The results have not changed much. People want (and need) to feel they are being paid fairly. But they become committed (motivated) when they know what’s going on.

As you plan your budgets for 2003, don’t neglect your communication budget.

Decide which messages you want to send to your employees during this new fiscal year to help you achieve the financial results you want.

Here are some examples of messages you may want to send:

• “Rising costs and flat sales have dramatically affected our operating budget. We need your help to meet this challenge.”

• “We are growing and we need your help to get and keep the best employees possible!”

• “Management’s door is always open. We want to remain union-free!”

• “We are changing to become a stronger leader in our market!”

• “Keep safe. We don’t want our employees hurt on the job.”

• “Your health is important to us.”

• “We want you to keep learning. Your training and education give us a competitive edge.”

Deciding on the messages you want to send is just the first step in communicating with your employees. Consistently sending them those messages through various media is the key to good employee communication.Budgeting communication isn’t a matter of allocating dollars — it’s a matter of planning what you want to say and then consistently saying it.Until next time,

Linda Segall

Segall Enterprises

Communicate your plans

Monday, August 4th, 2008

lindaSeptember is just around the corner. I don’t know about you, but to me, September is the real start of the year. I think it’s because it’s the traditional start of the school year … and when school starts, everything goes back to “normal.”

In business, September is also when many companies begin their budgeting activities for the next fiscal year. And budgeting means reflecting on the past, planning for the future, and (horrors!) making changes! This year, because of the economy, you may find yourself planning more changes than in the past. You won’t be alone. The country may not be officially in a recession, but it feels like it. So, doing what you have always done to grow (or even merely to sustain) your business may not be enough. You may find it necessary to make changes in the way you do business.

Change is never easy for people to accept. No one wants to tighten their belt, do more, or do things differently. To get your team members to agree to change will require their buying into whatever you have in mind. Experts agree that the best way to deal with change is through communication. In fact, it’s almost impossible to over-communicate.

Some ways in which you can communicate your plans (and change) include:

  • One-on-one meetings,

  • Town hall meetings,

  • Bulletin boards,

  • E-mails,

  • Intranets,

  • Memos, and

  • Newsletters.

The key to communicating change is simple: Say it, say it again, and then say it again. And once you do that, do it all over again.

Also important: Use different approaches. People “hear” in different ways. Some people learn better by listening. Others learn faster by reading. If you use only one method of communication, some of your employees may miss your message.

Here is a communication strategy you might consider:

1. Hold a town hall meeting to announce plans.

2. Communicate the same message in your newsletter (either print or e-mail or both).

3. Post the message on bulletin boards.

4. Talk to individuals one-on-one about their roles in the change.

5. As you near the time to implement the change, regularly remind employees through e-mails and bulletin-board memos.

6. Once you have put the change into place, update everyone via all media — e-mail, memos, bulletin boards, intranets and newsletters.

7. Keep everyone up-to-date on progress — tell them about pitfalls as well as advances.

If you keep to a policy of “no surprises,” your employees will accept change more easily.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions