Archive for May, 2012

Lessons from the Greatest Generation

Memorial Day is a time to honor those men and women who gave their lives in service to our country, and to recognize those veterans still with us.

I hold a soft spot for WW II veterans, part of what Tom Brokaw termed the Greatest Generation. My parents, aunts, and uncles fit into that category, and while most of them are gone, their legacy provides lessons for those who remain:

Sacrifice
Has any generation given more? An evil plague was spread across Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, and stopping it required a great sacrifice. Millions enlisted into the military; many didn’t return.  And let’s not overlook the contributions of those who stayed behind on our shores.

After the war, these heroes turned their thoughts to family. They worked long hours — sometimes two jobs — to give their children a roof overhead, food on the table, and a chance for a better life.

Appreciation
The Greatest Generation lived through the Great Depression, and yet, still managed to appreciate what they had. My mother often spoke of the good times with friends and family — despite having very little money or material things.

Humility
It’s hard to overestimate the accomplishments of the Greatest Generation. Yet, I don’t ever recall a WW II veteran boasting about their achievements, choosing instead to speak of sacrifice, lost comrades, and the horrors of that war.

Now, it’s our turn
History will judge if we live up to the example set forth by the Greatest Generation. In the meantime, on this Memorial Day, let’s thank them (and all veterans) and do our best to follow in those footsteps.

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5 Lessons from The Avengers

The hottest movie thus far this year is The Avengers, a Marvel Comics’ film about a group of superheroes who defend Earth against invader from other worlds.

While The Avengers is chock- full of action, there are lessons that even mere mortals can take away.

Be a team player
My college Philosophy professor was fond of saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” a key message throughout this movie. Put six superheroes in a room and you’re bound to have some egos clash. But they soon realize that a team effort was the only way to win, and set their differences aside for the common good.

Know your skills and respect others’
Each Avenger had unique powers — and limitations — that were eventually appreciated by the others. Iron Man didn’t coach Thor on how to throw his hammer, nor did Captain America tell Hulk how to wreak havoc on the invaders. Do people in your organization respect others’ and trust them to do their job? Or, do you see micromanagement by peers and supervisors? One of my favorite bosses regularly said it was his job to set the vision and then get out of the way so staff could make it happen.

Take risks
The Avengers brought together several franchises: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, etc. Iron Man, in particular, has produced two successful movies with a third due next year. In The Avengers, Marvel Comics took a calculated risk by merging these characters and storylines. The film required a balancing act to ensure fans felt their favorite hero received appropriate screen time and action. By looking at the box office numbers, the risk paid off.

Plan Ahead
Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Nick Fury, created the Avengers long before they were needed. Perhaps he knew more than he let on, but regardless, Fury had a plan in place when the need arose. While you can’t predict every possible crisis, setting a foundation to respond can make a difference. Start with a list of things that could go wrong — fire, flood, employee death, data breach, robbery — and steps you’d take to respond. Who should sit on your crisis team? What tools or information would they need? Who is your press contact/spokesperson?

Do the right thing
I’m not going to give anything away, but Fury follows his convictions and goes against superiors’ directive. He acts based on a desire to do the right thing and his trust in the team. Two good lessons.

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Write to employees, not at them

Ever notice how some people seem to change their communication style when writing? The 50-cent words come flying out and nobody understands the message. “Fix a problem” becomes “meet this challenge head on.” And of course, the only way to meet this challenge is to leverage your synergies. Ugh…

I suspect that part of the formality is that people want to appear as knowledgeable as possible, and perhaps try too hard. In some cases, I’m sure, it’s also to impress the boss.

Regardless, loading up your message with grown-up words decrease its effectiveness, especially if you use jargon or industry-specific terms.

Remember the line from Denzel Washington’s character in Philadelphia: “Explain it to me like I’m a 6 year-old.” That’s pretty much spot-on. People appreciate common, everyday language, and won’t feel like they’re being spoken down to.

Eligible employees …
Another common error I see is speaking to people in the third person. Companies from Maine to Alaska send out messages announcing that “Benefits enrollment packets are being mailed to eligible employees.” I’m not picking on our friends in the benefits world — after all, they’re not paid to write —but consider the difference of: “Look for your benefits enrollment packet in the mail …”

Use “you” to help personalize your message.

Get to your point quickly
Years ago, at a company far away, employees received an email that brought some not-so-good news. Unfortunately, the key element was buried in the message. While I can’t recall the point of the message, I do remember hearing a coworker say “They don’t tell you until the fourth paragraph.”

This buried-message style raises red flags for two reasons.

  • People are busy, and you need to put you key points in front of readers quickly.  Be clear and concise.
  • Overselling the message dings your credibility. A lengthy introduction is often seen as a set up, or worse. This is especially true when targeting readers from our younger generations.

Be yourself when you write. Your readers will appreciate it, and with a little bit of luck, your message will hit home.

Your thoughts?

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Don’t overlook the press release

The explosion of  Social Media has tarnished the luster of the traditional press release somewhat, but reports of its demise are premature. In many circumstances, a well-written release can still play a role in your communication plan.

Getting started
Ask yourself: Will people find this information interesting? Is it something that people outside of our organization will talk about? If you answer yes, it might make good fodder for a good press release.

Sometimes you need to drill beneath the surface to find a good story. For example, celebrating your store’s 18th year in business is certainly exciting, but is that newsworthy? Probably not. But, if you had the same group of employees for all 18 years …

What makes a story newsworthy?

  • New or unique.  The “first,”  “largest,” or “only one of its kind” often provides a good connection.
  • Impact and results: jobs created, lives saved, children helped, record-breaking sales, etc.
  • Connect to a trend or other story: researchers at our hospital are working on a blood test to detect breast cancer, so we distributed a release in October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Look for similar connections.

Tell a story
People too often begin releases with background information, but  it’s important to include the key message at the start of your release.

Incorrect: XYZ Manufacturing began in 1973 with just three employees, and has grown to more than 100. Despite its growth, XYZ has maintained a record for safety….

Better: It’s been eight years since an employee at XYZ Manufacturing lost time due to a workplace injury, and today Governor Smith recognized the company with the Johnston Safety Award.

Final touches
Like a newspaper article, your press release should include an attention-grabbing headline. “Local Company Wins Award” doesn’t have the punch of “Governor Honors XYZ Manufacturing  for Workplace Safety Initiative.”

Include your information for questions from reporters.

End with your “boilerplate,” a paragraph-length, high-level summary of your company: your industry, sales, number of employees, locations, etc.

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