We are awash in too many words. We need to learn to shorten our sentences, shorten our messages, get right to the heart of our messages. We need to get to the point, quickly, clearly, and simply. Because, we all have too many other words to read.
This is the growing consensus of a whole bunch of folks.
For example, Andrew Sullivan’s blogging style is described as a short, to the point, opening sentence and then a pull quote. (I’m sorry – I do not remember where I read this description his style – but I read his blog, and it is accurate).
For example, many mission statements are too long. Way too long. So long that no one remembers them, that few actually learn them. A lot of people are saying this. Guy Kawasaki, in The Art of the Start, puts it this way:
Make Mantra. Forget mission statements; they’re long, boring, and irrelevant. No one can ever remember them – much less implement them. Instead, take your meaning and make a mantra out of it. This will set you entire team on the right course.
In the article, The Eight-Word Mission Statement by Eric Hellweg, Hellweg puts it this way:
To combat this, Starr insists that companies he funds can express their mission statement in under eight words. They also must follow this format: “Verb, target, outcome.” Some examples: “Save endangered species from extinction” and “Improve African children’s health.”
Mulago’s approach is refreshingly sparse, and really helps to clarify the thinking. It’s a great “forcing function” as well. As Starr spoke, you could almost see PopTech attendees workshopping their mission statements, trying to get them down to under eight words in this format. It can be quite hard to do.
How long is your company’s current mission statement? Do you think you could get it down to under eight words using the “verb, target, outcome” format? It’s a good exercise to consider running, if only to start real conversations at your company about what you’re doing, to/for whom, and toward what outcome. Fascinating approach.
For example, consider the “Takahashi Method” for presentation slides.
Takahashi uses only text in his slides. But not just any text — really big text. Huge text. Characters of impressive proportion which rarely number more than ten, usually fewer. The goal, he says, is to use short words rather than long, complicated words and phrases.
There seems to be a growing understanding that we are awash in too many words. Fewer words, stated clearly and simply, may be a true key to modern communication success.
Here is an excerpt of an article by Herb Kelleher that appeared in Leader to Leader magazine (No. 4 Spring 1997) and then as Chapter 6 in a book, Leader to Leader: Enduring Insights on Leadership co-edited by Frances Hesselbein and Paul M. Cohen, published by Jossey-Bass (1999).
To read the complete article, please click here.
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WHAT’S the secret to building a great organization?
How do you sustain consistent growth, profits, and service in an industry that can literally change overnight? And how do you build a culture of commitment and performance when the notion of loyalty — on the part of customers, employees, and employers – - seems like a quaint anachronism? I can answer basically in two words: be yourself.
That is both a simple and a profoundly difficult goal. It means spending less time benchmarking best practices and more time building an organization in which personality counts as much as quality and reliability. It also means cultivating an ability to embrace paradox.
Southwest Airlines has a reputation as the wild and crazy guy of commercial aviation. Yet in many ways we are the most conservative company in our industry. We have always maintained a strong balance sheet, watched our costs, and paid as much attention to our financial fitness in good times as in bad. That discipline lets us move quickly when opportunities come our way. From 1990 to 1994, for instance, when the airline industry lost $12.5 billion, we were able to buy more planes and enhance our capacity to compete in today’s growing market.
But you can’t just lead by the numbers. We’ve always believed that business can and should be fun. At far too many companies, when you come into the office you put on a mask. You look different, talk different, act different — which is why most business encounters are, at best, bland and impersonal. But we try not to hire people who are humorless, self-centered, or complacent, so when they come to work, we want them, not their corporate clones. They are what makes us different, and in most enterprises, different is better.
Culture Defines Personality
A financial analyst once asked me if I was afraid of losing control of our organization. I told him I’ve never had control and I never wanted it. If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don’t need control. They know what needs to be done, and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, a willing basis, the fewer hierarchs and control mechanisms you need.
We’re not looking for blind obedience. We’re looking for people who on their own initiative want to be doing what they’re doing because they consider it to be a worthy objective. I have always believed that the best leader is the best server. And if you’re a servant, by definition you’re not controlling.
In an organization like ours, you’re also likely to be a step behind the employees. The fact that I cannot possibly know everything that goes on in our operation — and don’t pretend to — is a source of competitive advantage. The freedom, informality, and interplay that people enjoy allow them to act in the best interests of the company. For instance, when our competitors began demanding tens of millions of dollars a year for us to use their travel agents’ reservations systems, I said, forget it; we’ll develop an electronic, ticketless system so travel agents won’t have to hand- write Southwest tickets — and we won’t be held hostage to our competitors’ distribution systems. It turned out that people from several departments had already gotten together, anticipated such a contingency, and begun work on a system, unbeknownst to me or the rest of our officers. That kind of initiative is possible only when people know that our company’s success rests with them, not with me.
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Herb Kelleher, [retired] chairman, president, and CEO of Southwestern Airlines, has been called perhaps the best CEO in America by Fortune magazine. Under his leadership, Southwest has become the most consistently profitable, productive, and cost- efficient carrier in the industry. It has also earned the “Triple Crown” award for best on-time performance, baggage handling, and customer satisfaction for four years running.
For additional information about Kelleher and Southwest Airlines, check out Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success co-authored by Kevin Freiberg and Jackie Freiberg as well as Jody Hoffer Gittell’s The Southwest Airlines Way and Lorraine Grubbs-West’s Lessons in Loyalty: How Southwest Airlines Does It – An Insider’s View.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Li Xin Bai for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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Consider the following findings from the Hay Group:
Research conducted worldwide shows that leadership contributes to 70% of corporate atmosphere, while corporate atmosphere contributes to 30% of corporate performance. Therefore, leadership can exert direct influence on 21% of corporate performance.
In Chinese companies, 19.1% of the managers are found to be high-performance leaders, 9.8% inspiring leaders, 13.4% leaders who create no obvious value, and 57.7% leaders who actually discourage their employees. That is to say, 70% of the managers either don’t help or discourage their people.
The first conclusion reinforces that leadership does have a significant impact on organizational performance. But the second conclusion tells us that leadership development in Chinese companies really has a long way to go.
As a follower, we may not be able to change our leader’s style. But we can help solve the problem by adjusting our own work style. Based on my experience — meeting with two or three CEOs a week for the past five years — I have come to think of leaders as falling into one of three categories. Being able to categorize which type of leader I’m working with has helped me figure out how to work most effectively with them.
Sun-like leaders. The quintessential sun-like leader is an entrepreneur, one who takes the lead in everything,
just as the sun illuminates everything. Their subordinates get close supervision. These hands-on leaders sometimes feel like if they’re not involved, they’ve lost control — as their follower, you need to be aware of this sense of insecurity.
When working with such a leader, be sympathetic. Include him in work where he can demonstrate his ability — he wants to be useful, so give him something to do! Invite him to get involved — he will do so anyway, and bringing him in increases the odds that he’ll support your work. Make your own job easier by leveraging his experience and his insights with customers and others.
Moon-like leaders. The moon reflects the light of the sun; a moon-like leader reflects the light of his employees. He is more open-minded and trusting of his people. Only when you lose your way — just like someone walking a dark road at night — would he step forward to shed light on what he thinks you should do. This kind of leadership gives employees room for development. However, trust between the follower and the leader does require timely maintenance; when the leader does step forward, be willing to answer questions and open your project up for inspection.
Star-like leaders. Leaders of this type will only indicate a direction, like the North Star. Their teams, however, still need a light source, so star-like leaders need followers who can step up and light the way for others. Only those leaders with great wisdom have the confidence to be star-like. Their empowerment shows high recognition for your capabilities. This kind of leadership only works when the leader has built a capable team that can function with minimal supervision. As a follower to this kind of leader, you’ve got a great platform, but you have to demonstrate that you deserve the trust you’ve been given.
In reality, each of us is both leader and follower. As a leader, review your behaviors and words from the perspective of a follower; as a follower, ask yourself how you can work more effectively with your leaders. Imposing high standards in both roles will improve performance for all.
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Li Xin Bai is a Senior Strategy Consultant for IBM in China.
Here is an article written by Suzanne Lucas for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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An MBA is incredibly valuable if your career path requires an MBA. If it doesn’t, then it may be helpful, it may be neutral, or it may even hinder you. Yes, an MBA expands your earning power, if your career path requires one. Yes, it makes you look more impressive, if the people who are doing the hiring are impressed by that. Yes, there is a big difference between a top 10 program and the local “if you can pay tuition you’re in” program. But, how to decide?
Here are some questions to ask yourself (and some questions you need to ask others):
1. Where do you want to be in 5 years? What about 10 years? I know, it’s the dreaded interview question. But, this time you’re going to ask yourself. Where do you really want to go with your career? Yes, I know things can change, but take the time to think it out.
2. What credentials do the people in your “future job” have? You figured out where you want to be, so find out who is there now. Do they have MBAs? Do they have different advanced degrees? What schools did they go to? (Yes, it matters.)
3. Will the school that you are attending be worth the effort? I hate to sound snobbish, but the school you attend really matters at the MBA level. Really, really matters. If you want to be CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, getting your MBA at the local university is unlikely to help you. You’ll need to go to a top MBA school
for that. The good news is that Bloomberg BusinessWeek is reporting that some top MBA programs are easier to get into now.
I know people with MBAs from some low prestige schools that have jobs they could have gotten without those degrees, and, in fact, their coworkers lack the MBA. The school you choose will open some doors for you and will close other doors to you.
4. How much money will your MBA bring you? Okay, I don’t have a crystal ball either. But, take a look at the school’s information about the salaries of its alumni. An MBA from Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business brings a median staring salary of $90,000, while one from Harvard brings in $114,400. Awesome! But, check out what Payscale.com is reporting for people with MBAs.
A range of almost $50,000 to the mid $80,000s for University of Phoenix grads is substantially different. If you’re making $75,000 right now, it doesn’t make sense to get an MBA at a low tier school.
5. How much will your MBA cost you? I’m not talking just tuition here. In your case, the company is paying 75%. Yippee! But, does that come with a clause that holds you hostage for 3 years after they make their last payment? How does your company treat newly minted MBAs? Is a promotion possible, or will it just be a cake? When you’re released from your 3 year hold, new companies will see your salary as one you earned as someone with an MBA with 3 years of post-graduation experience. If you weren’t rewarded financially at the old firm, your value to a new firm drops as well.
Are you going to be willing to pay back what you would owe in order to leave? And if your company is not paying it, are you taking out student loans, paying as you go or relying on your trust fund? Because some MBA programs can be really expensive–over $100,000 kind of expensive. Sure, if it raises your earning potential by thousands and thousand’s it’s worth it. But, if it’s going to only slightly raise your potential then the costs may outweigh the benefits.
But, if you’ve gone through the 5 questions above and determined that an MBA is the path for you, then go get it. The knowledge will be helpful, and the connections invaluable.
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Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate Human Resources. She’s hired, fired, and analyzed the numbers for several major companies. She founded the Carnival of HR, a bi-weekly gathering of HR blogs, and her writings have been used in HR certification and management training courses across the country.
If conventional wisdom about management were a piñata….
What we have here is a collection of highly unconventional perspectives, presented within a highly unconventional format, one that initiates a collective assault on conventional wisdom about management. Henry Mintzberg is the master of revels and has enlisted an impressive of group of iconoclasts, notably Bruce Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel. Throughout the narrative of eight chapters, they and others share their thoughts about what management is…and isn’t, about what effective management is…and isn’t, and about the challenges that managers face today that are unprecedented in terms of peril and complexity.
The material certainly achieves its specified objective: “to get us all thinking again. Opening perspectives on this fascinating business of management, for managers themselves, those who work with managers, and anyone who aspires to join their ranks.” To varying degree in sometimes quite different ways, the articles challenge (if not obliterate) conventional wisdom that frequently resembles a piñata.
In Ricardo Semler’s contribution, for example, excerpted from his HBR article (September/October 1989), he explains that his company in Brazil, Semco “doesn’t have systems or staff functions or analysts or anything like that. What we have people who either sell or make, and there’s nothing in between. Is there a marketing department? Not on your life. Marketing is everybody’s problem. Everybody knows the price of the products. Everybody knows the cost. Everybody has the monthly statement that says exactly what each of them makes, how much bronze is costing us, how much overtime we paid, all of it. And the employees know that 23% of the after-tax profit is theirs.”
Later in the article, he adds “…Employees can paint the walls any color they like. They can come to work whenever they decide. They can wear whatever clothing makes them comfortable. They can do whatever the hell they want. It’s up to them to see the connection between productivity and profit and act on it.”
I think Mintzberg and his collaborators thus end the book in an especially appropriate way, deferring to Ricardo Semler and then to an observation by Aesop (620-560 BC); “After all is said and done, more is said than done.” In less than 130 pages, the reader is provided with a wide variety of perspectives and a wealth of unconventional insights such as those found in the Semler contribution.