Vote – Make Your Vote Count

November 1, 2014

Light Off or On?                                 Nov. 1, 2014


It’s “that” time of year again – when it gets dark well before dinner time and even before cocktail time! Daylight Saving Time ends tomorrow, so remember to change your clocks. Darkness will continue to come earlier every day for the next seven weeks when Winter officially begins on December 21, the shortest day of the year. But then the cycle will start all over again, and the days grow longer

As the seasons change so do our environment and our community. About a year ago, I heard this humorous comment about seasonal changes: “Up North, you know Fall is approaching because the leaves change color. Here, you know Fall is approaching because the license plates change color.

Just look around. Every day you’ll see new colors. We accept those changes because there is nothing we can do about them as the pages of the calendar continue to move, and the planets continue to travel around the sun.

But there is another significant event at this time of year. And we can influence the changes that will occur. This coming Tuesday is Election Day. How we conduct our business, how we live our lives, and how we educate our children will be decided by what we do – by how we cast our vote.

Many people have already voted, but for most eligible voters that opportunity is still a few days away.

Unfortunately, many of those people will choose not to vote. What a shortsighted action to take!

Not casting a vote is abdicating responsibility to those who do vote. Non-votes often justify their decision by saying, “What difference does it make?” “They (the politicians) are all alike.” “I can’t be bothered.” “I’m too busy right now.”

But not casting a vote is like getting into the back seat of your car, handing the keys to a total stranger and saying, “Take me anywhere you want to go – and I’ll pay for the gas.”

I can’t think of anyone who would do that. But giving up one’s right to vote is precisely that. It’s giving other people control over what we want, like, plan for, and deserve. By not voting, we give other people our “car keys” and allow them to make decisions that influence our businesses, our finances, and our way of life – and we pay for all the gas. Not voting is abstaining, and in Robert’s Rules of Order an abstention is actually a vote that is given away. It is siding with the majority.

It’s interesting to note we have the Right to vote, but as we learned in school (hopefully) the other side of a Right is a Responsibility. As citizens and as businesspeople we have the duty to behave responsibly toward out society. When we don’t participate in the election process we have no license to complain about outcomes or about decisions.

If someone decides not to vote next week – so be it. That person has given up the option to criticize and to find fault with governing bodies and individuals. Those who shirk the responsibility in essence “give away the car keys.”

Centuries ago, in “Julius Caesar”, Shakespeare had Cassius say, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” That’s true today.

Actions count! Inaction counts just a strongly.

To some, this might sound like “flag waving” but I proudly believe we are fortunate to have the right to vote. Many paid a high price to assure we have that right and it’s irresponsible to ignore it. Too many places throughout the world don’t offer that right, and other places are fighting hard to remove it – to take it away from those who do have it.

I find it hard to understand how anyone can ignore or misuse our powerful weapon of self-determination. Abusing or ignoring that freedom has long tern implications for all of us personally and for our businesses.

Remember this adage next Tuesday, and consider its implications.

“The electorate gets what it deserves.”

In daylight or in darkness next week, I hope to see you at the polls.





Offended vs. Inspired

October 3, 2014

Offended vs. Inspired


Several decades ago, on a radio program in Chicago, I interviewed a man who described a growing phenomenon that would have a profound impact on American business. I didn’t believe this new trend would ever occur. He called it “political correctness.” I had never heard the term PC. As the years passed his predictions about changing conditions and business pressures have proven to be accurate.

As a result of PC, developing clear policies is essential for the effective operation of any business, and the specific wording requires care and caution in order to be “correct” and avoid unintended consequences. But recently that caution seems to have resulted in a trend wherein the opinions and beliefs of some people overpower those of others.

Sometimes that might be only one person, but without consistent policies, a single individual can negate what countless others have valued for many years.

The pressing question is. “What makes that person’s belief or position take precedence over those of others with differing perspectives?” Can we accept the notion that one point of view is more important and more powerful than an alternative point of view?

In the old television program, “You Bet Your Life,” Groucho Marx said, “Say the magic word, and a duck will come down and give you fifty dollars.” In today’s world the “magic word” seems to be “offended.”

It doesn’t produce a fifty-dollar bill, but it’s changing the names of holidays, removing decorations or symbols from work areas, censoring the names of mascots, and prohibiting wearing certain clothing or accessories in the workplace.

We’ve seen the workplace and classrooms become devoid of the touches and the symbols that define the people inhabiting them.

Not long ago it was possible to learn about a person just by entering his or her workspace – be it a small cubicle or a large private office. The pictures, plaques, trophies, and other items on display provided insight into family status, religious affiliation, and military service. Today those clues have largely disappeared because someone found them “offensive.” People working in the locations were expected to remove the items because of the sensitivities of others.

Many schools and businesses have come to the point where displaying certain personal items or wearing certain clothes or accessories are grounds for discipline.

We risk becoming homogenized rather than “diverse”– evolving into a one-size-fits-all society where a small group of individuals determines acceptable behavior for all. The grandson of an acquaintance of mine was removed from his classroom because he was wearing (proudly) the division patch his grandfather had worn in combat during World War II because a teacher’s-aide was offended by the military symbol.

By coincidence, on the same day his father was told to remove an American flag pin from his suit jacket prior to joining a meeting at his office because it might offend another participant.

How did displaying an American flag become offensive? As a side note, when I tried to purchase a few small American flags for an event, a clerk at the store told me, “We don’t stock those things any more.” Those things!

In businesses and schools, we now have Winter and Spring breaks. Professional athletic teams are being pressured to accept names that won’t offend anyone.

If such a trend continues, we might see the passing of occupational names like Vikings, Packers, and Cowboys before too long.

And if other rights activists enter the forum, we might evev see the end of the Bears, Broncos, Dolphins, Bengals, Jaguars, Cardinals, Panthers, and Lions to name just a few.

It’s probably safe to point out that almost everything and anything can offend somebody. So here’s something to consider when developing policies and monitoring behaviors.

When you hear anyone say, “I’m offended by_____” try this. Revise that sentence by saying, “I’m inspired by____.”

You won’t be starting an argument; you’ll be stating an equally valid opinion.

Then reflect on the reaction you get, and ask yourself, “Did I just make a difference?”


Scouts As Managers

August 5, 2014

Scouts as Managers

Two very different thoughts converged recently, and I realized how closely they

were connected.

The first thought includes the basic principles of managing and communicating that apply to all businesses today, and the second comes from my youth long ago. A great deal has already been written about the “do’s” and “how to’s” of managing. I even contributed two titles to the collection within the past couple of years. (“Becoming a Successful Manager” and “Mottoes for Managing”) The variety of perspectives and experiences has provided a wealth of information for both new and experienced managers, and three simple words serve as a daily reminder about where and how we focus our energies.

Those words are: Your Behavior Counts.

In my younger days, like many young boys, I became a Boy Scout. I had fun, and I learned a lot at the same time.

I didn’t know how well I had learned some lessons until I found myself referencing the Scout Law as I was conducting a business seminar recently. I realized every characteristic in the Scout law is essential to being a good manager.

In case you forgot them, here are the twelve items in the Scout Law.

A Scout is “Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.”

It seems clear that, while we were learning to tie knots and pitch tents we were also learning how to manage businesses.

Now, let’s take a short side trip for a moment, and I’ll connect the two thoughts.

In Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”, he describes a fork in the road in the woods – a fork in the road. He reflects on selecting one path and leaving the other for another time. In the final line of the poem he says making a choice “…has made all the difference.”

I have thought about that final line often over the years whenever I had to make a decision – simple or difficult. Every decision, no matter how complex, eventually comes down to a “yes – no” choice.

Do you go to the left or to the right?

Do you walk or ride?

Do you want paper or plastic?

Do you want to buy a Mac or a PC?

Sometimes it’s difficult getting to the specific decision point, but sooner or later the actual decision has to be made. It’s either “yes”, or its “no”.

As for the two lines of thought, I guess I just looked at that fork in the road from the opposite direction. From that perspective the two separate paths came together.

The Scout Law and the principles of managing suddenly became the same.

The characteristics that made a good Boy Scout many years ago are exactly the same characteristics that make a good manager today.

So, I invite you now to revisit your own scouting days either as a Boy Scout or a Girl Scout. If you were not a scout, just reflect on the twelve parts of the Law.                                    If business executives had followed the Scout Law (Boy or Girl) there would have been no AIG, no Enron, no Global Crossing, no Worldcom, no Fannie Mae, no Freddy Mac, no Congressional “earmarks”. There would still be an Arthur Andersen.

There would be no identity theft, no frivolous lawsuits, and no insurance fraud.

Like so many principles, these twelve items are easy to articulate, but their simplicity can be deceptive. Be alert.

Because we are dealing with personal behaviors and qualities – all of which are positive – exercise caution. A colleague and sometimes coauthor, Jack H. Grossman, once shared this very important concept with me. He said:

“Any positive quality – when taken to an extreme – produces negative results.”

Just think about that!

Trust becomes Gullible,

Obedient becomes Subservient

Reverent becomes Fanatical

You can fill in the rest.

It’s important for us to let common sense prevail and to exercise sound judgment as we apply the Scout Law in our business lives because our behavior counts – always.



A Short Visit To “Grammarland”

June 3, 2014

Recently, I was conducting a class on business communication, and a participant brought up what might be new trend in customer service. A similar idea had been suggested in an earlier MBA graduate class I was teaching so I suspect there might be something going on in the business world that could be worth considering. Like most “new” items, this one has both good and bad aspects to it.

The new trend relates to what is happening in large call centers.

A call center representative can talk to only one customer at a time. That means this is a very labor-intensive business. It’s easy to see how the ebb and flow of call volume can influence the size of the call center work force.

With expanding use of the internet, however, more customers are using e-mail and instant messaging to communicate with companies. Call center operators, likewise, are using this development to their advantage.

With instant messaging, call center operators can now handle two, three, or four calls at the same time. They can carry on written conversations with many more people than was ever possible on the telephone. Communicating with four customers simultaneously can provide much faster service, and that’s what customers want.

That’s the good news, but here’s the bad news part to this trend. As some call centers have made this shift, they are realizing that many representatives who worked the phones well have difficulty writing well. Effective communication with clients is suffering.

Being able to talk well and being able to write well require two totally different sets of skills. Further, the permanency of speech and writing are very different. If someone makes an error while speaking, the error is gone in an instant. If, however, someone makes an error in print, that error lives forever.

We all know that how we communicate in business reflects on us personally, and it reflects on our companies.

Poor writing reflects poorly on every company that allows it.

This difficulty with writing ability, of course, exists with customers as well as with the call center personnel; but companies can’t do anything to control or improve the skills of their customers. They can and should, however, improve the skills of their work force because of the importance of the messages they are sending to customers.

Many call center operators are looking to develop writing classes for their representatives so they can effectively use instant messaging. These won’t be “going back to school” remedial classes filled with grammar rules and memorization, but it’s a chance to revisit some of the basic skills we all struggled with in the past.

In many cases when we got out of school we stopped paying close attention to what we learned in English grammar class. Those old rules, however, still apply today. Whether or not we like to admit it, we are still judged by our writing skills.   The companies we represent are also judged by what we do.

If you are in a position to do so, help your work force make a brief visit to “Grammarland”. Encourage employees to pay attention once again to such things as: agreement of subject and predicate, antecedents of pronouns, number, gender, case, sentence fragments, and accurate punctuation. You might even find it helpful to provide this instruction by arranging classes. It could be good for the employees and good for the company.

In my writing classes I’ve seen how quickly participants remember what they once learned. This revisiting of past grammar studies doesn’t take a long time, but it does take concentration and focus. A couple of days and appropriate exercises usually provide the desired results.

As business continues to shift to increasing use of e-mail and instant messaging a review of the basics of English grammar can be very helpful.

A brief visit to “Grammarland” can add a great deal to the efficiency and effectiveness of the staff as well as to the image of the company.



Soft Skills Deserve Hard Work

June 2, 2014


Soft Skills Deserve Hard Work


We’ve all seen those posters decorating the walls of training rooms, hallways, cafeterias, and even restrooms. You know, the single sentence and beautiful picture intended to motivate. Many are trite, but some are right on target!

Here’s one we should all take as a personal mantra. It reads:

“If we don’t take care of our customers our competitors will.”

That describes a principle, and focuses on behavior. Taking care of customers is all about action.

Another of those ever-present thought provoking lines merits a close look, a shift of focus, and a commitment to a behavior often overlooked in the business world. Here’s the thought.

“Doing your job is just the start of what it takes to succeed in the                                     workplace today.”

Needing the skills to “do your job” – as a doctor, engineer, tractor driver, gardener, or any other occupation is obvious. You must know what to do – and how to do it! It’s about mastering skills in order to enter any specific field.

Those are the so-called “hard skills.”

What separates practitioners from “professionals,” are the so-called “Soft Skills” which include these personal attributes:

Communicating well both verbally and in print,                                                                         Demonstrating a positive attitude, and

Being a team player.

Let’s concentrate on the first one. What does “communicating well” mean? What are the behaviors that distinguish – or diminish – a speaker? There are three that deserve attention and require mastery:

What you say. How you sound. How you look.

“What you say” isn’t a data dump in which you dispense a mass of information. It relates to the sequence by which the information is delivered and the appropriateness of the information to the needs and expectations of the identified audience.

“How you sound” speaks volumes to an audience – and to your customers. It colors and modifies the words you select. Everyone can’t, and shouldn’t attempt to, sound like the proverbial radio announcer, but presenters need to control such factors as volume and speed, and eliminate those distracting “non-words.”

A nervous speaker tends to talk fast and softly. So, speak up and slow down to present a confident appearance. Talking fast also leads to mis-speaking and poor pronunciation. Both send negative signals to an audience.

As a speaker, even when you’re nervous, don’t signal it by your delivery. Years ago, a TV commercial urged, “Never let ‘em see you sweat.” That’s still good advice.

How you sound is also of paramount importance on a phone call, a teleconference, or a webinar; all of which are increasingly significant in business circles today.

Finally, “How you look” doesn’t mean Hollywood handsome or Broadway beautiful. Very few people meet those standards. It describes how a presenter stands, sits, moves, and gestures. Use the soft skills to convey your conviction, your excitement, and your passion.

In conversations, people show those emotions regularly and clearly by their actions. Think of a presentation as a conversation, and behave in front of a large audience just as you do before a single person.

When a speaker grabs a lectern or clasps his hands together, the non-verbal message says, “I’m not having a good time. Please don’t hurt me.”

All of this also applies to using technology in virtual settings.

Audiences want a speaker to be good. Use that positive environment to your advantage when delivering a talk, and be sure to use those “soft skills” to support your words.

Some years back I worked with a communications organization that prepared “The Refrigerator” (William Perry of the Chicago Bears) for an appearance on “The David Letterman Show.”

Perry was really good – so good, in fact, that at the end of the interview Letterman leaned across the desk and said to him, “You got some help getting ready to come on this show, didn’t you?’

Without missing a beat, Perry leaned forward and responded, “If you were coming on the field to play football with me, wouldn’t you want to get some coaching first?”

That’s a good thought for all of us.

With appropriate coaching we can become as good as we think we are.

It’s Always “Show Time”

February 15, 2009

What makes a business presentation convincing and powerful is exactly what makes a show business production effective and engaging.

We might not like to admit it, but every time we deliver a presentation to management or explain something to a customer we are giving a performance.  In many respects it’s just like show business.

Every year we are inundated with a collection of “award” shows – Peoples Choice, Golden Globes, and the Academy Awards.  Every one of those programs pays tribute to how well actors portray their characters. Audiences “believe” in the characters, and they respond to the stories.

How does an actor get an audience to respond?  What tools does he have at his disposal?  Surprisingly, there are only a few!  He has words, of course – the script. But that isn’t enough because anyone can read the words. The conviction and the impact come from how well the words are packaged and delivered.

An actor uses his voice – volume, tone, pitch, pace, timbre; and he uses his body – hands, feet, arms, eyes to create the desired impression.

Those are the tools an actor has at his disposal, and they are exactly the same tools everyone in business has!

Although we all have the same tools, the approaches used by an actor and by a business professional often differ. The actor practices and perfects how he uses the tools.  He rehearses, evaluates, and revises; then rehearses again before he goes on stage or in front of the camera.

Businesspeople would be wise to take the same approach. Unfortunately, many don’t give sufficient attention to all of these elements required for successfully communicating ideas. They are “too busy” and believe words alone are sufficient to carry their ideas.  If an actor thought that, he would never be hired to play a part.

As a business professional, whenever you appear in front of an audience think about how you look, how you sound, and what are you doing when you deliver your words. Rehearse, evaluate, revise, and rehearse again as the actor does. Don’t just “wing it”?

Here are a few suggestions to assure you get the reaction you want.

Look directly at your audience.

Connect with them, not the ceiling or a “spot on the back wall.”

Talk to people – not to things – and that includes your notes.

Don’t get caught up speaking to your notes. You wrote them. You know what’s there.

Stand up straight. Well balanced but not rigid.

Let your hands help you show the size, shape, and impact of what you are describing.

Take your time. Take a breath.  If you talk too fast, you risk misspeaking or mispronouncing words, and your audience might become confused. You risk losing your audience’s attention, or you risk losing the sale.

Every time you appear before an audience, no matter the size, you are creating an impression. Every actor will tell you a successful performance begins with a good script, but then it must be interpreted and delivered compellingly.
Get a good script by preparing a good talk. Then deliver it well by using all the tools at your disposal.

You might not get an Oscar, but you might close a big sale, receive a positive performance review, or get a promotion.
For most of us, those are as good as an Oscar.

Words Mean Things – Use The Right Ones

December 30, 2008

US Education might be in the wrong hands.

The newly announced US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, set a tone and maybe a standard for America’s schools with his recent acceptance speech.

He said, “John R. gave my sister and I the opportunity to start a…”

Gave my sister and I…  That’s wrong!!

If he can’t get his grammar right what can we expect from his leadership of America’s schools?

To help him, and any others who might need a refresher, I offer these items for consideration, guidance, and instruction.

“I” vs. “me”   “I” is nominative as in “I did this for you.”

“Me” is objective as in “You did this for me.”


“Me did this for you.”  or

“You did this for I.”

Here are some others for your consideration and mastery, Mr. Duncan.

Words define us today, and even though the “right” word is always expected of us, using the “wrong” word can have lasting negative  consequences.  Let’s look at a few common words and review what is generally considered to be “appropriate” usage.  This isn’t a lesson; it’s just a brief review which might help all of us as we navigate through our days.
There are certain pairs of words that can drive us to distraction, so I’ll start with them, make a few suggestions, and provide a some examples.
Media – Medium How often have you heard newscasters say, “The media is covering every aspect of this story.”?  That’s wrong.  The sentence should be, “The media are covering every aspect of this story.”  The word, “media” is a plural word, and it  always takes a plural verb.
“Medium” is the singular word.  You can talk about the television medium or the medium of radio, but as soon as all the varieties are put together they become the “news media”.
Over –  More I can’t guess how many times I’ve heard people say something like this.  “That will cost you over fifty dollars.”  Wrong!  “Over” is a location not a comparison.  “More” is the word to describe a comparison.  “That will cost you more than fifty dollars.”  is the correct usage.
Fewer – Less You see this misuse almost every time you walk toward the checkout stand in a supermarket.  Signs announce very clearly that specific lanes are for “20 items or less”  Wrong again!
The word “less” refers to quantity like water or grass seed.  “The less grass seed we plant, the less water we will need.”   “Fewer”, on the other hand, is an amount.  It refers to numbers, to things you can count.  “I have fewer boxes than you do, but your entire package weighs less than mine.”
Many – More These are much like fewer and less.  “Many” is a number, more” is a quantity.  “I have a great many dollar bills in my pocket, but you have more money than I do.”  See the difference?
Goes – Says Young people use this frequently, and it drives older people crazy.  Rather than saying, “He said…”, and She said…”  many young people say “He goes…”, and She goes…”  Wrong!  No one went anywhere.  “Goes” refers to traveling, “says” refers to speech.
Can – May This one gets more and more confusing as time passes.  “Can” denotes the ability to perform.  “I think I can do this job.”
On the other hand, “may” refers to permission.  “May I borrow your car?”

Anxious – Eager Both of these words relate to the feelings we have about an event we are expecting to take place in the future.  Although they are both future oriented, one is positive and the other is negative.  “Anxious”  means you are awaiting the event, but you are worried about it.  You have a bad feeling about the event, almost a dread about it.
“Eager”, on the other hand indicates you are looking forward with positive expectations.
For example, if someone were to say,” I’m anxious to see the results of the test you conducted.”, it means the speaker is worried about it and would probably rather not see the results at all.
However, saying, “I’m eager to see this movie” presents a completely different picture.  You’re really looking forward to it.
Between – Among These words have to do with numbers so it’s easy to remember which one to use.  If a person simply counts, the words will never be misused.
The word, “between” is used when there are only two objects.  “The flag was between the two trees.” is a clear example.  “I can’t decide between these two books.”  is another example.  If a speaker were to say, “The flag was between the trees.”,  the listener would know there were only two trees.  It’s that simple.
When there are more than two objects, use the word, “among”.  “My car is somewhere among all of those in the parking lot.”   Here’s another.  “Pick your team mates from among the four of us.”
If you count, you won’t make a mistake.
Bring – Take They are often misused, but it’s easy to select the correct one.  “Bring” indicates movement toward the speaker, but  “Take” indicates movement away from the speaker.
“Bring the papers to my office tomorrow morning for me to sign, and then take them back to your office later in the afternoon.”  These words provide a very clear picture of the action.

Lend – Loan These are easy to remember if you think about what each word communicates.  “Lend” shows action.  It’s a verb.  If you lend something to someone you give them temporary use of that item.  A “loan” on the other hand is the item you are lending.  “Loan” is a noun because it names the item.
An example.  “If you can show me you will be able to repay this loan, the bank will lend you the money you request.” This would have been a valuable concept in recent months.
It’s important to remember that other people judge us by the words we use.  Specific words have specific meanings, and it is in our own best interest to communicate clearly and accurately.
We often hear people say, “What difference does it make if I don’t use exactly the right word?  People know what I mean.”  That might be true, but that kind of thinking requires the listener or the reader to determine your precise meaning.
If you use the wrong word when your listeners know the right word, you are telling them something about yourself that you might not intend.
Is that the message you want to send?  It’s just as easy to be correct as it is to be incorrect.  It just requires – and deserves – a little thought.
It’s your choice.

Values and Ethics and the Holiday Season

December 1, 2008

It’s the Holiday Season, and recently, I was in a video store where I saw a poster for the classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  Earlier that same day I had read one of the name newspaper accounts about “corporate greed”.

The fiction of the movie and the reality of the newspaper were very different.  I know it’s a stretch to connect the two, but it occurred to me both story lines focus on the same issue: ethical behavior and how we communicate messages to colleagues and customers.

We often hear that art reflects reality, but in this instance the messages of art and reality were in stark contrast.  Ethical behavior is evident in the movie, in fact ethical behavior is the central point of the film.  The newspaper story, on the other hand, detailed very different behavior.

In the movie, George Bailey wanted very much to get away from Bedford Falls in order to develop his career, but circumstances kept getting in the way.  His father’s death, his brother’s college education, and World Way II prevented him from following his dream.  In the face of each obstacle, though, George did what would be of help to someone other than himself.  His messages were consistently positive ones, and he did what would be valuable and helpful those who trusted him.

He wasn’t a martyr about this.  Sometimes he just got plain mad like when Uncle Billy lost the bank deposit.  But he did what had to be done.  He did the “right thing”.

Here’s the connection between the film and the newspaper story.  It’s behavior that counts! What’s important is how someone acts, not how someone feels.

And behavior in business communicates stronger messages than mere words do.

George faced the customers of the Building and Loan Company and stopped a run on the funds that could have ruined the company not just for himself  but for everyone who had invested in it.

Because of Uncle Billy’s mistake, George could have been “ruined”.  The bank examiner was certainly going to file charges, and since George was the CEO he would be the one to go to jail.  He would have “lost everything”.  This would have been the logical consequence to his behavior.

It’s interesting that we don’t hear much any more about anyone being “ruined” after questionable business behavior.  Many perpetrators today receive some short  term punishment but come out all right in the long run.  They aren’t ruined, only inconvenienced. Not so in the time and place of George Bailey.

The newspapers and the air waves have been filled with stories about the ways a few corporate executives have used company funds and methods to serve their own purposes.  In some instances they took money from the very companies they were entrusted to improve.  Even when they admitted guilt though, they weren’t “ruined”.

The primary responsibilities of a corporate executive include growing the company and protecting the financial investments of the stockholders.   Certainly, a CEO is entitled to protect and increase his own financial situation, but that can’t be done at the expense of stockholders.

Open, honest, and consistent communication among executives, Boards, and stockholders is essential for continuous growth.

Some business executives, though have behaved in ways which stockholders and the general public have interpreted as dishonest and disrespectful.  The widespread loss of jobs, pensions, and retirement funds today are what created those attitudes.  What the public sees and hears forms their perceptions.

There have been long debates about business ethics. But, there is no such thing as “business ethics”. There is only “ethics”.

All the debates and all the associated complications about ethics can be reduced to simple yes-no decisions.  Those decisions, and all subsequent actions, communicate the messages to our colleagues and our customers concerning our values and our ethics.

In the end the simple question is, “What is the right thing to do?”

George Bailey did what was right.  Some in business today have not, and their behaviors demonstrate they don’t value the lives and needs of others.

All of us in the business world are constantly sending messages to a wide variety of audiences, and our actions speak loudly.  As children, we were taught that, “Actions speak louder than words.”  That’s still true, and we have a responsibility to send those messages clearly, consistently, and regularly. Our constituencies are entitled to that.

George Bailey didn’t have much money, but his actions as well as his words demonstrated he had high values, strong ethics, and great respect for others.

Near the end of the film he was toasted as “the richest man in town.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if that could be said of each of us?

Have a Happy Holiday Season.

Identity Contribution vs. Identity Theft

November 16, 2008

Would you give your name, address, and credit card number to a total stranger? Of course you wouldn’t! That would be taking a real chance with your financial well being. It would be foolish
I’m sure, however, that some readers have done exactly that. They have provided this personal information to total strangers. Maybe you have, too. Notice I’ve used the plural, strangers, here.

It happens every day, but many people think nothing of it because using credit cards is a regular part of doing business today. “Doing business”, however, is one thing, but giving away your credit card number is quite another.

How does it happen? Have you ever heard this message when you place a phone call to order an item or to make a hotel reservation?
“For training purposes your call is being monitored and recorded.”

Think about that for a moment. Your call is being recorded! Everything you say – including your name, address, credit card number, and expiration date – is now available to anyone and everyone who has access to that recording. And, you have no idea for how long it will be available or for precisely what purposes it will be used.

You might just as well put all that information on a supermarket bulletin board, nail it to a telephone pole at a busy intersection, or post it on the internet. You certainly wouldn’t do any of those things because it would be foolish. Well, what’s the difference between those actions and letting a total stranger record it?
Now, the companies that ask for such information when you call are requesting it for noble purposes. They want to teach their call takers to do their jobs well and to provide high quality customer service. Listening to actual conversations can be a valuable tool for them.

Their motivation, therefore, is pure, but their method is flawed.
It’s intrusive, and it puts the caller in an awkward and compromising position. Service representatives, of course, need your credit card number when you make purchases and reservations. That’s how business in this country has evolved.
What they don’t need, however, is the right to record, reuse, and distribute that information without your permission. That’s your right to privacy and security. If you elect to give your permission to record and use that information, so be it. That’s your choice, but most of us would never do that willingly.
Most companies which employ such recording practices for training purposes don’t even extend the courtesy of asking the caller’s permission to make the recording. They simply say it will be done. If callers indicate they don’t want the recording made, the company representatives will not continue the conversation. They will not take your order if you don’t allow then to record the call.
This seems to be a strange way for anyone to do business because there is more emphasis on adhering to internal corporate practices than to developing positive relationships with customers. In many instances they drive away customers.
If you are a caller, and you hear the call is being recorded it’s in your own best interest to make a conscious decision about giving away that personal information. The company might be reliable at the moment, but perhaps some of the people who will have access to the information in the future won’t be.
If you represent a company which does this recording, at least ask permission from the callers, and accept their decisions. Give callers the option of sharing or protecting their personal financial data. That demonstrates respect for your customer. You can develop other means of teaching your employees what they need to know and do when talking to your customers.
Don’t allow corporate policy to supersede personal privacy and security concerns.

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Is It Corporate Savings or Just Cost Shifting?

November 11, 2008

There is no question – and no argument – with the fact that businesses need to produce profit in order to continue operating.
One way to increase profit is to reduce the cost of operating – to wring out as much expense as possible.
But, all too often corporate decisions on how to “save money” result in front-line workers being used to subsidize the company by using their own money. When workers are expected to underwrite the operations of a company, something is very wrong with company priorities and with the leadership.
Here are some examples. First. A well-known and highly respected U.S. corporation cut its costs to maximize profits, but one of the methods for this cost cutting is just blatant cost shifting.

For instance, at a recent meeting, senior management announced, “Corporate can’t afford to purchase new laptop computers for its instructional staff to use in delivering company programs any longer.”
That was a pretty clear position, but here’s the problem. Laptop computers had to be used for the delivery. Instructors were required to provide their own computers!
The company mandated the methodology, but the instructors had to provide the equipment. The company shifted the cost of doing business to their employees.
The cost is still there , but now others are responsible for it. How’s that for good management?
That’s not saving; that’s strong arm.
Further, that same senior management then said to the instructors, “If you choose not to use your own personal computers, you won’t be working for us any more.”
Again, strong armed, and intimidation at its worst.
A second example. With increasing frequency, classroom teachers are spending their own money in order to provide necessary supplies and materials for the students in their classes. The school system “can’t afford” what the students need. Teachers are expected – required – to buy the necessities or the students don’t have what they need. The school boards and the administrators are at fault. They’re not doing their jobs!
One more example. And this one is showing up in companies everywhere under the guise of efficiency. E-mail is being used to send all sorts of material that once was delivered in hard copy. Manuals, documentation, and even fully visualized presentations are now sent via e-mail.
The justification is, “Its fast, and its cost effective because we don’t have to print and mail material. It saves our staff a lot of time, and it saves a lot on paper cost.”
That’s just not entirely true. The material must still be printed, but the multiple receivers now do the printing with their own equipment and paper. Those same people must also use their time to complete the task. All the same work is still done, but because of corporate directions, someone else does it. All the costs are still present, but now someone else bears the burden.
Finally, many retail stores are now offering “self-service” check out as a “convenience” for their customers. This isn’t a convenience for the customer; this is simply a way for the company to save money.
By having the customer do the checkout, the company saves a significant transaction fee on every sale.
Since there’s a savings, the customer should get an employee discount because the customer is now working for the company. But the customer still pays full price.
Nice trick on the part of the company! Get someone else to do your work for you and then pay full price for that privilege.
When you are on either side of this issue – as a customer or as a corporate representative – look carefully at what is happening. It’s a basic truism that “someone has to do the work. Just be sure the right “someone” is doing it.
Be honest about what you expect and what you contribute. Costs are always present; but it’s always a choice as to who is paying.