My Thoughts by Rick Stephens

What Did You Say?

Posted in Communications,Continual Improvement,Personal Growth by Rick on the March 14th, 2007

Diana RossI was watching American Idol last night (I know dog, it sounded a little pitchy to me too) and one of Motown’s greatest performers, Diana Ross, was coaching the contestants on their performances. I admire and respect Diana Ross for what she has accomplished, both as a performer and as a person, so I was surprised to hear her explain to one of the contestants that she needed to be careful and “pronunciate” her words correctly while singing. I looked to my wife and said, “Did she just say ‘Pronunciate’?” I thought Ms Ross had inappropriately combined Pronounce and Enunciate to create a non-existent word “Pronunciate.” To my surprise there is a word “Pronunciate.” Though rarely used in our language, it means exactly what Ms Ross meant for it to mean and was used correctly.

Hearing Diana Ross use a strange word caused me to think about the importance of good communication skills in business. I believe that how we communicate to our customers and clients can directly influence our success or failure in business. When consumers hear slang or improperly structured sentences, they may subconsciously discount our credibility as a business owner and make their purchase elsewhere. Structuring sentences and using words correctly can be very influential in this area and it should not be taken for granted.

I am not an English teacher, nor do I want to pretend that I never make mistakes in grammar or word usage, but there are a few very common things that everyone should avoid.

One of the words I have heard many times from otherwise educated people is “Irregardless.” Hearing this said, for me, is like scraping finger nails across a blackboard. The proper word is always, “regardless.”

Another common mistake is the usage of the pronouns I and Me. Many people think that using the word “Me” is inappropriate, when in fact, it is the only proper grammatical word for the sentence. Example: “It is important for you and I to speak correctly” is an incorrect usage of the pronoun “I.” In this case “Me” is the proper word. Another example: “It is important that you and I speak proper English” is the correct usage of the pronoun “I.”

There is an easy way to determine which pronoun to use. Take the other person out of the sentence and see how the pronoun sounds. In the first example the sentence would be, “It is important for I to speak correctly.” You can see that “I” does not work here and is therefore improper in this example. In the second example the sentence would read, “It is important that I speak proper English.” The use of “I” works fine in this sentence and the pronoun “Me” would sound awkward. Therefore, in this example “I” is being used correctly.

It can be difficult to use the English language correctly, simply because it is very complex and at times illogical. The culture we grew up in can also influence how we speak, and if English is not your native tongue, it can be an almost impossible task learning to speak it properly. For those who have learned English as a second language, I admire you and I can appreciate the challenge you must have, and are facing, to grasp its nuances. For those who speak English as a native tongue, it is even more important that it is spoken correctly. Do not accept that your childhood environment or lack of education excuses you from this vital skill. Learn to speak the language correctly and you will impress more often than not. People do notice what you say and how you say it.

An employee of mine was explaining to me one day why the Hispanic cleaning crew in our building failed to follow some cleaning instructions we had left for them the night before. He explained, “They just don’t speak no good English.” “I guess not” I said, and went about preparing his performance review.

To Your Success –
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Scalable Processes

Posted in Continual Improvement,Developing Processes by Rick on the February 25th, 2007

Scaling MountainI talk a lot about the importance of having solid processes in your business operation. Establishing processes that have been tested, refined, and continually examined for improvement is probably, in my humble opinion, the most important thing a business owner can do to insure success in the business enterprise. When you have good working processes in place, your business runs more smoothly and the stress levels associated with the “daily grind” are minimized.

I was working with one of my clients the other day and we began discussing a process that he had put in place to display his product in the show rooms of some of his buyers, on consignment. His plan was simple and seemed like a good one. He would allow the buyer to show off his product in their showroom without invoicing the buyer until after the product was sold to the end customer. There is nothing really unusual about this process except that my client’s product was the only one that the buyer was keeping on consignment. Because this was not a normal practice for the buyer, the buyer had no process in place to notify my client when the item was purchased by the end consumer. So I asked my client how he would monitor that.

My client is a small startup company and is currently doing lots of marketing by hitting the streets and knocking on doors. So he said to me, “While I am out cold calling on new prospects, I can just drop by and see if the item is still in the show room. If it isn’t, then I’ll invoice them and send them another.” He added, “This will also be a good way for me to stay in touch with my new buyers.”

This sounds like a good idea until you begin to scale this process into a larger version. There are two important concepts one must keep in mind if you are developing a good process. The first is that it must be simple and easy to follow. The second is that it must be scalable. By scalable, I mean it must work when you are small and also work if your business explodes and becomes extremely huge. In this example just given, my client’s process would work fine while he is small, but if his business suddenly expanded and instead of two or three businesses displaying his product on consignment, there were hundreds, the process would fall apart because there is not enough time in the day for him to visit all of these businesses. Eventually he would lose track of where his products were and whether or not they had been sold.

Sometimes we will develop a process that appears to be a good one, and over time we discover that it does not work as our business changes. That is ok if you are continually examining the process and improving it as you grow. The important thing is to have the process, make sure it is scalable, and continue to improve it.

To Your Success -

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Everything is Broken

Posted in Attitudes,Continual Improvement,Developing Processes by Rick on the February 10th, 2007

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” I was attending a seminar just last week when I heard the moderator say exactly that. Of course, everyone in the room understood his meaning, as we all do, but in the business world, doing things the way we always have can cost us customers, money, and good employees.

Instead of allowing processes to go on just because they seem to work, we should adopt an attitude of Continual Improvement, always looking for a way to make the process better, even if “it ain’t broke.”

Mother and Daughter CookingThere is an old story about a young girl helping her Mother cook dinner. As the Mother was putting the ham into the pan, she cut off a small piece on each side. Curiously the young girl asked, “Why do we always cut the ends off the ham before we put it in the oven?” The mother replied, “I don’t know dear, it’s just the way Grandma always did it. Let’s call and ask her why.” So they did. When asked, the Grandmother responded with the same answer, “It’s the way my Mother always did it.” So they called the young girl’s Great Grandmother and again asked, “Why do we always cut the ends off the ham before we put it in the pan?” The Great Grandmother replied, “I don’t know why you do it, I did it because I never had a pan big enough to hold the whole ham.”

So you see, we can go along forever doing the same thing, the same way we always have, even though nothing seems to be broken, when in fact, if we would adopt the attitude of Continual Improvement we would begin to ask important questions, the biggest one being, Why?

If you want to make your business “the best it can be”, to borrow from the Army slogan, look closely at those processes that “ain’t broke” and improve them, and the next time you hear someone say, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, let it remind you to fix something today.

To Your Success,

Rick's Signature