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“Moving The Needle” And Three Better Reasons To Drop Consultant-Speak

There are probably particular phrases that bug you. For the longest time, my least favorite thing was seeing signs that read, “ATM Machine.” Oh, really? An automated teller machine machine? Petty and minor? Yes, of course.

Then there are phrases that get used in business that drive me nuts. You’ve heard them all at some point. You may have played buzzword bingo at some point (I’ve blacked out my card, before). And you’ve probably heard all of the posts and tweets about why using these types of phrases are bad.

At the end of the day, using consultant-speak really doesn’t move the needle.


Unfortunately, I don’t know too many people that can swear off the buzzwords completely. There are some really legitimate reasons to at least keep them to a minimum though.

You’re a screaming weasel

It’s no coincidence that these words come out during the most inopportune time: when asking tough questions, especially when it comes to specifics or accountability. When you have your back against the wall on a question that you don’t know the answer to or that you’re not sure will work, the easiest path to take is to use consultant-speak to obscure it enough to cover your ass.

How to fix it?

If you don’t know or are unsure about an aspect of a question or discussion, say what you’re sure of first and then say what you’re unsure of along with, if appropriate, a guess. Here’s a clue: if you just used the term “mind share,” back up and come clean. You don’t know and everyone else already knows.

It doesn’t set clear expectations

Moving the needle means something different to everyone. Increasing placements by 5%? That means the same to everyone. Now, of course, if you’re in a position where clear expectations are the last thing you need, you might be tempted to do it anyway. Putting something absolute out there is more risky but infinitely more rewarding.

How to fix it?

Can’t give an exact number? Give a range. Or a direction. Or literally anything other than “making an impact.” That means nothing to anybody.

Your contributions will be seen as useless

Other than when I am listening to it specifically, I can’t tell you the last time I heard a buzzword in conversation (probably when talking to a PR person or someone with a new product). I can’t tell you when I heard it last because they never make a lasting impression on me. When someone speaks in buzzwords, they have no impact in the minds of their listeners. If you’re on a conference call, the first time you let out “bucketize” in conversation, the audience is scampering to their e-mail’s, tweets, and literally anything else.

How to fix it?

Think about what you take away from conversations you have with people: progress, numbers, status updates and other things applicable to your work. It doesn’t have to be all that you talk about but you’ll want to be hitting those sorts of ideas regularly.

I know I’m not perfect here. Neither are you. How do you keep the buzzwords at bay?

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E-Mail, Twitter, and Unsurprising Changes

The Evolution of E-mail

Does anybody remember their first e-mail address? I do. It was The same company that hosted my favorite dial-in BBS also became my first e-mail provider. And it was great except I only knew three other people who used e-mail (and they lived only a couple of blocks away from me).

So I would check my e-mail address for weeks and not receive anything. What did I do to remedy this? Well, I signed up for some newsletters (about cars because I was still a teenager) and I started conversations online about politics, sports or Ham radio that would spill over into massive reply all e-mail fests.

Which was great, at least for awhile. Then more widespread adoption of e-mail took place and in between newsletters and virtual conversations came e-mails that I needed to read from family and friends. And then later, e-mails from fellow students and co-workers. In between all of those were e-mail forwards from people I did want to hear from but just not on those subjects.

What eventually happened was the initial use transformed into something different as time went on. Now I am rarely involved in an e-mail chain that lasts more than three or four e-mails because then we need to discuss it in real time. Now I rarely receive e-mail newsletters for anything but the most pertinent industry news. Now I rarely have discussions with strangers via e-mail that goes beyond either a “not interested” note or a “let’s discuss this on the phone” note.

What’s Happening With Twitter

When Frank Roche posted about his 10,000th tweet, I was first a little surprised that he beat me to 10,000 (by about 1,200 tweets too!) even though he was on the service only a few weeks before me. But then, I was interested to hear that he thought the best years were behind Twitter.

I’ve told my friend Chris Ferdinandi multiple times that Twitter was easier to manage four years ago. There were maybe a few dozen then maybe a couple hundred people that were on in our niche and almost all of them were worth following. Early adopters of a service usually have similar goals, norms are established and the network is smaller so it is easier to influence (and be influenced).

Now? You can’t watch ESPN without hearing Twitter mentioned. Not a conference goes by where I don’t end up talking about Twitter at some point. It’s a different world out there. You can’t just follow back everyone like the “good old days.” The network feels less tight, less special, and less useful. So does that mean its heyday is behind it?

Twitter is Changing (And We Shouldn’t Be Surprised)

The way we use Twitter is changing. For me, it has become a utility like e-mail or my RSS reader. The people I follow are more than likely people I know or have met at least virtually. Some people I have met I don’t follow because they tweet too much. Some companies I do like I don’t follow because their updates aren’t interesting. Some people I haven’t met but are producers (writers mainly).

It’s not about being cool or being part of a clique anymore. After all, anyone can send me an @ message. And for those longer messages, my e-mail is widely available. There isn’t a special crew of people who knows a special e-mail address. It all comes into the same box

It is about getting the maximum usefulness out of the service in as little time as possible. It’s the same way we manage e-mail, calendars, or reading schedules. That may seem cold but it also makes Twitter something that I view like e-mail: indispensable, constantly available (though not constantly monitored) and available to anyone who wants a quick reply to or from me.

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Five Steps To Better Employee Communications

I have always been one of those guys who sees the world in non-exact, change filled, and nebulous ways. I am hesitant to say I am a big picture thinker because everyone loves to say that they are a big picture thinker (while, of course, still being great with details). That’s always a load of crap though. I don’t think I am the best big picture or details guy, I just think I deal with change and uncertainty better because that’s what the world is to me.

Then there’s my wife. She has a very scientific view of the world and there will be order in the world. She wants to explain everything to me and she expects me to do the same. And while I am a trivia buff, I don’t always know why things work the way they do. I can tell it is a source of frustration at times. I know the answer but not the explanation behind it.

After three and a half years of marriage, I’ve learned to either explain the why or help her research it more herself. Simply leaving the answer to her question out there without further explanation is madening.

What I’ve found in communicating to employees that there are the same expectations. Some deal better with change than others. Some just want to know what the change is and they’ll move on. Some want explanations and justifications (and they still might not be satisfied). And whenever you communicate something new, you have to meet the needs of all these people in an easy to read communication. A couple of simple ways I’ve done this:

  1. Write like a newspaper story. If you have read a lot of newspapers like I have, you know the basic format: a concise title, the most pertinent information in the first few lines and the details to follow. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve seen an employee communication start with an explanation and justification before delivering the news.
  2. Simplify everything. Don’t use $64 words. Don’t use corporate speak. Imagine you have an employee that just started and was reading the comunication that you send out and format it appropriately. Again, people that are just looking for answers will drop off after they get the information they want so you can use more words to explain if needed to avoid corporate speak.
  3. Don’t lie and don’t spin. I think this is a good idea regardless of what you’re doing but I think it is incredibly important in employee communication. If you are going to spin your way to a positive message or lie about anything, despin and tell the truth or don’t send anything out. Your employees deserve the truth from you and if you can’t deliver that, you shouldn’t deliver a bad message that people assume is true (or worse, they assume it is false because you’ve lied and spun before).
  4. Use a contact person for your employees that question everything. Employees should be clear that they can speak to the contact person if they have any questions. Often times, these are the same people every time that question everything and always have way more questions than everyone else. A contact person can save you from writing a novel for a couple of people that question everything.
  5. Recommunicate when necessary. If your contact person is being bombarded with questions, your communication was probably inadequate. In order to effectively communicate, you have to be committed to sending out more information and admiting your original communication was inadequate. Use the same template as before in your recommunication but address the questions you have received.

While employee communications can be a challenge, using an effective approach can eliminate challenges. And I guess in that way, I do have a scientific way of doing things.