May 29, 2009

Five Mistakes To Avoid During a Technical Presentation

... focusing solely on content is not sufficient to keep the audience engaged. You can distinguish yourself from the majority of other speakers by avoiding the same common mistakes.

You can read the rest on
Five Mistakes To Avoid During a Technical Presentation

May 20, 2009

Why people really quit

An interesting article in this morning's Globe and Mail, discussing why people quit their jobs:

The real deal on why people quit

The interesting part of this article is not really why people quit, but the marked disparity between why people quit and why leaders think people quit. This disparity is quite significant because it will always cause companies to compensate incorrectly to keep people aboard.

Hiring costs are as high or higher (200% according to the above article) than keeping an employee aboard. But if companies don't know the real reason why people are leaving, they will keep throwing money at a situation they cannot fix, because they aren't fixing the real problem.

Another item of note: 5/5 top reasons given by employees have to do with the company. 4/5 reasons given by managers have to do with the employee (I am assuming that "insufficient pay" goes both ways, that is, management sees it as an employee issue and employees see it as a management issue). The only one that is common is "lack of opportunity for training and development." So in other words, employees say "I'm leaving because of the company" while companies say "It has very little to do with us."

What to do, then? Here are a few ideas:
  • Exit interviews. I've had a few jobs in my time and when I left, I was never asked why I left. So for the most part, nobody really knows why I left any company, and I suspect this is often the case. I don't think I'm an exception. Thoughts: in your company, are exit interviews mandatory when someone leaves? Are the results taken into account and brought back to the attention of the employee's supervisor? Are results analyzed to determine whether a particular supervisor or department is having trouble keeping its staff? Is the exit interview done by the employee's supervisor or by an impartial party?
  • Leadership development: Leaders aren't born, they are made. Just as anyone learns their trade in order to do his or her job, they need to learn how to be a leader too. Are leaders in a company trained and groomed appropriately? Are they aware of what makes good leaders? Are they coached on how to become a good leader or are they fed to the wolves?
  • Leadership willingness:  I've seen instances of people taking on leadership roles, not because they wanted to but because they felt they had to do it, or their careers would suffer as a result. You can't force someone to become a good leader if they aren't interested in becoming so in the first place. When looking at the leaders in your organization, have they been catapulted in their current position because they were good at what they did previously? Or was it part of their career plan? I've seen many IT professionals, for example, leave a company because they were moved to a management position when all they wanted to do was code.
  • Self-assessment: Few companies will say "we are a bad place to work." Yet according to this article, it is the main reason people leave (leadership, money, bad working environment). How often do organizations assess their claims against their employees' perception? When a company says "Our people are our biggest asset" is that really what their employees believe? Or is it management's wishful thinking?
According to many reports and analysts, we are slowly but surely heading out of this recession. During the 18 months of devastating job losses and stress, have your employees felt that they were operating under stellar leadership? Or will they be heading out in droves once the job market opens up again?

It's not too late to prevent the latter.

May 19, 2009

How Not To Read a Speech

This morning, I attended the funeral of a friend's mother and I had the opportunity to see two speeches, one from a professional and one from a non-professional. The amateur got it right.

The professional (the priest) read his sermon, as well as many other parts of the ceremony. In fact, at times I had the impression that he was on automatic pilot, and was just going through the motions. He made the following mistakes:
  • He rarely looked up. He was very focused on his sheet, reading almost every word and rarely connected with the audience.
  • No vocal intonation. I go to Catholic churches and for the most part, the priests are boring. They all sound the same, display no energy, and no passion. Come on! This is supposed to be your calling in life. This is supposed to be the one thing that makes you happy. At least make it sound that way!
  • He read the script to the letter. At least two or three times, the priest said "he" instead of "she" when speaking of the deceased. I found that highly disrespectful, while also being very impersonal. It gives the impression that he couldn't be bothered to do anything special for this person, that she was just one of many others that pass through his church.
The non-professional read a speech that was written by the daughter of the deceased. This is what she did:
  • She took notes before reading it. I saw her reviewing the text and scribbling something on the sheet. She didn't just get up and read it, at least she was familiar with the text before standing in front of the audience.
  • She spoke slowly, paused, and put some life in her voice. She acted as though she was delivering the message for her friend instead of just reading words on a sheet.
  • She connected and it showed. She took the time to look up between sentences and establishing eye contact with the people in the first row. When I looked around the church, I could see that that crowd reacted much more during her three minute speech than they did for the entire duration of the priest's performance.
I abhor speeches that are read, but sometimes you have no choice but to read a speech. There is a right way, and a wrong way to do it. In this case, don't act like a professional!

May 11, 2009

Because We Can

As I was returning from Rhode Island to Canada on a Friday evening, things were quite different at the border. Normally, you go directly to the Canadian border, answer a couple of questions and on you go. But this time, I saw flashers on the US side, and part of the road was blocked.

I patiently waited in line, wondering what the problem was. When it was finally my turn, a young man asked me for my passport, with authority. He asked me a barrage of questions, barely leaving me enough time to answer one before he blurted the other. I answered diligently and he hand me my passport.

Before leaving, I asked: "I come here often and I've never been stopped like this before. Is it because of the swine flu?"

The young man replied: "No, it's because we can."

I stared.

An older man, who clearly was not as enamoured with his newfound power, explained that it's something they do once in a while, that it was part of their normal field operations.

This morning, I was reading an article in the Globe and Mail about changes in the stores. In the comments section, many people complained that some stores had abysmal service, with clerks who are barely willing to help. Why? Probably because they can, since their employers can't, or won't, do anything about it.