No One Can Read Your Mind - Especially if You Can't Organize Your Thoughts

If I could have taken a picture of what I just saw and posted it here for you all to see, I would have.  Unfortunately, they discourage the use of cameras during account meetings, and I wasn't sure how my co-worker would react to having his picture made while I was laughing hysterically.

I recently sent out contract documents to several of our service providing offices who are servicing a new account.  I also set up the account with the new customer in our system so that we could bill the customer and monitor their account service.  Then, our internal account team asked me to make some revisions.  Mistakes happen.  Customers change their mind.  People add things for clarification.  I thought nothing of revising the documents, and sending them out again.  

A few days later, the account team came back to me to tell me that they needed additional revisions.  This happened a few times before I finally decided we needed to have a meeting and figure out what in the world was going on with this account, and why all of these changes were necessary.  I have several accounts, and redoing all of these contracts was monopolizing my time.  

As we all seated ourselves in the conference room, I asked the Project Manager a question about our latest round of revisions.  He then (and this is where the horrible, yet comical, part comes in) unfolded a spreadsheet that he had brought in with him.  Then he unfolded it again...and again...and again.  He kept unfolding this beast, until the spreadsheet (which was actually several pieces of paper taped together), ran the entire length of the table and hung off on both sides.  I burst into laughter.  It was no wonder to me why we were having so many revisions, if we were relying on an 8 foot long spreadsheet for our data.  

There were tons of numbers, it was very colorful, some things were in bold, some in italics.  It was, to quote my grandmother, a "hot mess!"  Having tons of data does no one any good, if one can not decipher it.  Organization is key.  It is my own personal belief that no spreadsheet whose width cannot fit on one piece of paper, should ever be printed.  There is no excuse for such a monstrosity.  Instead, have summary pages for each functional group, which are linked to data on your master information worksheet.  That way, the finance group doesn't have to dig through piles and piles of data to find financial information, the contract group doesn't have to dig for contract data, and the poor admin who had to tape that spreadsheet together for you can stop being giggled at when she walks by the water cooler.  In this day and age, when there are so many technological advances and options at your disposal for data mining and presentation, it is hard to forgive such a lack of organization - especially when it has caused me and so many others on our project team to revise our work a half dozen times.

Get Organized or Get Out


Always Carry Back-Up

There is, in every office, I believe, that one guy who thinks he knows everything.  Undoubtedly, this comes from the fact that he has been promoted several times and is now officially a “big wig.”  There is a 99.9% chance that you are smarter than he is.  This point will be proven several times, as you fix his mistakes, carry him on projects, and clean up his messes, resulting in the raging success of all of his project endeavors.  This will lead to the undesirable side effect of making him look good in the eyes of upper management.  This guy is also what I like to call a pusher.  He’s not pushing drugs.  He’s pushing you…in front of any bus that happens to veer his way. 
There is a solution to dealing with this corporate super villain.  It comes in the form of defensive strategic communication. 
Defensive Step 1:  Get it in Writing (aka: CYOA)
If he passes you in the hallway and asks you to change that contract amount by $3,000, ask him to shoot you an email.  File said email in a safe place, just in case.  If he doesn’t send you said email, then send him one.  Be overly informative in this email.  Use language that clearly defines what you did, why you did it, and how that will likely affect other items.  Call him out using pronouns.  Be direct, professional, and friendly.  Then properly file your sent email somewhere safe. 
You asked me yesterday to reduce the contract amount of the XYZ contract by $3,000.  I have done so at your request, but please, be advised that this reduces the total contract amount to $15,000 and drops our profit margin below the typical 15% that we receive on a service contract.  Let me know if this was on purpose or if further contract adjustments need to be made.” 
Defensive Step 2:  Prove It
As I discussed earlier, this guy thinks he knows everything.  What this means to you, is that you never go into battle with him unarmed.  Always carry back-up.  What separates you from him, is that your argument is supported with data.  You have system requirements that show why what he is asking you to do will cause problems.  You have spreadsheets and charts and graphs that clearly explain where your projections come from.  You have an organized inbox where you have neatly filed all of the emails from the customer detailing their requirements and can recall them with a single click.  You have data.  You know how to harness the power of this data, and in the end, it will be his kryptonite.

I’d Advise You to Take my Advice

Advise is a verb.  It is something you do or ask someone to do. 
Advice is a noun.  It is a something.  It is a gift freely given, seldom taken into consideration, and on rare occasions, is a clear concise set of directions on how one should proceed to achieve the best results. 
I only bring this up, because I have received seven emails in my work in-box over the past week informing me that either there is an issue with a PO, a customer has a question, or an item I have ordered has been discontinued.  The one thing that all of these emails had in common, is that they all ended with “Please, advice.” 
Now I managed to ignore the first few, but as the emails continued to roll in with the same error from several different sources, I decided that it had become an epidemic.  It was time to speak out.  I was tempted (briefly) to video myself doing a silly dance, hit reply all, and attach the video with the caption, “This is how I advice.”  I decided against it, though, as this would both make me look like a Ms. Smarty Pants and a dancing idiot all at the same time.  So instead, I offer up this advice:  Don’t send me emails asking me to advice.
Advice – Best served with a grain of salt

Waking Up the Conference Call Zombie

Have you ever been on a conference call, covering vital information, only to find out that 90% of your participants aren't actually participating?  I am more than guilty of tuning out a boring conference call.  I dial in, put my phone on mute, and become a passive listener at best. 

Turns out, I'm not alone.  At least once during every conference call I have been on this week (which were plenty...), a question was asked of one of the participants, and they did not reply until someone said their name.  Their response then:  "I'm sorry, what was that?" 

The question then becomes, how do we engage our participants and make them all (well, we'll shoot for 50% of them at least) ACTIVE listeners? 

I can't speak for everyone, but I can say that I personally am more likely to be an active listener, if the meeting seems more organized.  Send me an agenda beforehand, and I can track our meeting progress.  I am way less likely to tune you out if I feel like we're actually progressing toward the end.  Plus, with an agenda, you can let all of the participants know what you are expecting from then during the call.  If I know that at some point I'm going to have to answer questions about a contract for a new customer, I'm more likely to be prepared and listening for my queue to speak.

Also, I'm a visual person.  I need visual aides.  Send out a PowerPoint presentation to all of the participants beforehand, or hold the meeting in an online environment such as Live Meeting, and let us see pretty colored slides and bullet points.

Yours truly, The Undead

Spell Check Checks What You Wrote...Not What You Meant to Write

Spell check is an extremely valuable tool.  As a matter of fact, I recommend you go and change the settings in each of the email clients you use to auto-spell check everything you send out so that you can't forget.  At the same time, I beg of you, please, please, please, please, please, do not use spell check as a crutch.  Although the technological advances in spelling and grammar checkers have been many and frankly, amazing, they are not advanced enough to read your mind, yet. They cannot distinguish what you typed from what you meant to type.  Take for instance, the excerpt from the memo below apologizing for a delayed order.  According to Microsoft Word's spelling and grammar checker, it is 100% correct. 

Can you imagine if that message actually made it to the customer?  In case you can't make heads or tails of it, here is what the message should have said: 

"Our apologies for the delay of your recent order.  Two items have been placed on back order.  We appreciate your patience, and would like to offer you 15% off of your next order as a thank you for your continued patronage.  Please, tell Sally that we received her call.  She was very kind on the phone when she introduced herself as your new employee.  We will contact you with a ship date for your other items.  Good luck with your new receptionist!"

As you can see, running a spell checker on your work should only be a fraction of your review process.  At the very least, reread what you've written before hitting send.  Otherwise, you may be sending the wrong message.

Spelling Bee Important