Posts tagged ‘business’

September 21, 2012

Pull Rank

Some people at the office are driving me crazy and despite the fact that I always try to bring about decisions in a consensus kind of way I was getting angry about all the nonsense and was thinking to myself: “This is how it is going to be – and if I have to pull rank I will.”

Ugly and made especially for demonstration purposes by me.

Pull rank is the critical phrase here.  It means that one uses ones position of power to make others do what one wants them to do.  In my case to never ever use pink in a excel data graph in a company presentation again.  Asked too much?  I didn’t think so.  If it isn’t obvious (especially when looked at in combination with the corporate orange), then I have no other option than pulling rank.

Pulling rank is normally not the most efficient way of getting things done – at least in my experience.  Asking politely often gives better results.  However, there are times when it is the way to go and – if used diligently – to get the desired results – and fast.

So I am going to pull rank on that pink thing and while I am at it on purple and an assortment of other colors also, as well as weirdo gradients and shadings, shadows, glows and reflections.
There you have it!

May 11, 2011

Good enough for government work

Good enough even for government work? pic: is.wayne.edu

You might hear the expression “good enough for government work” at the office or from friends doing projects around the house or similar occasions.  It is an interesting expression because it has done a complete 180 degree turn in meaning since World War II when the phrase originated.

Back then something that was good enough for government work was of the highest standard and could pass the most rigorous of inspections.  Since then the meaning has shifted and the expression is now almost exclusively in an ironic sense and means pretty much the exact opposite.  Something that is declared “good enough for government work’ is generally of questionable, if not shoddy standard and would by no means satisfy a discerning customer or client.

An example is the furniture I built over the weekend for my son’s tree house.  The little table is a bit wobbly and the box I made is a it rough around the edges but certainly good enough for a tree house.  So after a close look at it I decided that it was “good enough for government work” and put the tools away.

I guess the regard for government work in this country has gone down the toilet over the last 60 years or so – just as the regard for government itself.

May 8, 2011

Sanity check

Not what sanity check normally refers to, pic: geninv.net

You might hear somebody saying a sentence like this: “I have crunched the numbers all day long and I am fairly certain everything is correct but I would need you to do a sanity check.”

You might wonder whether that person fears to have gone insane and you are supposed to evaluate his or her mental health- but that is not it.  The sanity check refers to the numbers, the work.  The person is asking you perform a basic, quick test to evaluate whether her results can possibly be true and correct.  The goal is not to catch every possible error under the sun.

Let’s say she was working on a spreadsheet listing the 10 different products the company sells, plus units sold and sales price and calculated revenues.  If the number comes out to be 5 billion and the company is a small retailer then – more likely than not – there is some gross mistake somewhere, like a multiplication instead of an addition – something like that.  the sanity check would catch that.

What the sanity check might not catch is if she forgot to subtract the 5% discount given to a minority of the customers buying a specific product.

A sanity check is very useful in situations like that, where one worked on something all day long and fears to not see the big picture anymore.

May 6, 2011

Big picture

Of course everybody knows what a big picture is – literally – a humongous piece of art.  But “big picture” as a phrase or expression is also used in business (and other more figurative) settings where it has another meaning.

The really big picture, pic: billionaireinaction.com

For example, if somebody says: “let me give you the big picture” he or she is about to give you a broad, high-level overview, an overall perspective of an issue or a problem – not a detailed discussion of all the nitty-gritties.  Big picture also implies a comprehensive perspective – you would expect to get the full story and not just part of it.

The expression is used to indicate that one does not want/need all the details but wants to get an overview first, for example in a meeting.

“Before we talk about specific technical requirements and how to implement, let’s take a step back and look at the big picture.  What do we want to accomplish?  What is the time frame and what budget do we have at our disposal.”

Big picture has become a bit of a cliche however, it is a useful expression and conveys its meaning well.

May 5, 2011

Networking

The art of networking, pic: biojobblog.com

Networking is a central part of American business life and one that Europeans often underestimate – at their own peril.   I hold to my opinion that among all the great things I learned in a US Business School networking and small talking were the most important.  And I really am not downplaying the importance of macroeconomics or cost accounting here.

Networking is more than sashaying around at a cocktail party Martini in hand.  Networking is actively building a group of professionals you have done business with or could do one day do business with.  It means to keep in loose touch with those individuals and be of help and assistance to them when asked.

And here is the critical idea: “ask for and provide assistance”.  If I need an introduction to Seth, the  marketing person in company X, and I know Jenny in company Y who knows that person I got and say “could you send Seth an email and introduce me?” and chances are Jenny will say “sure, no problem.”  Nobody feels taken advantage of and all is fine as long as some basic rule is followed:

  • you taketh and you giveth – Jenny helps me so next time Alicia asks me for the name of the hiring manager so her son can send the application for a summer internship to the right person I’ll say “Sure, I’ll do it tonight.”  (unless the son is a complete doofus in which case I better think quickly and come up with a good reason why I can’t).

Everybody thinks this is the most efficient way of getting stuff done – and you know what: it is.  networking doesn’t mean to condone nepotism it builds on the old idea of the network of trust.  I trust you, you trust Eric over there so I implicitly trust Eric.

Works!  Not always but more often than not.

May 4, 2011

Talk shop

They are probably talking shop, pic: images.businessweek.com

Talking shop is something we all occasionally do and find it completely okay – if our friends and spouses do it, though, it is completely unacceptable and annoying.

So here is what it means to talk shop: talking about work outside of the work place.  Talking shop is generally done with colleagues when one meets them in a social situation, for example at a holiday party or a company BBQ.  Talking shop is the best way to bore the hell out of everybody who is not working at the company and has nothing to say about how Dave in accounting is a bit slow and how annoying client xyz is.

Here is an example of how to use the phrase in a sentence:

“How was your husband’s company party last weekend?”

“Boring! They just talked shop all evening. “

As the imperative “let’s talk shop” you can use that phrase to let people know to stop the chit chat and start talking about work, e.g. 10 minutes after the meeting officially started everybody is still talking about last night’s baseball game then the boss might say “Guys, let’s talk shop now!”

April 29, 2011

Credit cards

Credit cards to the rescue! pic: newsjunkiepost.com

Books can be written – and big ones at that – about the use and abuse of credit cards in this country.  Before the 2008-09 big economic slump hit it was easier to sign up for a credit card then renewing your drivers license (a lot easier), faster than having a manicure and for many more frequent than taking a walk.

Back then, we must have gotten 10 letters every week trying to entice us to sign up for this or that credit card which we, of course, were already pre-approved for.  Sometime the envelop contained checks that could be used immediately – so one could start spending against the new credit card without any delay.  This way you could finally get rid off last year’s TV and buy that new one with the somewhat flatter screen and the 2 inches more in diameter.

This changed when people were unable to repay their TVs which – a year or so later – had pretty much lost all value due to larger and even flatter models but where still 95% unpaid for.

Now there is somewhat of a resurgence.  Nothing like before but we do get solicitations regularly again.  They now entice you with all sorts of stuff, the latest one, which I just saw today in an email from my son’s school.  The spiel is:  get the Target Red Card and a minuscule percentage of your purchases will be donated to the school.

So this is where we are at right now: schools are defunded by the State and Federal governments because we really can’t afford to give our children a good education – so big corporations to the rescue (target made just over $1B in profits in Q1 2011) who can throw a few morsels at the local schools.

Am I the only one thinking that there is something wrong with this picture?

April 16, 2011

Business Cliches

The more I looked at cliches online the more I realized how many get thrown around in the business environment everyday with thinking much about it.  So, I think it is a good exercise to call out a few more, not only to explain them but also to draw attention to the fact that they are overuse – or at least some might think they are.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be used but they should be used with caution and discriminatorily.

The pics for "think outside the box" are just as cliche as the expression, pic: http://www.gabrielhummel.com/

So here we go:

Sweat equity:  if you attain ownership in a company by working for it instead of buying into it.  This is often used to describe the stake founders of companies have – they worked pretty much day and night to get the company off the ground and now hold a junk of the shares – this would be sweat equity.

Thinking outside the box – this one has been used so often I can barely keep from rolling my eyes like an annoyed teenager when I hear it.  This phrase is just a round about way of saying thinking creatively and unconventionally, outside of the conventional limits.   When I heard it first I liked the phrase but that was 15 years ago and I have heard it pretty much every other day since.

Enough already.

March 11, 2011

Postmortem

Not the type of postmortem I mean, pic: picasaweb.com

If you watch a lot of crime shows like law & Order or CSI then you know what a postmortem or rather a postmortem examination is: an autopsy, an examination of the dead body to determine cause of death, or like I have learned to call it watching entirely too much CSI to determine COD.

There is another type of postmortem, though.  This one in business. In a positive or at least neutral incarnation the business postmortem is an discussion of an event after it occurred, e.g. after a meeting with a potential large customer the time gets together to discuss what went right and what went wrong.

The name postmortem, though, implies that generally more things went wrong than right and that one is not discussing a live deal but a dead one with the goal to understand what went wrong and to avoid it happen again.

Postmortems are generally painful for everybody involved, especially those who get assigned the balance of the blame for the failure.

It is a bit of a buzzword, in fact, it is one of those business buzzwords that I would not necessarily advise you to use liberally but it is good to know what your colleagues mean when they ask you attend a postmortem.  Unless you work in a crime lab no actual dead bodies will likely be involved.

Example: “Jane, are you coming?  Roger wants us all in the conference room right now for a postmortem of the client meeting earlier.”

February 16, 2011

Buzzwords

Business English is full of buzzwords – that is probably true for most languages and not only for business but also all sorts of communications from the government, legal speak, etc.

I think back in horror to some of the stuff I had to put up with back in Germany, that particular, formal style that uses mainly nouns and is characterized by words like Inbetriebnahmeinteraktionsfolgenrelevant or Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (no kidding, that word exists – sort of – in the files of some bureaucrats and I still haven’t quite understood what it means …)

This mission statement makes sense, pic getentrepreneurial.com

Anyway, back to English: buzzwords abound in corporate communication, favorite ones are flexible, innovative (if I had 1 Dollar for every time I read innovative I would have long retired on some chichi Caribbean island), optimize, platform, integration, results-oriented, capabilities, efficiency, track-record, align, dedicated, opportunities, shareholder value, productivity, increase,….

Here is what one – with only a little bit of hyperbole – could call a typical mission statement:

“Our company allows businesses to integrate, assemble and optimize available IT assets to drive business process productivity, delivering an innovative, enterprise-class business integration platform that incorporates proven integration technology with next generation capabilities into one interoperable set of tools that deliver a unique combination of efficiency, agility and control, combining industry leadership with a zealous commitment to customers to deliver tangible business value. “

Huh??

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