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Posts Tagged ‘communication skills’

Charming

This colloquial phrase is widely used, perhaps not always in the most flattering way.  You charm someone’s socks off in getting them to do things your way, or you are in need of a favor.  If you successfully charmed someone in a date or hanging out with someone over time, congratulations for a job well done.

That brings to the obvious question which has been bugging me for some time.  What is charming?  I’m told it clearly isn’t just about outlook and appearances, but having a magnetic and chiseled face does not hurt (as always).  It’s the personality, the aura, the demeanor, and most importantly, the substance.  Yes, these are all very open and vague descriptions, but as I’m told, that is exactly why a charming person is so not easy to find.

I’m sure there is no one definition, as charming means different things to different people.  I have come across an article online which lists out the 11 ways to be charming.  Obviously, I’m sure there are hundreds more ideas or criteria in your own minds, but it never hurts to get inspired by the list, before making your own conclusion.

How To Be Charming

  1. Be genuinely interested in people.
  2. Remember people’s names when you meet them for the first time.
  3. Assume rapport
  4. Smile with your eyes
  5. Take into account topics that interest those around you, even if you’re not so keen on them
  6. Control your tone of voice
  7. Watch the way you phrase things
  8. Issue compliments generously; this especially raises others’ self esteem
  9. Be gracious in accepting compliments
  10. Praise others instead of gossiping
  11. Sometimes being charming is about simply being a good listener

For the full narrative including additional tips, check out this link.

One word of advice however, when you decide to charm someone else’s socks off, be prepared of the consequences (provided you have done a good job of it).  That could be the subject of another blog post in the making.

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Vault.com has a recent blog article titled “How Not To Sound Like A Liar At Work“, describing how people generally are put off with hollow business jargons.  Not only that, most of us actually think whoever using those phrases are lying to our faces.  The article includes a few commonly used business jargons and their respective underlying meanings.  Here are a few examples:

Business-speak: “Deep dive

What people who aren’t liars say: “Instead of doing our usual half-assed job, we took the time to investigate properly.”

Business-speak: “Circle back

What people who aren’t liars say: “We’ll discuss this again – ideally when we actually know something about it.”

Business-speak: “Deliverables

What people who aren’t liars say: “Mundane tasks I am responsible for completing.”

Business-speak: “Let’s take this offline

What people who aren’t liars say: “Let’s talk about this after the meeting, so we don’t embarrass ourselves in front of the boss/waste everyone else’s time.”

I bet none of the above business talks are new to you, regardless of what you do.  You see it at work, and you hear about it all the time in politics and virtually any news outbreak on TV.

What I find hilarious and fascinating is the website “Unsuck It“, dedicated to “unsuck” the terrible business jargons you come across with.  Basically, you type in the jargon and you are presented with the unsucked version.  Brilliant.  Here are a few of my best finds.

Innovative

Unsucked: New, Slightly improved, Shiny

All-hands

Unsucked: Staff meeting

As soon as possible

Unsucked: In an unreasonable amount of time.  Quickly

Challenge

Unsucked: Problem

Elevator pitch

Unsucked: Brief, persuasive summary. Particularly one tailored to an influential audience trapped with the speaker in a small, windowless box suspended from a cable with no obvious escape route  (p.s. check out my post on Elevator Speech)

Empower

Unsucked:   Assign a menial or unpleasant responsibility to someone, particularly to a low-status individual or group  (Ouch…)

Paradigm shift

Unsucked:  A new, crappy reality to which employees or customers must accommodate themselves. Change in basic assumptions or a profound shift in perception. Possibly the most overused, diluted, otherwise useful and descriptive phrase

I hear what you’re saying

Unsucked:  LA LA LA LA LA I can’t hear you

Interject

Unsucked: Interrupt whatever you’re saying to show you I was raised by wolves

Knowledge transfer

Unsucked:  Sharing relevant experience throughout an organization. Bitching about office politics over drinks. Getting old-timers to divulge useful information before you lay them off for being too expensive

Outside the box

Unsucked:  Unconventional.  But in a way that won’t challenge anyone or get me fired.  Also, I’m too lazy to think of useful descriptors

Pencil in

Unsucked:  Schedule, with the understanding that you are going to flake at the last minute in favor of someone more important

Rightsizing

Unsucked:  Chicken shit for firing

Wow factor

Uncuked:  I don’t know what I want, but it’s not what I’m looking at.  Tart it up!

If you can think of more, send them to me as I can use a laugh every now and then, especially at work! 

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I think it was year 1990 or 1991 when I was in the United World College attending a media summit organized by the school faculty and students.   A few prominent speakers, including some movers and shakers of the media industry, were invited to address the students about the role of the media and its impact in the political world.  I don’t remember who the speaker (some American journalist) was now, but she was talking about her views on news productions around the world.  “You know what’s the worst news reporting production I have seen so far,” she shared in the middle of her speech.  “It was the Hong Kong TV news programs.”  There was laughter and gasps.  My schoolmates immediately turned to me giggling.  Being one of the only two Hong Kong students in the school, suddenly I felt that I was singled out.  Should I say something?  Should I defend something – anything?  The speaker didn’t need to be a genius to realize that a poor Hong Kong ambassador was in the hall, and she reiterated: “I’m serious.  The newscasters were babbling on and on at a piece that needs not much explaining.”

Maybe I didn’t quite get it at the time, since I hardly had much else to reference to, having only been away from my home town for less than a year.  But I get it now, big time.   Some 20 years later, I am still amazed and amused by where we are today with our news productions.

First a disclaimer.  I know nothing much about the industry, and my frame of reference since then has been largely related to that of the States.  But I think I am still entitled to share my views as a TV audience, and one attempting to seek up-to-date information from the local programs.  By the way, there aren’t that many choices to begin with.

I am a complete believer in news reporters’ and the station’s impartiality in any news stories, but do they all have to be so stone-faced and robotic?  Those of us who are also in the “people business” understand that we as the messengers play a huge part in getting our messages across.  How we say it and how we deliver it is an art by itself.  Yet throughout the few decades of TV news programs I have seen, it seems that there is a cardinal rule in their training programs that no news reporters or anchors should ever shed a single hint of emotion and intonation, whatsoever.  Hey, don’t get that mixed up with adding an opinion, as I know they aren’t talk show hosts and they are not supposed to.  I am talking about adding the right pause, phrasing, and emphasis to the key points, conclusions and transitions.  Sometimes subtle body language and hand gestures may be appropriate.  Though no, all I see is complete stiffness from beginning to end.  Maybe this is requested and demanded by the viewers?  I’m not sure, and I’m not one of them.

I like news anchors who have credibility and professionalism, and it takes them years on the field to gain that hard-earned reputation.  I don’t want them to turn into another extreme like some of the TV news programs in Taiwan, where the programs are much closer to entertainment than anything else, just so they could push up ratings in a relatively much more competitive media market than Hong Kong.  Despite the authoritative figure, I like to see some personalities being presented from time to time.  That brings an element of relatability, trust and connection with the audience.  I understand it can be hard to do here because the local presenters are not as high paid, their career prospect not as secure and promising, and hence it will be much tougher for them to build a distinct brand for themselves.

That’s what I would like to see changed, at least progressively.  It starts from the top at the leadership level, and goes down to where news stories are reported.  The news transcripts do not need to repeat everything we are already seeing on TV.  Come on, we are watching news with news feeds.  The news stories can stand to be a bit more original and non-repetitive.  Interviewing parents and school kids every year on September 1 when the new school year starts is not newsworthy material, similar to shooting at the flower market every Valentine’s Day, or dim sum restaurants on Mother’s Day.  Asking passing by citizens on the streets what they think of the recent public bus fare hike can only lead to one uniform answer.  Every time, I feel that 20 to 30 minutes of my life is robbed.  I don’t dislike the events themselves, I am just longing for a few more original questions or angles on them.

We need some pioneers and some daring moves to push everyone out of their comfort zones once in a while, even if they are of the TV viewers.  I want to envision myself jumping out of my auditorium chair some day, defending the next coming critique if I am fortunate enough to get stuck representing Hong Kong again. 

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One of the keys to surviving before excelling in the corporate world is knowing how to read hidden agendas.  As an agent of change, I need to interact with a large number of internal colleagues before I can go about exercising what my clients want with the outside partners and suppliers.  What we call stakeholder management skills need to come into play.  However, never, ever assume people’s intentions with only the titles on their name cards.

Do you want to be judged by the book cover?  Of course not.  Do you like to be stereotyped by the function or line of work you take part in?  In order to ensure that one genuinely adds value to a decision, he or she has been prepared to announce something new, something bold, or something clever.  Whether you agree with that or not never is the issue.  It is the individual’s hidden agenda that you want to uncover through the conversations you carry out with each and every one of them.  Listening, and reading minds, therefore, is the real key to success.

A newly on-board executive who is badly in need to prove himself.  A neighboring department head who is plotting to eat up your team or even the department.  An overworked manager who cannot be bothered by another new initiative.  A VP who tries to make influencing decisions in using a partnering firm that he has close ties with. 

It doesn’t take a genius to come up with tons of examples like the above, but it does take one to identify and draw such agendas out of everyone before designing tactics accordingly.  It is not easy to be seen, since most of your colleagues have been in the corporate workplace for years.  They are masters of sugar-coating intentions.

So whenever we go about talking with business partners, always consider these questions:

  • Why is this happening?
  • Who are the players?
  • What are the benefits?
  • What are the players each benefiting from, and how?
  • What can I get out of it?
  • How do I go about getting what I want?
  • What are the risks?
  • Are my benefits worth the risks?
  • Is this really what it appears to be?

In my experience it is always this last question that is most valuable, and it isn’t too hard to figure out once you conduct your share of due diligence. 

Last word of advice:  If you want to stay in one piece, you better keep these hidden agendas in the wraps, as long as they are legal!

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I came across an excellent article on CPO Agenda written by Tom Lawrence, strategy director at European procurement specialist buying team.  Those of you who have read my earliest posts on procurement branding will understand my frustrations and aspirations of my profession.  If you are keen in hearing another person’s views, I have taken the liberty to honor Mr. Lawrence’s work by copying his article here.  I will read it again and again as it echoes my views and vision exactly.  For those of you in my profession who would like to get in touch with Mr. Lawrence and his consultancy, please feel free to visit his company’s website.  The bold formatting is done by myself in highlighting the parts that resonate with me most.

 

What’s In A Name?    By Tom Lawrence
 
“The profile of indirect spend has grown considerably in recent years, but it is currently receiving more attention than ever before. There are two principal factors behind this rise.

Businesses are struggling to grow their top-line revenues. While forecasts do predict growth, this is weighted heavily towards 2013 and beyond. The outlook for the next two years is very sluggish. Therefore, to increase shareholder value, organisations are focusing on the bottom line, and on cost management.

Procurement is making headlines. Three recent government reports – Sir Philip Green’s efficiency review, the Strategic Defence and Security Review and the Comprehensive Spending Review – have turned the spotlight firmly on procurement and the consequences of not managing it effectively.

Procurement has come a long way in the past 20 years. However, the journey is far from complete. The renewed focus presents us with an opportunity to redefine procurement as a key strategic support function at the very heart of business. Yet indirect procurement’s value is frequently misunderstood, and this ambiguity leads to business leaders undervaluing it.

There are several fundamental questions which, as a profession, procurement simply does not provide consistent answers to. If we are unable to clarify these issues ourselves, it’s no wonder ambiguity occurs elsewhere.

It’s all in the name. First, perhaps surprisingly, is the terminology that we use – indirects, overheads, goods not for resale (GNFR), and non-core. All these words are both negative and imprecise. Indirects are simply the opposite of directs. The same goes for non-core and core, GNFR and GFR. Using only negative terms immediately relegates them to the second division, where they are perceived as secondary and unimportant, if not irrelevant, when in fact the complete opposite is true. Procurement is crucial. Without it, an organisation simply cannot function.

We need to shift fundamental perceptions, replacing the perception of procurement as a cost to one where it is valued as a business-essential activity. And it might be time to adopt a new name for this activity – one that reflects its importance and which will help to change mindsets. At buyingTeam, we have been using the term ‘Enabling Spend’ for several months.

If you look at text books or read market research to answer the question ‘what is procurement?’, you will find much around the source-to-pay process (eg, supplier relationship management, contract management, strategic and tactical sourcing, spend analysis, etc.). All of which is true and accurate. But business engagement – a key ingredient for successful procurement and an essential catalyst, in fact – is almost completely ignored. Procurement’s potential is released when it looks not only outwards to the supplier community, but at its own organisation, acting as an internal consultant or analyst, challenging and influencing behaviours, business rules and ways of working.

Beyond an almost cursory acknowledgement of the need for change management, business engagement is ignored by most textbooks and research and, to be quite frank, by many procurement functions. Procurement will only ever be viewed as a function to secure the best deal if that is all it focuses on, or all that it is tasked to achieve.

There is no common or industry-wide understanding of the areas that make up Enabling Spend. In some organisations, professional services such as audit fees or bank charges, for example, fall outside the remit of procurement. In almost all of the organisations we work with, there are areas of spend over which procurement has little influence, and these can include large spend marketing and IT.

The function may be engaged by the business to negotiate a deal, but all too frequently buyers are not trusted with any further involvement. The root cause of this attitude is the ongoing lack of understanding, even among the CFO community, of how procurement’s principles should be applied to all areas of spend. This is a missed opportunity.

What works for direct procurement doesn’t necessarily work for Enabling Spend. Enabling Spend contains hundreds of diverse categories, with thousands of suppliers serving a very wide range of stakeholders, all of whom have different needs. In comparison, directs has far fewer areas of expertise, suppliers and stakeholders. So a totally different approach is needed – yet many organisations apply their directs approach to Enabling Spend.

The range and depth of skill sets that Enabling Spend requires, – such as commerciality, change management, communication, procurement and deep category knowledge – are vast. ‘Best in class’ is a misleading concept. What is right for one organisation is not necessarily right for another. Procurement must be tailored according to an individual organisation’s culture, structure, profile and strategic aims to deliver the best results. Rather than ‘best in class’, a more useful question to ask is: “What do I need?”

Which brings us to procurement outsourcing. Even here there is confusion. Procurement outsourcing has come to mean different things. To many people, it involves shifting work wholesale to low-cost countries using technology and streamlining processes, running the same processes for less money. It’s all about efficiency. Yet true procurement outsourcing – and where multiples of the value achievable through efficiency are possible – is about how to do procurement better. The benefits are all about effectiveness.

Given all the above, it should come as no surprise that business leaders remain unaware of what is achievable by getting this right, and are therefore failing to prioritise it above other initiatives.

Finally, organisations are simply not investing enough in the management of their Enabling Spend. This is certainly preventing large elements of the above from improving, and is possibly the root cause of much of it. In our experience, procurement can and should be generating a return on investment of between 8 and 15 times. This is a huge benefit and one that substantially outperforms the ROI generated by most other investment decisions. Moreover, it goes straight to the bottom line. We see time and time again that the opportunities to improve shareholder value and operational performance are great – and way beyond the expectations of the senior executives.

The value that most procurement functions deliver is simply not good enough. Yes, much of this is due to the lack of investment in procurement. Yet we, as a community, must shoulder our fair share of the blame.

If procurement is to take its rightful place as a key strategic support function and be recognised as one, it’s time for us to address some of these fundamental issues. In doing so, we can continue to push procurement to front-of-business leaders’ minds as a powerful strategic asset that can deliver real business improvements.

The time has come for us to raise our game and, in doing so, release procurement’s true potential.”

If you have read my earlier posts, you will remember that I have written about delivering solid ROIs to my employers (my commitment is 7 times and up, comparing to Mr. Lawrence’s 8 to 15 times), as well as constantly expanding our span of involvement to areas of above-the-line marketing, consulting, sponsorship and professional services so as to further maximize the author’s definition of “Enabling Spend”.  If you are interested in joining my (and Tom’s) vision of “raising our game”, I am more than happy to hear from you!

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Back in the years, one of the earlier lessons I learned as a consultant was how to manage our clients’ expectations.  Our client projects were mostly related to e-sourcing events with an estimated savings figure in mind.  We wanted to ensure our clients a handsome return of investment.   Yet there could still be a number of uncontrollable factors that could go either ways.  The suppliers could be colluding, the parts for bid could turn out to be obsolete, or our clients’ credibility was not as high as they would believe themselves.  The golden rule for all engagement managers therefore is to manage our clients’ expectations on a daily basis until the project finishes.

In short, managing expectations is to minimize the impact of surprises, particularly those unpleasant ones.  It requires the ability to think of all the possible scenarios that could go wrong.  I have since learned to extend this cardinal rule to my daily life, and so far this rule has not been disappointing me a single bit.

  • Investments.  I am definitely not one of those daring investors who would bank their entire net worth into a property, stock or a fund.  My lowest expectation in buying my apartment is that I can see myself living in it till the day I die.  If I can flip it and make a profit some time, it will always be a bonus.  Of course I will carefully pick properties with higher appreciation prospects, but expecting any solid return within a specified period of time is not my number one priority.
  • Entertainment.  I have been around the city long enough to know what to expect from the hundreds of thousands of restaurants, theatres, shopping malls, boutiques and bars.  As they all differ by the clientele they serve, level of customer service standard they uphold, and the dollar amount on their price tags, I set vastly different expectations just for that.  This way I know exactly what I will be getting.  If I am in an adventurous and energetic mood, I don’t mind going for crowded eateries that my bowl will be lifted away as soon as I put down my chopsticks.  If I am exhausted after a day’s work, I will go for more comfortable places where I expect pampering service and cuisine, with full expectation that the bill is going to be more pricey.  Why some people choose to swap that around always puzzles me. 
  • Relationships.  One of the reasons why many couples get into fights on Valentine’s Day is expectations mis-alignment.  Some wish for romantic elements, while some choose to be more practical.  Some feel the pressure from their peers and colleagues, and there are a million different expectations of gift choices, dining choices, and what to do afterwards.  This aspect perhaps is the least manageable in my opinion, since no matter how prepared and civilized it is with the prior planning and conversations, one always secretly wishes something more.
  • Career.  This requires no further clarification.  Everyone is dispensable, whether we like it or not.  Every decision we make or advice we provide comes with both opportunities and risks.  If we have not fully contemplated all possible outcomes, we would surely be struck by surprise.   Another thing for sure, is to manage your superior’s expectations on yourself.  He or she also hates surprises!

I know some may see this is all too conservative and behind the times.  Some believe that the society needs constant challenges to the status quo, and they are always ready to make bold objectives and changes.  I see nothing wrong with that, since deciding which path to take solely depends on how well you know about yourself.    Being honest to yourself and listening to your heart is critical. 

There is one thing that I never attempt to manage expectations whatsoever, and that is my Love towards my family and companions.  My devoted love and affection is unconditional.   Just like what the book Eat, Pray, Love says, love is worth losing balance for.

 

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Elevator Speech

It was about 12 years ago when I attended an intensive 2-weeks graduate training at ExxonMobil Chemicals.  A group of us from around the region literally lived and studied together inside a hotel in Singapore.  The training was indeed a survival course of corporate culture, business line introduction, management techniques as well as a whole bunch of soft skills training.  One topic which I still vividly remember until this date, is conducting your elevator speech.

A typical elevator ride in your office building will not last more than 15 to 30 seconds.  If you happen to ride with your friends and colleagues, you normally exchange polite and casual remarks on the weather, workload, and where to go for lunch, dinner or drinks after work.  What happens when your General Manager or the company CEO steps in?  He or she is smiling at you while introducing themselves.  What else are you going to say aside from your name?  Are you just going to report your department or to whom you work for, hoping the executive will ask follow-up questions afterwards?

In the training we were taught to make good use of this brief elevator encounter, and we were asked to draft our 15 seconds elevator speech.  The objective is to make an impression without making a fool of ourselves.  In today’s corporate world, the trainer told us that every word and remark counts, and how confident and humble we are acting in front of everyone is a clear statement of how we want to be perceived and remembered. 

The key to drafting the contents of the speech is to think of the recipient.  What matters for the CEO?  The speech needs to be timely as well because the priorities of the CEO changes day by day.  Merely reporting what team or department you work for isn’t going to make much of an impression, but hearing that you have been leading the transformation team of the most recent global outsourcing project may raise an eyebrow.  Obviously, my thoughts are that it is not a job interview.  I honestly think it’s going be a bit awkward if I start to throw out numbers and accomplishments in an elevator.  It will appear a bit too scripted and inhuman. 

Again, I think personality stands out.  The elevator conversation should be able to help project a lasting impression of what you do and your personality.  If you think you can articulate an idea accurately through your words and gestures, it’s okay to exert an opinion on a task or project at hand even if it is not mainstream.  Of course, if you know you will get easily nervous in a timed scenario, forget about it or you will be remembered as a weirdo or even a whiner.  Leaders love to see how composed and relaxed their employees are, because that is critical management material.  After all, I think preparing an elevator speech isn’t really about the details of the contents.  If you have envisioned this day to come anytime in the future, you will be less nervous if the CEO comes out to shake your hands asking how things are.  You will be more relaxed and composed, and more often than not, your natural charisma is going to come out and dazzle everybody.

So what is your elevator speech going to be?

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