Competency-Based Learning

One of the most significant opportunities being missed by most organizations today is the lack of a competency talent framework. I’ve always believed that the only true business differentiator is the competency of your organization. Everything else can typically be easily duplicated with financial resources.

The exact opposite is true for people. They are complex and require a great deal of effort and energy, however, if you can tap into their talents and keep them engaged in building their strengths, you will flourish.  History has proven this time and time again.

When it comes to the term competency, it’s often confused with other words like talent, strengths, or skills. By definition, a competency is where, motivation, knowledge, and skill meet. A competency can be a talent and it can certainly be a strength, so let’s not get too hung up on the term. The goal is to identify the critical or core competencies that are drivers of your organization’s success. Typically, I encourage the organization to select anywhere from 8-12 competencies – more than 12 becomes difficult to manage.

Once they’ve been identified and agreed upon,(this requires feedback from all levels of the organization), you can then start to incorporate them into the other systems and processes that drive your talent framework – selection, performance management, succession planning, personal development, and organizational values. These competencies also become an integral part of your culture.

Marcus Buckingham, the author of, Go Put Your Strengths To Work, also advocates focusing on the people’s strengths and not their weaknesses. What I found compelling about his work was that it aligned with my experiences as a leader.

Most performance review processes focus on improving someone’s weakness but rarely have I seen an improvement.  However, if they focused on a strength, I would see great strides being made. Even Dan Pink discussed this when he identified what motivates individuals – Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose. The mastery of skills is aligned with focusing on strengths and that’s aligned with what Malcolm Gladwell shared in his book, Outliers, where he wrote that “ ten thousand hours is the magic of greatness.”

If you are going to build a competency-based organization, make certain that the learning opportunities you provide are tied to those competencies and incorporate them into everything you do.

On a final note, I’d like to suggest another philosophical opportunity. Would you hire a person that wasn’t willing to develop or improve themselves?  You probably will tell me that you wouldn’t but we do it all the time. One important criterion that is missed in the selection process is assuring newcomers that if they join your organization, they have to be willing to continue to learn and develop.  If not, why would you hire them?

If the competence of your employees is a business differentiator everyone has to be willing to continue to learn.

John Prpich, TalentBlueprint

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Dealing with Escalated Situations in Your Workplace

Resolving workplace conflict is an expected part of the job managers and Human Resource Practitioners. Whether you work in education, healthcare, human services, business, or any field, you might deal with angry, hostile, or noncompliant behaviour every day. Your response to the defensive reaction is often the key to avoiding a physical confrontation with someone who has lost control of their behaviour.

These ten De-Escalation Tips will help you respond to challenging behaviour in the safest, most efficient way possible.

  1. Be empathetic and non-judgmental
  2. Respect personal space
  3. Use non-threatening nonverbal communication
  4. Avoid overacting
  5. Focus on feelings
  6. Ignore challenging questions
  7. Set limits
  8. Choose wisely what you insist upon
  9. Allow silence for reflection
  10. Allow time for decisions

 

 To help you towards more efficient conflict de-escalation and resolution, the following basic steps can be followed:

  • Obtain the name of the person with whom you are speaking: People respond favourably to their own name. It also makes the conversation more personal. Ask for the person’s name early in the piece and use it throughout the discussion.
  • Use Active Listening: Clarifying, paraphrasing and using open-ended questions ensure that the individual you are speaking with knows you are aware of their situation and frustrations. Resaying a person’s own words back to them demonstrates that you have understood entirely what they were trying to say.       
  • Show support and suspend judgement: Empathy needs to be shown during conflict situations. Respecting the other person’s point of view even if you do not agree entirely will be the first step to resolving the conflict. 
  • Get them to agree and say yes: Having the person agree with you on general factual points leads the conversation towards a more favourable outcome. If you can show that you have understood their point of view by making clarifying statements you generate a state where the other person must reply with an affirmative response. The sooner you can get the person to say yes then sooner the conflict will de-escalate. It always works.
  • Avoid clichés: The worst of these being “Calm Down”. Did you ever notice how people who tell you to calm down are the ones who got you mad in the first place? Saying those words during a verbal conflict usually gets the classic retort “I AM CALM” very loudly usually with an animated hand gestures as well.       
  • Show empathy: You need to show compassion and understanding and give the conflict your full attention. Do not make impulsive decisions. Take the time to work through the problem.
  • Consistency in Courtesy: The person you are dealing with first thing in the morning deserves the same level of respect, civility and patience as the individual you are dealing with at 2 in the afternoon. They warrant the same high level of service and professionalism as the first person you spoke to. You need to maintain that position of positive brand ambassador and an excellent professional service.

There are many physical aspects of being mindful of in conflict situations. It is important always to be aware of features of conflict such as your body language, your emotions, your judgement, and your initial thoughts. Keeping these in mind is essential when trying to de-escalate a problematic situation.

Monika B. Jensen is the principal of the Aviary Group, consulting company that address workplace discord.  For more information, visit www.aviarygroup.ca

 

 

 

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Private Security Trends and the Need for more Trained Private Security Resources

The Canadian Occupation Projection System (COPS) predicts that by 2018, there will be a significant shortage of Private Investigation and Private Security professionals for the projected number of job openings in Canada.

 

This is due to a large number of impending retirements and the increasing demand for trained professionals in the Private Investigation and Security field. The current security climate in Canada, the privatization of public security functions and the gaps in accessible knowledge and streamlined training in the private security field, including the gaps between private and public security, are all indications that there is an imminent and urgent need to provide professional and comprehensive private investigative and security services to Canadians. This not only increases individual safety and security within municipalities but also ensure the Canada as a whole maintains its credibility and reputation as one of the safest Countries in the World.

 

In 2002, the Law Reform Commission of Canada opened a dialogue on the trend in the growth of private security in Canada. A continued rise in law enforcement expenditures, combined with economic downturns, have contributed to pressure being placed on police services around the world to become more effective and efficient. This has resulted in a growing trend of privatizing some functions traditionally performed by public policing to the private security industry as well as the growing cooperative efforts between public and private security. Private security plays an increasingly important role in community safety and addressing issues of crime and social disorder.

 

It is often assumed that privatizing and outsourcing traditional law enforcement tasks will result in reductions in the numbers of sworn police officers. This is very far from the truth, on the contrary, public and private security collaboration may in fact result in innovative initiatives that previously did not exist, and with the growing need for security actions in communities, may in fact provide law enforcement with extra resources and partners to undertake more actions without being overworked and understaffed while utilizing various community expertise.

 

There is a growing need for more security trained private resources and more collaboration between all security facets in Canada.  In Ontario, Private Investigators as well as Security Guards are licenced and regulated by the Ministry Of Correctional Services and Community Safety.

 

Anyone that acts in these rolls must have a licence. To obtain a licence, you must meet some requirements, one of them is completion of a Ministry-approved course provided by a registered provider such as Focus Investigations. A minimum 50 hour course for Private Investigator and a 40 hour course for Security Guards is mandatory.

 

These courses can be completed online making it easy for students to complete at the curriculum at their own pace. The process is as follows:

 

1. Complete Ministry training course and receive a “Completion Number”

 

2. Book a written exam at a SERCO Canada location that provides these tests. 

 

3. Upon successful completion of the exam, a candidate may now apply to the Ministry for their license. 

* For Security Guards, Emergency level first aid training is also required.

 

More information can be found on the licensing and industry here:

https://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/PSIS/FAQs/FAQs-Licences/PSIS_faqs_licences.html

 

Additional training that is useful for security professionals as well as anyone working in a security related field such as:

 

Notetaking:

 

Knowing how to take notes is important for the following reasons:

 

  • Notes are referenced for several reasons and potentially by several people.
  • Supervisors might want a rundown of the events you encountered the night before, clients may want to know about incidents that affected their businesses, and law enforcement may need these notes to help with an investigation which could conclude in a court case in which the notes will be used to prove or disprove an allegation.
  • It is vital that security personnel know how to take proper notes so that the facts are covered and there is no confusion that renders the reports useless.

 

Crisis Intervention

 

A crisis occurs when someone loses control over their behaviour. These moments are often preceded by warning signs that tells you someone’s behaviour is starting to escalate.  Security officials and any employee having to interact with the public may be faced with a situation where they are called upon to defuse a situation. By following the tips in a crisis intervention course, they often prevent a situation from becoming critical and dangerous and they are prepared and confident in any crisis they may face.

 

 For more information or to enrol in one of these courses, visit us at http://www.focusinvestigation.net

 

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Managing Gossip in Your Workplace

By: Monika B. Jensen

Gossip is widespread in the workplace. At times, it appears as if employees have nothing better to do than gossip about each other. They chat about their organization, their coworkers, and their bosses. They often take a half truth and flip it into an entire hypothetical reality. Speculating on the team’s future, who will let go, who is seeing who and what employees are doing in their personal lives.
Employees are capable about gossiping about everything, and they do in a workplace that fails to bring about a stop to the chatting employees.

A certain amount of gossip is likely to occur in any place of work; employees are curious to know what is going on and like to chat about work matters. The essential point is to determine when the gossip is inappropriate. In which case, if it is not addressed, it may lead to low employee morale or a toxic work environment.

As a manager, the need to stop the gossiping occurs when it becomes disrupting to the workplace and the business of work, it is hurting employees’ feelings, it is damaging interpersonal relationships, or injuring employee motivation and morale.
Since research shows that gossip is disruptive in the workplace, what can we do to address it? Let us look at a few different approaches as a team and as an individual to addressing gossiping in the workplace.

When you deal with gossip as a team considers putting a ban on gossiping. Some workplaces have adopted an official ban on workplace gossip by having employees sign a pledge. Although extreme it may be effective. To discourage gossiping encourage employees to speak to each other about issues that are causing them problems before they bring it to their supervisors or other parties’ attention.

In the age of social media, it becomes easier to spread rumours and gossip about others. This can cause tremendous harm to the culture of the workplace. Organizations, today need to deal with social media and keep an eye on emails, personal blogs and Facebook discussions among employees. Finally confront rumours promptly. Providing factual information about layoffs, problematic situations or surplus of employees serve them better than to leave them speculating on their own. It is important to discuss the impact that gossip may have in the workplace. Talking openly the differences between active communication and gossip. In today’s workplace, verbal harassment has legal ramifications. Employers have a duty to take action against verbal harassment when they become aware of it.

So in dealing with gossip as an individual, always share information.

Be generous with the non-confidential material. This has proven to put a check on the gossip mill. Interestingly closed doors can set off alarms even if the intent is innocent.

Let people know that you may be interrupted at any time unless in a private meeting. Be sensitive about appearances.

Often rumours and gossip form around cliques in the workplace. Try to avoid forming groups and reach out to new people to keep the loop open. If all else fails, walk away. Gossip loses its momentum when there is no audience.

Find a way to tactfully suggest a more efficient channel for complaining or remove yourself from the discussion. If you start to focus on the positive qualities of your colleagues, you will automatically have nice things to say about each other.

Workplaces that have the highest levels of gossip seem to be the ones where employees are not engaging in work duties. Stay busy. If your day is full of tasks which you find thought-provoking and rewarding you will be less likely to get distracted by trivial activities.

We spend long hours at our job, make a point of cultivating relationships and activities outside your workplace. Having strong relationships outside the office provides sources of emotional support and objective advice often.

Unfortunately lurking at the extreme end of the gossip spectrum is workplace bullying. What may seem harmless rumors to some, may amount to intimidation and harassment for the targeted employees. Complications of physical and meth health issues arise and need to be addressed in the proper forum.

Finally become a role model. Do not indulge in any gossip yourself. Become a leader in this area. Do not feel the need to chat to feel connected, liked or to be informed about your team. Taking a stand to prevent random gossiping creates a better workplace for everyone.

Monika B. Jensen

Principal, Aviary Group

905-683-9953

mjensen@aviarygroup.ca

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Content is Still King for Getting Attention for your Business

As you know, keeping your business top of mind with your ideal customer will help you be their first choice when they’re in the market for what you offer.

But cutting through the noise to reach your ideal customers and grabbing their attention is getting tougher than ever. The ways consumers find information have changed.

Enter the Power of Content

What type of content you produce and where you distribute it will be uniquely specific to your brand. You can’t just put a piece of content up on your website and hope people will find it.

Writing articles through the use of a blog is one of the most common and powerful types of content marketing – and having the ability to publish articles to a community blog focussed directly on your target audience is even better!

Doing so helps you build visibility with your customers and potential customers while at the same time engaging them and strengthening the reputability of your brand.

Your content gives you the power to become an influencer and the voice of authority in your field of expertise.

If you’re like me though, because the heavy traffic on the social media channels available for content marketing is constantly growing, I’m finding that my content posted on various social media sites, is like publishing into the abyss. You might get some “likes” and “comments” but it’s hard for most of us who are “technologically impaired” to determine if it actually reached our target audience.

To make content marketing work best, not only does it need to be good and relevant to your customers, you must also consider effective distribution of it and getting it in the right places.

“The most essential issue in Content Marketing, as cited by more than half of in-house respondents, is “Effective Distribution and Getting Content in the Right Places.” [1]

Getting Started

  • Identify your core audience (i.e. for our professional members, it’s the municipalities)
  • Determine their pain points and write custom content that helps – tell stories from your experience, provide information that prompts them to ask questions and contact you.
  • Then publish it where they will see it – “in the right places” (i.e – our “muniBLOG”)

Remember – one article alone won’t be the primary source of conversions so you’ll want to think creatively about what types of content you need to produce. Keep your articles closely related or neatly categorized so, as people start connecting with your content, they’re inclined to read more and more.

Content No-No’s:

  • Too much self-promotion – a bit is ok but your articles can’t be a sales pitch. Keep it mostly educational or informational and follow the 80/20 rule. (80% information/20% promotion)
  • Misspellings & Poor Grammar – if you’re not comfortable writing your own content consider getting someone to write your content for you
  • Not including a strong call to action – if someone is reading your blog, they need to be able to reach out to you – otherwise, what’s the point. Tell them what you want them to do next and provide your contact information.

Now here’s my 20% Rule in action.

Are you leveraging muniSERV’s Content Marketing potential?

According to the Incite Group’s 2017 Marketing Trends, “Personalization” is the next big thing.

muniSERV is ahead of its time and we already offer our members a component of personalization, in that we take your content and target it directly to municipalities for you.

As a muniSERV member, did you know your content on our blog has the potential to reach every Canadian municipality and it will be delivered directly to the inboxes of our 750 subscribed municipal decision-members?

So be sure you’re taking advantage of the power of publishing your content to our muniBLOG so you can leverage the strength of our subscribed municipal members. I cannot stress enough, the power in getting the right content to the right people at the right time.

Finally, if content writing is just not your thing and you need help – contact me. We can help you with that too.

By the way – we’re working hard on taking “personalization” to the next level for our members by developing personalization that will provide segmented targeting to help you reach exactly who you want to reach – so stay tuned!

Susan Shannon, Founder & Principal

muniSERV.ca

sshannon@muniserv.ca

855.477.5095

[1] Incite Group – 2017 Digital Marketing Trends

 

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The Five Key Facets of High Performance Leadership

 

High Performance Leadership (HPL) is in great demand. Are you ready to become a high performing leader?
Many people in leadership positions struggle with understanding what makes a good or even great leader. While billions of dollars are spent annually on leadership development, high performance leadership is still in short supply.

Organizations have responded to the demand for high performance leadership with a steady stream of education and training resources, which seem to be plentiful, (for example, at the time of writing, Amazon.com had over 9,000 references on leadership), yet most attempts at building high performance leadership are either far too complex or too simplistic to be of any practical use to leaders who need to make things happen. So what does work?

High Performance Leadership

While successful organizations focus on three imperatives: aligning strategy & people; developing world class leaders; and building world class teams, when we look at what successful leaders personally do to succeed, we find that they concentrate on building their capacity around what we call the five key facets of high performance leadership , using the acronym FACET:

Focus – Authenticity – Courage – Empathy – Timing

Focus

Effective leaders stay focused on the outcomes they wish to create, and don\’t get too married to the methods used to achieve them. They provide this \’outcomes focus\’ for their organization by emphasizing the mission, vision, values and strategic goals of their organization and at the same time building the capacity of their organizations to achieve them.

This capacity building emphasizes the need to be flexible, creative and innovative and avoid becoming fossilized through the adoption of bureaucratic structures, policies and processes. It also means letting go of lines of business, products and programs that don\’t support the focus.

Authenticity

Leaders who are authentic attract followers, even leaders who are viewed as being highly driven and often difficult to work with day in and day out. Simply put, they are viewed as always being themselves and therefore followers know what to expect from them and can rely on them, in good times and bad. They know themselves intimately, and they understand the effect they have on others.

Authenticity provides the leader with the currency to obtain \’buy-in\’ from key stakeholders, because authenticity builds and maintains trust. Authenticity is the bedrock upon which the other four facets are built.

Courage

The challenges facing leaders today are immense, and require great courage to overcome. Leaders are constantly being challenged by others, be it their own team, customers, the public or stakeholders. Standing firm in the face of criticism, yet having the courage to admit when they are wrong, are hallmarks of courageous leaders.

They have the courage to face reality and lead change in order to achieve whatever they are focused upon. Courageous leaders know when to let go and let others take the initiative, which entails…

Empathy

Effective leaders know how to listen empathetically, thus legitimizing others\’ input. By doing so, they promote consensus building, and build strong teams. They coach others to do the same, and so create a culture of inclusiveness and collaboration. They tend to be great listeners who capitalize on the ideas of others, and provide recognition for these ideas, yet they don\’t get bogged down in overly complicated dialogue. They never let themselves get caught in endless dialogue, because they are continuously refocusing.

While they create learning organizations that place a high value on dialogue and continuous feedback, they know when to make decisions and take action, which brings us on to the fifth facet…

Timing

The one facet that can make or break a leader is in knowing when to make, and not make, critical decisions. All of the other facets must be viewed as subservient to getting the timing of critical decisions and actions right. There is a need to be focused, authentic, courageous and empathetic, but get the timing wrong on critical decisions and everything else will fall apart.

Great leaders move with appropriate speed. They don\’t believe that everything must be done immediately…they know how to prioritize, and how to get their team to prioritize. As well, they engage in timely follow-through to ensure actions that are committed to happen in a well coordinated and timely way.

Is it that simple?

Is that all it takes to be a great leader? These facets of high performance leadership are not exhaustive. Just as one would look at the facets of a diamond, upon closer observation other qualities become observable.

Any person can aspire to being a great leader by embracing these five key facets. To get started, if you are in a leadership role, regardless of your position in your organization, start by asking yourself the following key questions:

Key Questions

1. How focused am I? How much of my time do I spend communicating and inspiring people about our mission, vision and strategic goals? How much focus do I create in my organization? How married am I/my organization to methods that have outlived their usefulness?

2. Am I viewed as authentic? Do people see and hear the real me? Do I wear a mask at work, and remove it when I leave each evening?

3. How courageous am I?  When my values, vision and goals are challenged do I buckle? Do I stand firm and only change my position when I know that I am wrong?

4. How empathetic am I? Too much/too little? Do I create enough opportunities for open and candid dialogue? Do I ever find myself getting bogged down in consensus building, or leading my team to false consensus? Is there a feeling of inclusiveness, collaboration and engagement amongst the members of my organization, and with other stakeholders, including customers?

5. Do I make and execute decisions in a timely fashion? Do I demand well coordinated and timely execution of strategy from others?

What can you do to create a high-performance leadership culture? Asking these questions in a candid way will open up many possibilities for you, your organization or your clients…if you have the courage to do it. Building and sustaining a high-performance leadership culture takes time, patience and a clear focus on the vital few characteristics that leaders can develop naturally and authentically.

Listening to what people expect from you as a leader, and then responding empathically, in a timely fashion, will move you dramatically towards mastering these five key facets of high performance leadership.

Above all, you need to TAKE ACTION.

About the Author

Brian Ward is CEO of Affinity Consulting and Training, an independent consulting and training organization based in Edmonton, Alberta. He is also the founder of www.Management4M.com, an online training resource for new and first-time supervisors and managers.

 

 

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15 Simple Tips to Write Better Today

(article shared from Bidsketch)

The written word has never been so powerful.

Whether it’s through emails, text messages, business websites, or something else, it frames many key interactions with prospects and customers.

Everyone is a writer these days. Forget the fact you might not be getting paid to do it. Chances are you still write a good deal. If you want to succeed in today’s ultra-competitive environment, it’s imperative you express your message clearly and effectively. You must be understood!

Here’s the good news: even if you dislike writing, there are plenty of practical tips you can learn to create an immediate impact on your prose. With just a little care and attention, you can apply them without too much trouble. No expensive writing courses or seminars needed.

Writing Is More of a Craft Than You Might Think1

Many people see writing as an art. Writing well is for geniuses like Hemingway and Faulkner. It’s viewed as something that can’t be learned – like height or hair color.

But the reality is writing is more of a craft than you might know. You don’t have to put in thousands of hours and become a master. If you can grasp the tools of the trade – tools all types of writers rely on – you can communicate more effectively with your leads and customers.

Here are some of the most important tips you can apply and make an immediate impact:

  1. Active Voice

This is one of the most common writing tips around. Unfortunately, it’s also one where a lot of people screw up!

Sentence structure matters. In English, we prefer active sentences instead of passive ones.

Here’s an example of a passive sentence:

The hurricane is predicted to be the largest in decades by meteorologists.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with passive sentences. They just tend to be wordy and indirect: not a great recipe to get people’s attention. A simpler active construction (which goes subject, verb, then object) is easier to understand.

Here’s the same example reworked to be active:

Meteorologists predict the hurricane will be the largest in decades.

  1. Eliminate Fluff Words1

Many writers make sentences longer than necessary because they pack in words which don’t add any real meaning. And when you factor in readers’ shrinking attention spans, words that don’t add meaning become liabilities.

Here are a few common fluff words and phrases to look out for:

  • Basically
  • Essentially
  • I might add
  • It is interesting to note
  • Just
  • Really
  • The fact that
  • Very

And now, a fluff-filled example in all of its terrible glory:

The fact that Richard, the office manager, just leaves 30 minutes early every day makes me very angry.

Here’s how you might rewrite it:

It makes me furious when Richard, the office manager, leaves 30 minutes early every day.

This variation gets the point across faster than the first. There are fewer words and chances for confusion – exactly what keeps people reading.

  1. Clarity Trumps Cleverness

It’s great for writers to have a large vocabulary as their disposal. Every word is a tool, and it’s always an awesome moment when you pull out the perfect one to convey your message.

But using big words when small words would do slows down the reader. It doesn’t make them view you as smarter; using unnecessary complex words actually makes them see you as small-minded.

If you have to choose between being clear and clever, choose clarity every time.

Here’s a short list of corporate speak words along with simpler options you could use to replace them:

  • Facilitate (help)
  • Enable (allow)
  • Disseminate (pass out)
  • Implement (do)
  • Sufficient (enough)
  • Utilize (use)

You get the idea.

  1. Avoid Weak Adjectives

Vivid descriptions separate content we love from the boring stuff. To create those descriptions, writers need a specific set of tools: adjectives.

We use adjectives all the time. That might explain why so many of them come off as flat and lifeless. How many times have you read a news article featuring a “cold winter” or a “corrupt politician”?

These weak adjectives are used so often you probably skip right over them. They don’t stand out; they’re anything but compelling. Sometimes writers make things even worse by tacking on fluff words, like “very” or “rather.”

Opting for stronger adjectives adds dramatic flair – the kind of flair that makes your content memorable.

Here are some weak adjectives and stronger alternatives:

  • Big (enormous, gigantic)
  • Cold (frigid)
  • Cute (adorable)
  • Gross (repulsive)
  • Hot (stifling)
  • Irritating (obnoxious)
  • Scary (terrifying)
  • Small (minuscule, tiny)
  1. Favor Details over Vague Language

This tip flows nicely from the last. Using specific details doesn’t just make your content more engaging; it’s also another way to avoid weak, boring adjectives.

Writers paint pictures with their words. Details make those pictures vivid in readers’ minds. A few well-chosen details are all it takes to make a reader feel like he or she is really there.

Here’s a general language example:

A long commute was one of the biggest motivators to quit my job and start my own business.

Now, here’s the same idea with specific details:

I dreaded the moment that alarm clock rang. That sound meant I would soon spend 50 minutes trapped in my car, flipping between awful radio morning shows, swerving around potholes and drivers determined to see how little space they could leave behind my bumper. All that – just to get to a job that didn’t inspire me but sapped my energy.

Which version resonates stronger with you?

How can you be more specific next time you write? Can you give any concrete examples? If so, you’ll make more of an impact than sticking to vague language.

  1. Cut Down on “To Be” Verbs

Many writers like to use variations of “to be,” a helping verb (also called an auxiliary verb). This is perfectly fine every one in a while. But if you use them too often, the result is a longer, more complex sentence structure.

Rephrasing “to be” language will help you cut out unnecessary words while still retaining meaning. Here are some examples of sentences using “to be” variations:

  • “John is running across the street.”
  • “I am wondering if the restaurant is still open.”
  • “They are the winners of the award this year.”

Here are those same sentences simplified by stripping out “to be”:

  • “John runs across across the street.”
  • “I wonder if the restaurant is still open.”
  • “They won the award this year.”
  1. Vary Your Sentence Length

Typical business writing advice urges us to always use short sentences. Bloggers are notorious for this. Use a few words. Period. Move on. Make your next point.

Short sentences are powerful. But when you pack too many of them together, the writing gets choppy. It sounds like it’s written by a machine, not a person. Readers’ eyes start to glaze over.

You can keep people interested by varying your sentence length, consciously creating a “rhythm” to your prose. Here’s an awesome example of the concept from author Gary Provost:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals – sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

  1. Read It Out Loud

Editing is what makes writing truly shine. Too many of us skip one of the most important steps; we don’t read our text out loud.

Often, sentences that look good on paper unravel when you read them. So give this tip a try. Find anything difficult to get through? Places where you stumble?

Those obstacles are the perfect opportunities for revision.

  1. Delete “That”

When editing your writing, you could do far worse than hitting Control-F and scrapping “that” every time it shows up.

This tip isn’t a commandment. In some situations, you need to keep “that” for a sentence to still make sense. But 95 percent of the time it’s just a filler word. Get rid of it, and strengthen your prose.

Here are a few before and after examples:

  • “I forgot that the gym is closed today.”
  • “This is the best book that I have ever read.”
  • “I know that you’re busy.”

Now, with “that” removed:

  • “I forgot the gym is closed today.”
  • “This is the best book I have ever read.”
  • “I know you’re busy.”
  1. Delete “In Order To”

Here’s another filler that muddies up sentences and slows down readers. There’s always an easy way to rewrite it to make the sentence shorter and more powerful.

Here are a few examples:

  • “You have to work hard in order to succeed.”
  • “Get there early in order to find a good seat.”

Here are the revised versions:

  • “You have to work hard to succeed.”
  • “Get there early to find a good seat.”

You cut the unnecessary word without losing the meaning.

  1. Avoid Wishy-Washy Phrases

Some writers pepper in tons of filler phrases without even realizing it. Maybe they’re trying to be polite or not offend any of their readers. But what they’re actually doing is weakening their content.

Here are a few wishy-washy phrases that crop up over and over again:

  • A bit
  • I believe that
  • I feel that
  • I think
  • It’s my opinion
  • Sort of

Most of the time you can delete these without thinking twice.

  • “I feel that this is a great plan” becomes “This is a great plan”
  • “I believe that this sort of needs some improvement” becomes “This needs some improvement”

The result: crisper, more powerful prose.

  1. Trim the Fat (Edit) Ruthlessly

Many of us make great points in our writing, but they’re hard to find. Busy readers can’t get past the filler language, unnecessary repetition, and rambling to dig out the gems.

The more you can edit these out of the end product, the easier it becomes to communicate (and persuade) effectively. It’s time to get ruthless. Trim all the fat; don’t force readers to slog through it.

Here are a few before and after examples:

  • “I really have nothing to say at all today.”
  • “The unsolved mystery is preventing the town from reverting back to normal.”
  • “I was confused by the plot of the movie.”

Now, the fat-free versions!

  • “I have nothing to say today.”
  • “The mystery keeps the town from returning to normal.”
  • “The movie’s plot confused me.”
  1. Don’t Overuse Adverbs

Stephen King says the road to hell is paved with adverbs. These words (which usually end in “-ly”), are used to describe when, where, why, or under what conditions something happens.

Adverbs are fine every once in a while. But overusing them is a symptom of lazy writing. In many cases, writers can eliminate them by choosing more precise language.

Here are a few examples with the adverbs in bold:

  • “The sun set slowly over the horizon.”
  • “He closed the door firmly.”
  • “She walked slowly toward the poorly-maintained house.”

And here they are revised to slash the adverbs:

  • “The sun set over the horizon.” (adding “slowly” doesn’t do anything for the sentence.)
  • “He slammed the door.” (chose a stronger verb)
  • “She trudged toward the dilapidated house.” (chose stronger verb and adjective)

Sometimes you’ll be able to just scrap the adverb without changing the sentence’s meaning. Other times you can avoid them by choosing stronger, more precise language.

  1. Avoid Cliches (Like the Plague!)

Hopefully the irony in that heading made you smile.

Cliches are comfortable – so comfortable that whenever you use them you never have to wonder if you’re being understood. Readers everywhere are familiar with them. But, because they see them everywhere, they gloss right over them.

Have you read something lately with any of these phrases?

  • “By hook or crook”
  • “Calm before the storm”
  • “Content is king”
  • “Head and shoulders above”
  • “Hook, line, and sinker”
  • “In the same boat”
  • “Stick out like a sore thumb”
  • “The money is in the list”
  • “Writing on the wall”

I bet you have! It’s so easy for these to slip into our writing. They’re nice stand-ins for when you can’t think of something more creative to say.

If you make the effort to avoid cliches and come up with your own vivid metaphors, you’ll develop a distinctive voice. Your content becomes more compelling. And you set yourself apart as someone worth paying attention to – someone with original thoughts.

  1. Re-Frame the Negative into The Positive

Affirmative sentences tend to be clearer than negative ones. While the meaning of both versions is the same, you can’t afford to bog down readers with a poor delivery. Things get especially confusing when you use more than one negative in the same sentence.

Here are a few examples to see what I mean by a negative sentence:

  • Don’t keep taking the medicine unless dizziness doesn’t stop within three hours.”
  • Not many people can swim a mile.”
  • “The committee did not consider the facts.”

You can rewrite these sentences in the affirmative to add clarity:

  • “Stop taking the medicine unless dizziness continues for more than three hours.”
  • “Few people can swim a mile.”
  • “The committee ignored the facts.”

There’s no obligation to rewrite every single phrase. Sometimes the meaning is clear enough, and changing it to an affirmative would complicate things. The main thing here is to always be aware how you’re framing your message. In most cases, affirmative statements are a simpler choice.

Over to You

You don’t have to be Maya Angelou to write in a way that engages and persuades. Applying the tips above is straightforward. The impact on your business communications is immediate. Even if you just pick a few of them, you’ll be paying attention to things that many writers overlook. Readers will take notice.

What’s the best writing tip you’ve ever heard? Why? Leave a comment below and let us know!

About Corey Pemberton – Corey Pemberton is a freelance copywriter and blogger who helps small businesses and software startups get more traffic and conversions online. You can find him on his website or follow him on Twitter.

 

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2016 Social Media Glossary of Terms

226 Essential Social Media Definitions

By Dara Fontein

A lot can change in a year, especially in the world of social media. It can be difficult to keep up with all of the terms and slang used with the introduction of new technologies and platforms, so we decided it was time to update our Social Media Glossary. Like previous editions of the glossary, this is a living document that will continue to grow as we add more terms and expand our definitions.

This Glossary is produced annually by Hootsuite and it’s a handy tool for those who use social media.

See the Glossary

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Getting Over the Hump of “Hump Day”

It’s Wednesday, and we all know what that means. While you might have breezed through Monday and Tuesday, somehow Wednesday just seems to be the day that goes by a little slower. Over the last few years, Wednesday has been rebranded as “Hump Day”. We can all relate to “Hump Day Wednesdays” as it seems to be the general consensus that come this midweek point, we all could use a pick me up.

For many people Wednesday combines the issues of Monday and Tuesday along with the prospect that Friday evening is still pretty far off. Below are 5 tips to help make hump day a little easier:

1. Try and get the hardest jobs completed before Wednesday, if possible

Typically on Mondays, we make a mental list of to-dos for the week ahead. As the week progresses, we tend to push the most dreaded tasks back. By the time Wednesday comes around, you realise you have to get it done but time is quickly running out. Instead, get these tasks done as early in the week as possible. This way, you won’t be spending the rest of the week worrying about it and can have a stress free “Hump Day”.

 2. Change your scenery

With flexible working, you can enjoy an extended 2 hour lunch break and what better day to take advantage of this then on “Hump Day”. Do something different to make your Wednesday more fun. Meet friends for lunch, get some errands done and dusted or simply relax and enjoy your time outside of the office. You could also spend your long lunch catching up on your favourite TV show or get pampered, I wouldn’t say no to a mani-pedi on a Wednesday 🙂

3. Work it out, literally

Hit the gym before or after work on a Wednesday. With flexible working, you could even fit in a gym class or workout during your long lunch break. This will make you feel better and give you more energy so it is worth doing. Plus, you will have burned some calories so don’t feel guilty about grabbing a little hump day snack to keep you going.

4. Have something to look forward to

Make plans with family or friends for a Wednesday evening so you have something fun to look forward to after work or get planning for the weekend. If your company has a social club, take 30 minutes on a Wednesday to think of some exciting suggestions and plan the next one for a Wednesday evening to help “Hump Day” go by faster. At Softworks, we have a social club and there are always fun things happening. We took a trip to Brugesfor a weekend, attended Shelbourne Park Greyhound Stadium for dinner and a race night, went to Tayto Parkand visited Johnnie Foxes – for all of our customers in the UKCanada and U.S., this is one of Ireland’s oldest, most famous and highest pubs in the country. There is always something fun and exciting to look forward to at Softworks 🙂

5. Be positive

Don’t think of Wednesday as being a negative day. Instead, be positive and treat it just like any other day of the week. If you dread “Hump Day” then it becomes a weekly thing, as another Wednesday will come around and you will be faced with the same problem. If you learn to utilise your time efficiently, follow our tips and find the motivation to continue working, you will fly through “Hump Day”.

Keep up to date with Softworks by following us on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and Pinterest.

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What does Bill 132 (Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act) mean to you and your workplace?

One in four women and one in ten men say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace. Of the reported cases of workplace sexual harassment, 55% were committed by co-workers; 39% of which involved a supervisor or manager. 8% of those who are sexually harassed at work report the harassment.

Recently there have been some changes made to Bill 168 – Violence in the Workplace, which gives employers’ statutory obligations. Bill 132, Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, which received royal assent on March 8, 2016, requires all employers to have policies and programs including an investigation procedure. The essential changes brought by Bill 132 include: an employer is required to create a workplace harassment program; the program must include reporting and investigating tools for incidents of workplace harassment and violence; the employers must ensure that all complaints are investigated, and investigations are completed in a timely fashion and a new power to the Ministry of Labour (MOL) to order an independent workplace harassment investigation at the employer’s expense.

September 8, 2016, now looms for companies as the date for compliance with Bill 132. The amendments stand to change dramatically how workplace harassment is addressed in Ontario. The new OHSA obligations and expectations have been set and are accompanied by expanded government oversight. Harassment in the workplace is already a challenging issue that could engage multiple forums, with complaints possibly being advanced through a grievance, civil claim, complaint under the Human Rights Code, and, depending on the severity of the conduct, the criminal justice system.

Also, and particularly, the Bill amends the OHSA to require an employer to conduct an investigation of a workplace harassment complaint that is “appropriate in the circumstances.” The phrase “appropriate in the circumstances” is not defined. Further, the Ministry of Labour has not published any guidance material to communicate what factors will be considered by inspectors when determining whether an investigation meets this standard. Assuming that the inspectors could be evaluating investigations against expected best practices which would include such things as an impartial investigator, a collection of all relevant information, and procedural fairness to the alleged harasser could create challenges for employers as the appropriateness of an investigation may be evaluated in hindsight.

Consequences of flawed investigations would impair or prejudice the employer’s ability to establish just cause for termination or discipline. There would also be an issue of due diligence under the OHSA and Human Rights Code. Consequences would include aggravated, punitive or Code damages; penalties from the Ministry of Labour under the OHSA and reinstatement in unionized workplaces. Some of the critical mistakes some employers are making include: failing to act at all; taking the complaint seriously; failure to train investigators; inability to plan, improper or inadequate files; and retention of evidence.

Many situations happening in the workplace may prompt the necessity for an investigation, such as allegations of discrimination or harassment, workplace bullying, inappropriate use of the internet or social media, policy breaches, or statutory violations. Often, employers attempt to resolve minor issues informally through discussions with the employees involved. When the allegations are more serious, employers may depend on managers to conduct internal investigations. However, in many situations, having an organization deal directly with the problem is not necessarily the best approach – informal discussions may rapidly collapse, and basic investigative steps may be overlooked by inexperienced managers, making matters worse. A vital skill for any employer is identifying when a formal investigation by an external investigator is appropriate.

Note: meeting the requirements of Bill 132 could lead to mistakes that can be costly to your organization.

Be prepared. Be proactive.

Contact Monika Jensen, Principal Aviary Group at mjensen@aviarygroup.ca  or (905) 683-9953 if you need a complaint investigated or mediated.

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