Corporate Mentoring Series: 6 Business Terms Every Elementary School Kid Should Learn

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As a parent, I am concerned that kids in America are graduating without sufficient skills to be successful in the business world. Actually, this concern is probably better described as downright fear, since I see the results of our country’s sub-par education system every day at my job on the corporate hamster wheel.

When my daughters embark on their careers, will they be capable of using first-grade addition and subtraction to calculate time zones when setting up meetings with employees in different parts of the country? As I have learned from the numerous invites I receive to conference calls before 8 am, this is not a skill that has been adequately taught.

If my children choose a career in marketing, will they know how to spell the name of the company they work for? This is also not something that can be taken for granted…at least not where I work.

Since according to the self-evaluation portion of my latest performance review, “I excel as a true driver of change,” I’ve decided to take action here too and have compiled a short list of key corporate words and phrases, which kids should study. While this won’t help with time zone calculations or spelling skills, proficiency with every term on this list will at least promote a child’s ability to successfully communicate with their corporate peers and managers when the day comes.

Add some color:  to provide additional details. This does NOT mean you should add more blue and red to your art project.

Example: John, can you add some color to why your team’s results are in the toilet?

Appetite: level of interest (as opposed to level of hunger).

Example: There was no appetite in management to get us the resources for good results.

Throw someone under the bus:  to blame someone else. Do not take this literally…no one is actually tossed under a moving vehicle.

Example:  John threw management under the bus. He is now looking for another job.

Stakeholders: other people affected by your brilliant ideas. This is not a reference to your history lesson about gold miners claiming their territories.

Example: Beware of Sales; they have been known to hide their plans from the Company’s stakeholders.

Harmonize:  to ensure your thoughts are accepted by stakeholders; the opposite of hiding your plans. This has nothing to do with forming a choir with the other students.

Example: Sales didn’t harmonize with the Legal Department before launching their product; the company is now being sued by the government.

Mission statement: your stated purpose. Do not confuse this term with the opening sentence in your fourth grade report on the California missions.

Example: The Sales Team’s mission statement is to make as much money as possible and leave for the Bahamas when the company gets sued by the government.

Confessions of a Mid-Level Manager

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I enjoy my job in corporate America, but my day to day life at work is somewhat different than I would have imagined in college. As a mid-level manager, my role consists of two main tasks: 1) leading meetings with people about topics I don’t understand and 2) creating PowerPoint presentations.

As to the former, here’s a snippet from a conference call I led yesterday with 2 statisticians. As you’ll see, by using a few well-placed, vague comments, I managed to pull off my role as meeting leader without being discovered for the fraud I really am.

Jim:  My concern is if  statistical formula , then   statistics 2  So, by including that set of values associated with variable X in our regression model, we’ll have the problem of perfect separation.

Me: I see.  (Actually, I have no idea what you just said.)  Steve, do you agree with this analysis?

Steve: Yes, Jim makes a good point. Let’s not forget, however, that  eetips_wrap1

Me: So, Jim, can you please refine the regression model based on Steve’s suggestions?

Jim: Yes, I’ll do that this week.

Me: Great, I’ll send out an Outlook meeting invite for Monday to circle back on this action item. (Phew, I made it through without completely embarrassing myself.)

Side note: Because I managed to use “circle back” and “action item” in the same sentence, I earned 2 bonus points on my corporate scorecard.

The bulk of my job, though, revolves around less frightening work – creating PowerPoints.  In fact PowerPoint is the main tool of communication at my company. We start a project, I draft a timeline in PowerPoint. We finish a project, I summarize the results in PowerPoint.  I have an idea, it goes into PowerPoint. I need to use the restroom, I take my PowerPoint. In other words, I live out my days in PowerPoint Purgatory (PPP).

As I’ve observed, to make it out of PPP you must either 1) rise to a higher level of management (the preferable solution) or 2) fail miserably and be forced to go back and join the ranks of the people actually doing the work described in the PowerPoints.

Since a pre-requisite to upper management is being able to sound like an expert in your area when you’re not even sure who reports to you, I’m hopeful that a few more meetings with the statisticians just might spring me from purgatory.

 

4 Super Crappy 2016 Resolutions

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In the spirit of the New Year (or as my company’s language-challenged marketing department calls it, “The New Starts”), I have come up with the following list of resolutions to make myself a better person.

1. Stop referring to that kid in Corinne’s first grade class as a douchebag, just because his parents gave him a pretentious Italian name.

After all, his great grandfather’s cousin’s neighbor’s dog’s brother’s owner did come from Sicily. In all fairness, this really does make him nearly full-blooded Italian.

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In fact, given that two of my eight great grandparents immigrated from Tuscany, I am going to rename my children. From now on, they will have to answer to Raffaella and Alessia. It might take some getting used to, but it’s all about your heritage, right?

 2. Be less ambitious.

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If I stop trying to produce accurate results at work, I won’t be annoyed when my efforts are blocked by idiots. As I’ve learned from my friends in IT, the data doesn’t have to actually be correct if no one is going to check it.

 3. Play more strategic board games with my kids.

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The idea here is not to enhance their cognitive abilities, rather it’s to improve my self-confidence. There is really no better proof of one’s own intelligence than beating a 10 and 6 year old at Clue. In fact, by conveniently forgetting to explain all the rules, I can greatly improve my chances of continual game domination.

 4.  Find out what my offspring are actually watching on YouTube.

This is particularly important since Elizabeth has been talking a lot about Bronies (adult dudes who like My Little Pony).

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In other words, I probably need to intervene before some 35 year old Furry in a Rainbow Dash costume shows up at my door.

That said, if his name is Massimiliano, he works in IT and likes to play Monopoly, then in the spirit of the New Starts, I should probably welcome him in.

Power-Hungry Art Coordinator

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In my previous post The Volunteer Part II, The Art Docent, I discussed my role last year as a volunteer art docent for my oldest daughter’s class. This proved to be a fascinating experience, particularly because, much to my surprise, the behavior of a room full of elementary school students was not all that different than the antics I’m subjected to in company meetings.

This interaction was close enough to my corporate comfort zone that the kids can consider themselves lucky I didn’t break out a bunch of Excel tables and start lecturing on the importance of using the correct variables in your statistical regression models. (I’m not actually a statistician, but I work with one and have figured out how to imitate him well enough to sound considerably more intelligent than I really am. Look people, it’s all about perception.)

With this school year came a unique opportunity. The son of the volunteer lady who coordinated the art docent program was switching to the local school for smart kids. This meant her position was open. Since no one else wanted the job of coordinator (which should have been a sign to me), I jumped at the opportunity. After all, as coordinator couldn’t I wield my newly-gained power across not only the art docent program but maybe even the PTA? Who cares if I didn’t get paid? Since I had no actual power at work (and zero power at home with my kids), my dictatorial cravings would finally be satisfied.

Excited at the thought that people would finally listen to me, I immediately set goals, made a PowerPoint, and met with the school principal to align on said goals. I could barely wait to begin assembling my team of minions, um, I mean volunteer art docents.

Despite my and the principal’s enthusiasm, I quickly learned that running a volunteer program is not an easy task. This is primarily due to the fact that an astonishing number of volunteers are flakes with a limited sense of responsibility and urgency. In all fairness, I suppose this shouldn’t have shocked me, since they aren’t getting paid; even a number of salaried people at my corporate job are neither accountable nor timely for anything not directly related to a department potluck. (People love food…organizing it, making it, talking about it, eating it, etc.)

After the Back to School Night volunteer sign-ups, I had at least one volunteer for each of the 15 classrooms. However, as time passed and the first art lesson was only a few weeks away, half of the parents had stopped responding to my e-mails…and I suspected some of them had even changed their identities.

While I struggled with the concept of grown-ups signing up for something that they weren’t actually interested in doing, it occurred to me that the reason these people had gone into hiding may have something to do with the fact that they realized they would actually have to stand up in front of 30 kids and try to teach them something.

Having attended numerous official company meetings where adults spent most of the hour ignoring the agenda and competing for laughs (kind of like an episode of “Last Comic Standing”), I was used to free-for-alls and teaching unruly kids, while at times frustrating, was only marginally more frightening.

Sadly, there was no room for power-wielding despotism. To keep the program intact, I couldn’t afford to lose any more parent volunteers. There was clearly only one solution.  I was going to have to schlep the group to a series of meetings at my company…and follow it up with a potluck.

The Office Dodo Bird is Not Extinct

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When I visit one of my company’s other locations, the only available desks in my department’s allocated territory are located in dimly lit cubicles around the corner and down at the end of the hall, in an area I affectionately refer to as the Dungeon. In keeping with its name, the Dungeon is devoid of plant life or natural light, is decorated in a drab gray / dirty beige color-scheme that is best described as “office camouflage” and, until recently, had no telephone connectivity for visitors.

When I first found myself relegated to the Dungeon, having been displaced from the office I usually occupied by more important people, I did not immediately notice anything odd. Like any other morning, I settled in with my cup of coffee and began reading through e-mails, which usually consisted of a mix of industry news and internal communications from IT explaining why the data I had requested was impossible to provide.

As I moved on to the next phase of my morning, deciding on whether to throttle IT or proceed to a less controversial task like writing a report, I noticed a strange sound emanating from the other side of the cubicle wall. Click, click, click, BZZZZ, click, click, click, BZZZZ. As quickly as it had started, it ended. I looked around to see if any of my adjacent Dungeon-mates had noticed; they were busily typing away, unaware of anything out of the ordinary. Concluding it must be nothing, I went back to drafting my strategy to prevail over my IT archnemesis (which was much more fun than report writing).

Approximately half an hour later, just as I was taking off my office avenger mask and moving on to less sinister duties, I heard it again…click, click, click, BZZZZ, click, click, click, BZZZZ. What in the world was that? The mysteriousness of it was going to drive me insane. I nudged my colleague Brenda. Sure enough, this time she had heard it as well and was equally puzzled.

I decided it was time to gather some intelligence. I rose from my chair and walked slowly over to the nearby photocopier, stealthily surveying the area from which the sound had originated. What I saw stopped me dead in my tracks, for it was more stupefying than anything I had imagined…it was an artifact from decades long gone; something I had heard tales of but never actually observed in the corporate wild.

My mouth went dry. Could it be true? I adjusted my glasses for a better look. Yes, indeed; to my left, on the other side of the cubicle wall from where I had been sitting was the office equivalent of the dodo bird:  a 10-key adding machine, complete with paper roll.  I watched in amazement as the lady seated in front of the adding machine tore off the paper containing her latest calculations and attached it to a file. Frozen in place by the scene before me, my mind debated if it would be more appropriate to contact Ebay or an archeologist.

When the shock subsided and I had gathered my wits, it became clear to me that the nickname Dungeon was more appropriate than I had imagined. While I was able to leave the office at night and go sit in traffic, these poor employees hadn’t been set free in years. This explained why, when I visited this location, they were always there when I arrived in the morning and were still sitting in the same spots when I left in the evening. With that kind of confinement, of course they had no idea that Excel had been invented. It seemed that the humane thing to do would be to enlighten them, but before I could act, an even deeper truth rocked me. I realized that by living in a time capsule free of the burdens of modern technology, this group didn’t have to continually devise creative schemes to outwit IT. Obviously it was I not them who needed to be enlightened.

As I snuck back to my seat on the other side of the wall, I felt newly invigorated. There was a solution to my data issues after all. The next day I started searching the internet for an adding machine of my own.

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Clarence, Pilot of the Shuttle Bus

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I recently went to a work-related conference in Orlando with my colleague Brenda.  We spent our days networking and our evenings blowing money at Downtown Disney and the nearby outlet mall. It was a fun-filled experience all around, even down to the shuttle bus ride back to the airport at the end of the conference.

Now, I realize that one wouldn’t normally think of a shuttle bus ride as entertaining, however Clarence was not your average shuttle driver and this was not your average shuttle ride. Unlike the staid, monotone shuttle driver who escorted us to the hotel when we arrived in Orlando, Clarence saw himself as an airline pilot, flight attendant and tour guide wrapped in one.

As soon as we pulled out of the hotel parking lot, he grabbed the microphone and began giving us what was obviously a practiced, albeit somewhat unintelligible, spiel in broken English. He first explained how to adjust the seat backs to maximize our comfort. Next, he pointed out the lavatories located at the back of the bus, should any of us be unable to make it without a bathroom break for the duration of the ride (20 minutes).

I was certain a demonstration of the correct usage of the oxygen masks was forthcoming, just in case the cabin should lose pressure once we reached cruising altitude. Instead, Clarence skipped the safety tips and moved on straight to the amenities, namely that there was a roll of paper towels available for our use. Unfortunately, he failed to indicate the location of said roll, but much to my relief, when I voiced concern about our ability to handle spills or other paper-towel-necessitating-disasters without this key piece of information, a fellow passenger quickly came to the rescue pointing out that the roll of paper towels was located on top of Clarence’s jacket, behind the driver’s seat.

Having covered the availability of the paper towels, Clarence next discussed the route to the airport…in excruciating detail. He recited each street and freeway we would be using, reminding me of a human navigation system. He even pointed out interesting local sights, such as the back of the Orlando Convention Center. Clarence definitely had my iPhone’s Siri beat. Or was it Suri? Jet lag was getting the better of me, since I couldn’t figure out the difference between my cell phone information system and Tom Cruise’s daughter.

Surely, like any good pilot, after walking us through the route, Clarence would next provide us with a report of the weather at our destination 11 miles away. Nope; to my disappointment, he left this part out, forcing me to come to my own conclusion that the weather was likely not notably different at the airport than it was at the hotel.

In place of a weather report, he instead made sure to advise us at least 3 times of the location of the rental car return (across from Terminal A). This proved somewhat befuddling as we were all on the shuttle bus, because we had no rental car. On the other hand, maybe he felt the airport rental car return is an Orlando hot spot that everyone should see. Brenda and I wondered if we should check it out.

As we approached the airport and the tarmac came into view, our trusty pilot took the time to address possible concerns we might have about flight delays. He promptly declared that our flights would all be departing on time. This was not based on any communication with the airport control tower, but rather, due to the fact that 1) he saw no planes lined up on the runway and 2) it wasn’t raining. While we appreciated his efforts to reassure us, it was not clear to either Brenda or me if this prediction would hold true in 3 hours, when our flight was actually scheduled for departure.

Shortly before exiting the freeway, Clarence made sure to clarify which lane he planned to turn into (the right lane) and announced twice that he would be using his Fast Pass. While initially neither of us knew what a Fast Pass was, we later discovered that this pass was a critical part of the shuttle experience. This was because it allowed Clarence to enter the shuttle bus drop-off section of the airport terminal. Without this pass, who knows where we’d end up. Most likely the rental car return.

Once we were safely through the Fast Pass gates, he informed us that his goal was to park in either of his favorite spaces, B21 or B22. With his passion and attention to detail, I was concerned about how he might react if both of these spaces were occupied. Would he completely melt down and go on a tirade about the inadequacy of spaces B1 – B20 and B23 – B30? To my relief, space B21 was free, and we were spared emotional outburst.

After the bus was parked, Clarence handed us our luggage and we made our way to check-in. Turning the corner I saw long lines at the TSA checkpoint and gulped audibly;  TSA appeared to be the real local hot spot. That said, noting the grumpy faces of the staff as I showed my ID and boarding pass, I doubted they would let us take any selfies at the body scan machine. Nonetheless, the security pat down definitely had the rental car return beat. I walked away thinking Clarence’s spiel could use a few updates.