Business Viewpoint with Kenneth Baucum: Great partners and great choices make great companies

As the learning and development industry wraps its collective head around the changes that technology is bringing to the forefront in employee development, it is important for learning professionals to also assess their programs and continuously adapt their methods and content to the ever-changing needs of their employees.

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This article was written by Kenneth Baucum, CPTM

Learning Communication

It’s no secret that communication is important — nor that it can often be hard to communicate effectively.

Body language and other unspoken forms of communication vastly outweigh the words we speak. Your tone, posture, and countenance speak far more than your words alone ever will. Being cognizant of those will go a long way toward improving your communication. Once you begin paying attention to what’s unspoken, then you can work on what you speak, to improve your overall message.

Here is a simple reminder about three ways you can improve your communication skills, and be understood.

Be Clear

Speaking directly and candidly are often the best ways to practice clarity of speech. When you rely heavily on metaphors, slang, euphemisms, and colloquialisms, you enable your audience to take away many different meanings that what you might have intended. This is all fun and games in a comedy routine, but can be disastrous in business.

A piece of advice that works well in marriage can translate to business, as well — don’t assume that the other person knows what you mean. Without condescending, simply tell them exactly what you mean, and don’t try to drop subtle hints. It might sound like tough love at first, but your employees (and spouse) will appreciate not having to guess what you mean and knowing that you are being straightforward with them.

Be Concise

Often we compete subconsciously (or even consciously) to win over the listener’s mind, to bring them to our side of the table — and in doing so, our communication can become long winded and perhaps even over done. Being concise allows you to convey the same message, completely, but without being repetitive or unnecessarily assertive.

Think before you speak and form the message that you want to convey in a simple form, without shifting blame or accusing, and allow the words to do their work rather than your body language.

Be Courteous

It is said that love covers a multitude of wrongs. Simply being courteous and respectful, maintaining a low volume and kind tone will help convey your message without stirring up bad feelings in the listener.

There are times when communication should appropriately be more blunt and less courteous, like when someone is in life-threatening danger, but most other times, even when you have to let an employee go — simply being courteous in those last conversations will help things go smoother.

What do you think? Is there anything else I’m missing that would help? Use the comment section to give me feedback, or add in your own communication tips.

Good luck!

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Learning Lifestyle

You can feel the buzz in the air when you walk through the door. The tingle. The static. The little hairs on your arm standing up on end. You get this feeling a few different ways – here are two:

One: Obstacles

Something is not quite right. Perhaps you can’t put your finger on it yet, but there’s something out of place. Perhaps there’s not enough time in the day to get work done. Perhaps it’s the plethora of projects that are not finished. It could be that you don’t feel like you have the support you need from your peers or supervisor. It could be confidence in your own skills or perhaps it’s be awhile since you’ve needed to use the skill that now seems required.

No one likes to feel pressured, stressed, even alone in their work. You don’t have to, either. Get ahead of the curve by planning time to plan your time. Get those projects on the calendar, set aside the time needed, and mentally prepare and focus for success. A positive mental attitude is critical, followed by careful planning, and willingness to be flexible. The only sure thing about plans is that if you are doing them right, they’ll change, and that’s okay.

Two: Opportunities

There is tangible excitement here. People are moving, they’re working, they’re happy – even overjoyed – to be involved in whatever this is they’re doing. What are they doing? You glance around at a few monitors as you cruise down the hall. Tickets, spreadsheets, SAP, the guy at the end of the row just flipped his phone over, face down, to hide the notifications on his screen.

Being busy isn’t everything. Doing work that matters and being satisfied in it sure can be. As one of our vendors claims, “smarter people do smarter things.” Certainly, it would be good to be smarter every day. Learning from your coworkers, your knowledge resources, your experiences – all beneficial to enabling a lifetime of learning.


The values and beliefs that a company holds dear can be sensed long before new hire training. They’re tangible and apparent when you walk through the door. These pieces of our culture are not just printed words on a page, or heard in an All Hands, but they are felt as you walk the halls. Studies repeatedly show that employees in nearly every industry and every company want to be engaged and want to have a sense of loyalty. Having a culture of learning has the greatest impact on this.

Find a way today, this week, this month, and all year long, to invest in yourself and in your future. Use the resources provided for continuous learning. Not just doing what’s required, but setting aside time to go beyond that – empowering yourself and then sharing that knowledge and experience with others. Empowering each other.

What will you learn today?

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How good planning and good design interact

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Colonel Tom Kolditz, the head of the behavioral sciences division at West Point, spoke these words when referring to the inevitable and unpredictable things that happen out on the battle field.  Whether it’s weather, equipment failure, sickness, or simply being outflanked by the enemy – life happens.  He also states that, “Many armies fail because they put all their emphasis into creating a plan that becomes useless ten minutes into a battle.”  Have you felt like this before?  Does this describe your life?

Kolditz also noted that in the 1980s, the US Army started developing the idea of a Commander’s Intent (CI) to accompany any plans made.  This Intent was formed to help the plans succeed.  Plans might instruct you to take your fifth platoon and march them up the west side of the hill, to target and fire on any enemy forces and to use specific weapons to do the job.  The Commander’s Intent, however is much more vague and allows for interpretation.  “Secure Hill #3215 and cover the advance of the 1st battalion as they pass to the northeast.”  If you had only the plans, and the enemy had an ambush setup on the west side of the hill, how would you adapt?  The plan fails by design once it fails to adapt.

Let’s back off of the military metaphor for a bit and focus on how to apply this to your circumstances.  Let’s say you are building a website for a store in town.  The customer has a plan in mind to add a catalog, build a shopping cart and to sell their wares on the web.  They also want to create a newsletter, pages on several popular community websites, social networking sites, and to get listed on several internet search engines.  This is a fairly specific plan so far.  We have concrete tasks to accomplish in order to make the customer happy.  What if we did exactly these steps, but the rest of the world didn’t start buying anything from the site?  Did we do our job by giving the customer exactly what they wanted?  What if we instead gave then what they need?

Jared Spool challenges designers, “When creating great experiences, it’s not so much about doing what users expect. Instead, it’s about creating a design that clearly meets their needs at the instant they need it.”

The Commander’s Intent is much like the result of asking the right questions of the business to see what they really need – and helping them reach that goal, rather than executing their concrete steps.  The plan might not work, the plan is easily foiled by technology requirements or limitations of their computers or servers.  Perhaps the type of merchandise they are selling is not getting the returns that it used to.

What if instead of doing exactly what we’re told to do by the customer, we helped them reach their goals and helped them learn more about themselves in the process?  Instead of building the website, adding the catalog, the shopping cart, the newsletter and more – maybe we instead should help the customer say, “I want to create a way for prospective customers to relate to our products and feel like our product is the best fit for their lives.”  This is the Commander’s Intent.  It speaks more toward the end goal, than to the path we take to reach it.  Perhaps we can get better conversion rates by using our website to educate customers on the way our product solves their problems, and drive them to come to the store to a custom fit, rather than to offer them cookie-cutter solutions in tiny packages online.  Maybe we focus on the personal touch.  When we have the Commander’s Intent, we can try many different ways of solving the problem, and the plan becomes far less important.  By focusing on the intent, we can better manage the possibility of being wrong.  We can manage the probability that we could choose the wrong option.  We can adapt to changing environments.

The Commander’s Intent  gives you another benefit, too.  When you’re in the business of solving problems, it helps to focus on one thing at a time.  Plans seem to allow you to see too much of the detail and can overwhelm many folks, without a proper introduction.  Plans are good to make, don’t let me steer you wrong, but they need something to back them up and show you the big picture.  You can’t have five North Stars.  You can’t have two south poles.  You can’t have five “most important goals.”  You can’t have three Commander’s Intents.  You can only have one, if you expect to succeed.

Begin by asking, “If we do nothing else, we must ______.”  Also, “The most important thing we must do is ______.”  These will help you drive the Commander’s Intent.  These are the questions you must answer before you can make effective and adaptable plans.

What steps do you take to help ensure you’re chasing the right goals?  How do you adapt when your plans fail?  What is the most important thing you must do today in order to fulfill the requirements of the Commander’s Intent?

When you design your plan around the bigger picture, you design a way to win.  When you can win enough battles, you win the war.

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What makes you come alive?

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.  -Howard Thurman

Many people spend a significant part of their lives trying to “find” their passion.  Some will “pursue” their passion.  I encourage you to explore it.

America’s Founding Fathers thought of the pursuit of happiness as a way of life that everyone should enjoy.  They defined this happiness as the internal result of an external contribution to society — far from the self-gratuitous definition many think of today.  How do you define happiness?

For me, I find myself most impassioned when I’m involved in design activities, musical performance, public service opportunities and church ministry.  The tools that I use in these places include musical instruments, computers, graphic design, and a mixture of entertainment and teaching.  I find that when I’m not doing these things, I end up simply “existing” rather than “thriving.”

Let’s switch gears just for a moment and compare our passions with our “work.”  You can think of your work as your 8-5 job, or you can think of it as your external contribution to society.  In many cases, you could argue that these are the same.  No matter how you define your work, are you able to work while pursuing your passions?  Are you pursuing your passions at work?  Is it even possible to do these two things?  You don’t really know until you explore.

Much like the Nike slogan “Just do it” — you have to take some level of risk to explore things that you don’t currently do.  You may have to give up a stable corporate environment. You may have to give up that last raise and learn to live on a smaller budget.  You may have to move out of your parent’s house.  You may have to leave town.  You may have to find some new friends.  Many of these things may seems like a bad idea to one person or another.  Some may seem like a bad idea to you.  So you’ll have a decision to make — do I want to maintain the status quo, or do I want to be passionate?  Each of these ideas above can be very positive things, because they help you grow.  Sometimes you grow by realizing that you can do your own thing, that you can make your own choices.  Sometimes you learn by trial and error, and sometimes the lessons are tough.  You have to be tough to really explore your passion.  You have to learn how to get to that dream of yours and how to build bridges and open gates to get where you want to be.

Where do you find your happiness?  Does your daily or weekly routine include some time for external contributions to society? Do you get a personal bump from helping others, serving others or being a steady friend to others?  Sure, have some “me time,” but remember that in the equation for true joy, others come before yourself.

Go have an adventure.  Explore your passion. Come alive!

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