August 10, 2015

“When my 19-year-old called me to find out where the broiler was in our kitchen, I knew I’d let my kids down.” Sarah Willis

If you have ever been trained for a job (some people never get any training), you likely have some memories you would rather forget about a major mistake or embarrassment during that training. If the person training you was a poor trainer or resented the fact that they had to train, your experience was likely even less pleasant, and your memory of that person is likely not very flattering. Is that how you would like to be remembered as you train the next generation of credit staff for your company?

So what could a trade magazine for landscapers teach the desk-bound credit manager? Plenty, if we are to believe Sarah Willis of Landscape Trades magazine. Ms Willis suggests that training approaches, specifically On-the-Job Training (OJT), can be universal, and suggests that there is a 4-stage approach:

  • Keep it simple
    • Put them at ease (no one wants to look dumb). Create a culture where people are not afraid to ask questions, or ask for help, or to try something on their own
    • Show what to do, one step at a time, and explain the reason
    • Let them do it, correct mistakes right away
    • Follow-up, make sure they “got it”
  • Live in the moment
    • Teach one task at a time
    • Teach the task at hand
  • Real-life results
    • If you train in the classroom, ensure you also train in the environment where the work actually happens.
    • Ensure staff know why they are doing what they are doing
  • Invest in success
    • There is a time commitment for trainers, make sure the trainers have the resources to do it right
    • Staff tend to be more confident, and will train new staff in a similar way in which they were trained. Doing it right leads to a well trained work force

Likely the most important is the first step, as it sets the tone for the work to come. Good people do not want to mess up, and it is not fair for them to feel stupid for making rookie mistakes when they are in fact rookies. That experience, good or bad, will be how they treat the people they eventually train (see #4). You could end up with an office full of patient staff, or an office full of mean-spirited people who think humiliation is a good training technique.

When things get crazy at work and you can’t be involved in every decision, your staff will make decisions to get on with their day if you are not there to do it. The two things that will save your bacon will be good procedures and good training.

It is worth doing right!


(Source “Teaching quality, speed and efficiency on the job”, Page 4, 6,7, Landscape Trades, June 2012.

PowerPoint Makes Us Stupid?

August 10, 2015

We have all sat through and given presentations using PowerPoint. Because everyone has done this at some point or another, some people get the idea that they are experts on the subject. As a result I am sure that we all have heard a lot of advice on presentations.

This advice given on the website is more interesting than the usual list we normally hear (see Ultimately it concludes that PowerPoint is a finishing tool, and not a starting tool. It makes a number of recommendations, two of which are interesting:

  1. Start with a pen and paper, not with a blank presentation, and
  2. Consider not using PowerPoint at all. For an example, see Harry Potter author JK Rowling do just an excellent job of speaking without a slide show here (and it is an amazing speech):

Ultimately, it seems, it is not PowerPoint that makes us “stupid”, it is us!

According to author Rick Altman, there are a number of errors that occur when you start with Power point. Two are discussed here.

First, you kill the creative process before you even start, and second, you become a prisoner of the script that is created on the slides.


Altman argues that the steps to the creative process is to first plan what, then how, and then to actually do it. The process is turned on its head when the program is opened. When you start your thinking and creative process by opening a PowerPoint file, you are tempted to fiddle with the transitions, font, colours, and worrying a lot less about the content.

He recommends doodling and note-taking first to get the general ideas thrashed out. Since you know you will be throwing that paper away in the end, you feel more freedom in exploring ideas. Once you write something on PowerPoint, it feels “done” and you do not want to go back to change it.

Sticking to the Script

While it is important to remember your purpose and goal, and for some (politicians for instance) sticking to the script is key, when you write an entire thought in 10 bullets on a slide, you block the ability to speak extemporaneously about the subject during the presentation. You feel compelled to address every word on the slide and not to deviate.

When you put words on the slide you create some risks:

  • Bullet points exist to represent the idea, not explain it. You explain the idea.
  • Words become a script that box you in and do not allow you to express your ideas in a more interesting or conversational manner.
  • People can read twice as fast as you can speak, if you read to them, you bore them and insult them at the same time.

But Why?

Winston Churchill would spend hours rehearsing and re-writing speeches, and most business advice says that for every 1 hour of meeting you need to spend 10 hours of preparation. Public speaking advice says that you should always practice (with both the words and the medium) before giving the speech. So why is this public speaking gospel not followed?

Altman argues that almost all business presentations use PowerPoint simply because it is expected (how often have you heard “send me the deck before the meeting so I can put it in the file”)? Managers make slides because they feel that they have to, and not because it adds to understanding. Often it is just what everyone expects to see.

Altman also found that managers, always busy and often not proactive, also only spend thirty minutes preparing the slides, and only just before the meeting. That is just enough time to copy and paste their notes into the slides, making busy, word-heavy slides which are hard to look at and only repeat what the manager is going to say anyway (see the risks above).

So What?

If you work in a meeting and presentation-heavy workplace, then you know how painful presentations can be, because no doubt some presenters commit the sins Altman lists. You also have an insight into the small changes you can make to rise (even marginally) above the low standard of most presentations.

As a presenter you need to ask a couple of questions:

  • Who is giving this presentation, me, or PowerPoint?
  • In the book Own the Room by Deborah Shames and David Booth, the presenter is encouraged to ask him/herself “what do I want people to think of me after this presentation”?

We have all seen a lot of good and bad presentations. With some experience and only the smallest amount of research it is safe to conclude that we create the stupidity in our presentations, not PowerPoint!

Membership Report June 2015

August 1, 2015

Below please find the membership reports to June 2015, based on payments and registrations to the end of June 2015 (click on the image to expand). Our overall total is up by two members and the CCP numbers are up by a total of 9 people.

Our student numbers have declined (our students have graduated to CCP), there is still a healthy number of students in the Manitoba Chapter.

June 2015 paid membership

June 2015 non-paid membership


Membership Report, May 31, 2015

June 7, 2015

Below find our membership report for the period ended May 31, 2015. The report has been split up into two…separating paid & unpaid members. We can see that we are up 10 paid members compared to last year this time. Note that this report is based on members who have paid their dues to the date of the report. In 2014 the notice for dues were sent out late, so we will see the 10-member difference shrink over the next few months.

In total our membership is 97 members – very consistent with prior years.

May 2015 Membership (paid)May 2015 Membership (unpaid)

The Biggest Sin

June 5, 2015

In my experience, the biggest issue I have seen is not fraud or evil, the biggest sin (in business) is incompetence.

That is not to say there are calamitously horrible decisions being made daily, everywhere, but there are some for sure, and small instances of incompetence add up.

Incompetence comes in many forms. Unskilled or stupid people will manifest incompetence in short order.

I think that we all face the risk of incompetence, and it is not from stupidity or lack of skill, it comes from complacency, and two kinds in particular: inattention, and failing to remember why you are there in the first place.

Inattention is a problem we all could face. Everyone is busy, and if you show even mediocre skills, you are often assigned more and more work. You eventually get so busy that you stop looking at some details…and you miss something. If it is big enough, you lose the confidence of management and you could lose your job. Is it fair to call that incompetence? Is it fair to blame you? Well, incompetence is often judged by the outcome, and blame is usually attached to those immediately involved, which could very well be you, and the underlying cause is likely never examined.

The second type of complacency, failing to remember why you are there in the first place, is a form of arrogance. People focus on their awesomeness based on past successes, and forget that they are there to do a job – whether it is to monitor quality of products or services or watch some set of numbers, sometimes people think that their presence is enough to keep the big machine working smoothly. Something gets missed and you have a “situation”.

The fix for both of these is really hard to pin down. You could say “better management” is the solution, and you would be right. Except that is where incompetence usually appears. As an underling, what can you do?

There may not be a lot you can do, but you can do your job, do it well. Maybe try to do a bit of their job too, if you can. You might spot an issue that would otherwise get missed and at the same time rise in the estimation of your superiors. It is a tough situation to be in when you are not in the driver’s seat…you may just have to keep your eyes open for “other employment opportunities”. You wouldn’t be the first!

So What Did You Think Would Happen?

June 5, 2015

Every November I go to my old high school – now the school where my oldest son attends (which feels a little weird) – to present at the career day for the grade 11 and 12 students. My job is to show them what an accountant does and whet they need to do in order to become one. They ask all sorts of questions about the work, the schooling, the pay.

To date, no one has asked the question “so what should I do now?”.

Since I am speaking to a blog and not a classroom, I can ask and answer that question which has not been asked yet…and I would answer it this way: “come up with an idea of where you want to be in 10 years, and who you want to be when you get there.”

OK, a digression:

I met a former colleague the other day, and while he is a good hearted man and means well, he is quite bitter. He spent a lot of time deriding people with professional credentials (he did not finish his degree)…though apparently unaware of the degrees hanging on my wall in the very office where we sat.

He is friend, and an interesting case in my mind. He had a long and successful career as an accountant and IT professional. He was a valued problem-solver who fixed really, really broken things using the kind of common sense that comes with someone possessed of a self-reliant mindset. Then the world changed and he didn’t. Maybe he couldn’t because he was set in his ways and did not want to learn anything new so late in his career, but more likely because his professional background and training did not allow him to see any change as an opportunity.

Did he drift through life without a purpose? No. He had the loving family, fulfilling career, some spare money. But he did choose not to finish his degree in accounting, a certificate that he was very well suite to (and would excel in). The discipline and awareness that professional certifications bring includes teaching an awareness of how fleeting success, employment, or happiness could be. At the end of a successful career he was “retired” by the company. Well taken care of, but he left knowing that he was no longer wanted, has not forgotten, and it still hurts him more than 11 years later.

Is it unkind to ask ‘so, what did you think would happen?’…if you did not finish your education? If you chose to fight change every time? If you did not see how you no longer ‘fit’ with the current situation at work?

My own experience has taught me not to leave my career in other people’s hands, and to make sure that I have something of value to offer. My credentials and experience are mine and cannot be chased away…the only one who can mess those up is me.

…back to high school career day…

Thinking of the people I graduated with, most landed as expected, and landed well – school, marriage, kids, career. Some landed in a very different spot…at age 17, did LD think that he would be a father at 19? Did MM, RL, PM, DD know that they would be married, divorced and re-married within 10 years? Did PA think he would have spent time in jail?

The choices that (not a small number of) my fellow grads made in the 10 short years since grad resulted in these people being in a very different and sometimes unpleasant spot than they may have assumed, if they had thought about it at all at graduation.

I am not suggesting that if you did not have a plan that you have now drifted into meaningless existence and deserve what you have received in your life. Far from it.  But any of us at any age can make a vision of where we are going to be in 5, 10, 20 years. You can help plant the seed in a new generation to think beyond the weekend. You can dream of where you want to be 10 years from now, and what kind of person you want to be, and start towards that goal.

I you don’t, what do you think will happen?

Membership Report March 31, 2015

April 10, 2015

2015 ended well in terms of our membership: we maintained our membership in CCPs and students, losing a net of four affiliate members. We have started a project to win those members back and hope to be back up to 108 members for FY 2015-16.

Double click on the image below to see the report for Manitoba and Canada.

March 31, 2015 Membership Report


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