OWNER'S MANUAL

These 5 Abbreviations Can Ruin Your Life

If, of course, you let them.
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Think you have a strong stomach? We'll see about that. Check out this list of common business abbreviations:

If you made it to the end of the list without breaking into a cold sweat, then you have never worked for a large corporation and seen serious time and money spiraling down the drain. (Keep in mind the problem is almost never with the program itself; the problem is with implementation, lack of support from higher up, etc.)

Less-well-known abbreviations can have just as dramatic an impact, so let's take a look at a few that might be ruining your business or your life:

1. NIH: Not Invented Here

Simple: If I didn't think of it, then it must be worthless. (A close cousin to NIH is AIHBHLRIA!: Already Invented Here But Hey, Let's Reinvent It Anyway!)

We've all worked with people who hated any idea unless we found ways to make them think it was their idea. And we've all fallen prey to the same syndrome.

That's because NIH can infect anyone--especially leaders and business owners--because the root of all NIH evil is ego. The higher you rise, especially in your own estimation, the greater the risk of NIH infection.

If you or your business has a chronic case of NIH, here are a few antidotes:

Don't get distracted by the originator. Employees at every level have good ideas. Assuming an entry-level employee's input is worthless is just as foolish as assuming your VP of sales always has great ideas. The same is true for friends, family, people you've just met...

The value always lies in the idea and the implementation of that idea--not where the idea comes from.

Don't get distracted by the industry. I learned more about increasing manufacturing efficiency from spending 30 minutes in a poultry processing plant than I learned from any formal process improvement program. (And I've gone through and led a bunch of programs.)

Sometimes the best ideas are the ones you borrow from seemingly unrelated places.

Don't get distracted by your ego. Being in charge doesn't make you smarter, savvier, or more creative. Being in charge just makes you the person in charge. Leaders aren't granted a monopoly on great ideas.

So never hesitate to let others shine. The more they shine, the brighter they'll want to shine. Then everyone benefits--especially you.

Hold an "invented elsewhere" session. Reinventing the wheel is time consuming, plus there's no guarantee of success. Next time you meet to brainstorm, tell your staff members they can only suggest ideas they've actually seen succeed somewhere else. That automatically removes NIH from the equation because any suggestions had to have been invented elsewhere.

Many companies get stuck in an endless loop of NIH. And we can just as easily fall prey to NIH in our personal lives, even though imitation is often the most effective strategy. Successful people leave awesome blueprints in their wake; why not follow what clearly works?

Great companies, and great people, adopt outstanding strategies and practices no matter where they find them.

2. BNG: Bold New Graphics

Legend has it BNG originated with a snowmobile manufacturer that made few substantive changes and decided to base its new-model-year marketing campaign on "Bold new graphics!"

(If you have a couple of minutes, check out what happens when Hitler finds out his new line of snowmobiles only has bold new graphics.)

Unfortunately, BNG is often alive and unwell in our lives.

Are new initiatives all sizzle and no steak? Does a product "upgrade" consist mostly of new packaging or worthless features? Is your company "transformation" limited to new logos, trendy business cards, and a tricked-out website?

Is your latest diet or exercise routine all flash and no pan?

If so, you've mistaken BNG for measurable and worthwhile improvements. Here's how to fight off BNG:

Always make product and service improvements your customers actually value. When you respond to the real needs and desires of clients, substantive change is a given.

Always get employee feedback. If you plan to change a guideline or procedure, ask employees whether that change will make a difference. Say you want to create a new incentive program--if the reward won't actually be valued or appreciated by employees (which is all too often the case), don't roll it out.

Always gauge and verify bottom-line impact. Process changes that don't create bottom-line savings (or top-line increases) are just window-dressing.

The same is true for changes you make to be more personally productive. Buying new apps, new software, or new devices can make you feel more productive, but are you really more productive?

That's all that matters.

3. LSD: Lead Singer Disease

Lead Singer Disease describes a frontman or -woman in a rock band whose ego grows to gargantuan proportions, eventually destroying the band. But LSD can also describe any business owner or leader whose ego outstrips his or her performance.

Want to know if you have LSD? Diagnosing the condition is easy. In the past month, did you:

  • Make a mistake?
  • Admit you were wrong?
  • Have a bad idea?
  • Say, "I'm sorry"?

If you answered no to any of the above, you're definitely suffering from LSD. Here's the cure:

Talk less--a lot less. No interrupting, no digressing, no hijacking conversations in progress. LSD runs screaming from silence: your silence.

Listen more. Ask for an employee's opinion or input and then actually listen. Keep your thoughts and opinions to yourself. If you must speak, only ask clarifying questions. You'll be surprised by how smart your employees really are once your LSD goes into remission.

Let others run with a project and then stay out of their way. A primary symptom of LSD is the need to inject your own thoughts and suggestions into an employee's idea. Do that and you can kill the person's motivation. If the employee's idea needs tweaking, ask leading questions so that the person can identify the necessary modifications. In short: Let an employee's idea remain the employee's idea.

Feel free to convert LSD as applicable: Lead Supervisor Disease, Lead Salesperson Disease, Lead Parent Disease... LSD shoes can fit a lot of feet.

Just make sure they don't fit yours.

4. CODB: Cost of Doing Business

Some expenses must be incurred in order to conduct any type of business. For example, maintaining a professional license is a cost of doing business for an engineer. If you must spend it, in theory it's a CODB.

The problem is that many expenses get incorrectly labeled as Costs of Doing Business. For example, maintaining an office is no longer a CODB when your employees telecommute. Investing in inventory is no longer a CODB for an online retailer when finished products are stored and shipped by vendors.

Lazily assigning an expense to the CODB category is a sure way to miss opportunities to realize savings or improve processes.

What can you do? Take a look at every expense and see if:

  1. Spending can be eliminated entirely
  2. Spending can be reduced
  3. Other alternatives exist

I don't need to explain each step. You know what to do. Be rigorous and methodical, and you'll wring significant sums out of your expense budget--as long as you never assume any expense must be a CODB. Do the same with your personal budget.

Automatically assigning too many costs to the CODB pile is a recipe for disaster--professionally and personally.

5. NP: No Problem

Say someone asks for help. You try hard to be a team player, so even though you're already overwhelmed, you say, "No problem."

NP is understandable. Refusing requests is hard, because we all want to be liked. Great bosses try to accommodate the needs of their employees. Great employees have can-do attitudes. Business owners often struggle to say no to customers; what if the customer walks? Great friends are always there for other people.

Say NP too often, though, and you can kill your career or business. Effectively balancing your workload with the needs of others is critical to long-term business and personal success.

That's why you sometimes must replace NP with NO, as in, "I'm sorry, but, no."

Here's how to avoid the perils of NP:

Think before you respond. Don't automatically say yes or no to requests. Think about your workload or your company's needs, and evaluate how the request fits into that framework.

Add parameters when necessary. When you agree to a request, make sure to include parameters and qualifiers so you can manage expectations. Only promise what you can do--not what someone else wants you to do. In almost every case, what you can do will be more than enough.

And definitely don't equate NP with a can-do attitude. No one can say yes to everything and still succeed, so don't confuse a reflexive "no problem" with being a great team player, or being incredibly responsive to customer needs, or being someone others can always count on.

You can be those things--but make sure you pick your spots wisely. Sometimes, taking care of yourself is the best way to take care of others, especially in the long term.

More of my posts on personal productivity:

IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Jul 3, 2014

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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