When I was a young sales manager, my manager had a big candy jar on his desk filled with dollar bills. In my first meeting, I learned its purpose. I was presenting where my group was year to date, what our plans were, and the support (read funding) we needed to move forward. We finished the meeting, I was trying to “close” for what I wanted, but he dismissed me by saying: “Please put $10 into the jar and come back when you are ready to give me a thoughtful recommendation.”
I was shocked and confused. I thought I had done a stunning job. I had spent hours preparing the presentation, I had researched things, and I thought I had anticipated all the questions he might raise. But he didn’t ask a single question, he just asked for $10.
He must have seen the expression on my face and explained to me, “There were 10 spelling errors in your presentation, they cost you $1 each, you owe me $10.”
I grumbled and protested. I reached into my wallet and pulled out $10, putting it in the candy jar. I said, “I don’t get it, Yeah, I made some spelling errors, but what do you think about the ideas and the things we are doing?”
He didn’t answer my question, instead he explained, “Look, I know you think it’s unfair and unimportant, but spelling and grammar matter. To me they are indicators of the quality of your thinking, your commitment to execute, and a demonstration of your professionalism. If you didn’t care enough to review your presentation, making it perfect, then why should I care or pay attention?”
As much as I hated what he said, I agreed to fix the presentation and come back. In my office, I sat down and quickly corrected the spelling errors—I should have seen them, it was a PowerPoint and it was easy to find those annoying red squiggly lines underneath the misspelled words. I was angry with my manager, I thought he was being overly picky and not focusing on the message, so I went through my presentation once again. I wanted to nail it. I discovered there were point I could sharpen, I had the right ideas, but I could express them more clearly. My arguments were a little murky in a couple of areas.
It was a few hours later, I walked into my manager’s office, quickly went through the presentation. He commented on the differences, he liked the changes (he actually had been paying attention to the first presentation). He said my thinking and my arguments were much clearer and better. He immediately approved everything, smiled and congratulated me on an outstanding job.
Over the next year, I left my fair share of dollars in his candy jar–but it was fewer and fewer. He certainly wasn’t making a lot of money off me. But it was one of the most important lessons of my career. See it wasn’t about the spelling and grammar. It was really about the quality of my thinking, my commitment to executing precisely, and my personal demonstration of my professionalism.
Too often, for whatever reasons, we rush through things. We have many half-baked ideas; we succumb to sloppiness in our thinking or in our discipline in executing. We let speed, urgency, and or the excuse of creativity overcome the quality of what we do. After all, we never have enough time to do things right, but we always have the time to do them over and over and …. Spelling and grammar are warning signs of that sloppiness and inefficiency. They may indicate that we haven’t done our homework. They may foreshadow more serious errors.
We seek to demonstrate our professionalism every day. We want to show our customers, our people, and our managers that we care. Part of caring is making sure that we respect them and their time. In every exchange we have to demonstrate we our quality of thinking, respect for them, and our professionalism–it’s a differentiator! . Spelling and grammar are the “early warning signs” indicating we may be a little sloppy or that the people we are presenting to don’t deserve our best work. It’s just plain unprofessional!
Many friends and colleagues that would say, “Dave, you just don’t get it. It’s old thinking, you’re missing the point!” Others would say this attention to detail inhibits creativity. To me, these are just excuses, more importantly, they don’t get it. They think it’s about spelling and grammar, when it really isn’t.
Sales, business, effective, and impactful communication demand the highest quality of thinking. Success for our customers and ourelves requires attention to details and a commitment to the highest levels of performance. Our customers, our people, our managers deserve nothing less than our best.
Walk into my office, you’ll find a big candy jar. There are some dollars in it. Over the years, my candy jar has enabled me to contribute thousands to charity, but I wish it were for a different reason.
(I’m terrified to publish this post. I’ve run it through all the spell/grammar checkers I have. I’ve read and re-read it. My wife read it. I probably am setting myself up for a ton of comments–all well deserved. Let me know, a dollar for each goes into my jar.)