Getting good employees to do great work

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By Ken Gosnell, CEO Experience

Employees enjoy hearing praise from their leaders, and those who are recognized are more likely to be productive and satisfied at work. According to Gallup’s research, “Only 41% of employees strongly agree that they know what their company stands for and what makes it different from competitors.”

A concern that I find leaders and companies often struggle with is how to enable their employees to produce good work. Great companies produce great work. Their leaders select people who focus on making the right actions that will achieve goals and produce results.

American writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard once wrote, “The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.” Every day provides an opportunity to do good work. However, many people waste their days at work producing nothing of value, therefore missing out on opportunities to leave a legacy.

1. Some people think that their work is not important. 

When an employee believes this, this is an attitude of avoidance that must be redirected.

Many people get used to doing the same tasks repeatedly. They never look beyond their current reality to see the possibilities of other work they could complete. It is the employee’s responsibility to learn the “why” behind the tasks they are to accomplish.

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Has it happened to you?

Have you received an article you assigned to a new writer, plugged a well-turned phrase into an online search engine, and discovered the article was rife with sections lifted from another author’s work? It’s happened to me. More than once.

The assignment

Jessie wrote a funny book on her struggles with God. It did well, but I knew she needed work. I assumed she could confidently take on a tough assignment outside her area of expertise. I was wrong. She wrote well enough when it came to her own life. She wrote well enough on prayer or devotionals. But the piece I asked for demanded more. I had expected original research and reporting. I never expected plagiarism.

I thought I had not properly communicated my expectations. I outlined my problems with her draft, gave detailed instructions, pointed to relevant sites and sources where she might begin her work, and suggested she try again. The second draft was worse than the first: she rewrote my words and added nothing new.

The dissertation

Pria was in graduate school, pursuing a ministry degree. A mutual friend recommended she contact me so I could edit her dissertation on the spiritual implications of bioengineering. Her first pages were full of jargon, choppy, unclear, and repetitive. Later the words flowed, the syntax was smoother, the vocabulary was more accessible, and the imagery was engaging. At first, I thought Pria had finally warmed to her subject; then I realized this could not possibly explain the marked shift in the quality of her writing. She was passing off others’ writing as her own, instead of giving them credit. She argued her style of presenting the material was in keeping with academic practice in her country. I explained it was not acceptable here, and suggested she speak with her advisor about the matter.

Not just me

The instances I described are not my only encounters with plagiarism. I’ve probably read articles where I completely missed it. I have also seen some translate material into another language and pretend it was their own invention. Not everyone understands what counts as plagiarism or that it is an ethical issue.

Each time I discover plagiarism, especially by Christians, I am shocked. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. A Religion News Service article published late last year discussed instances of plagiarism by various Christian leaders. Additional examples can be found on the Christianity Today topic page on plagiarism.

Preventative measures

As an editor, how can you ensure that the articles you publish are not plagiarized? Here are some suggestions:

  • Know your writers. Take care that in making assignments; don’t ask for what they are not comfortable with or can’t give.
  • Be clear about what you expect to receive. Encourage authors to cite and give proper credit to others as needed.
  • Pay attention to odd turns of phrase and the style, quality, and rhythm of the writing.
  • Use search engines and other plagiarism detection tools to spot check articles you receive. There are many such tools for educators.
  • Compare pieces you receive to recent articles and books on the same topic.
  • Develop publishers guidelines for yourself, including definitions of plagiarism, self-plagiarism, preferred reference styles, and procedures to follow in checking for or handling suspected cases of plagiarism.
  • Compare notes with other editors and publishers who have faced this problem.
  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you and give you discernment. Ask Him to give creativity and perseverance to your writers. Commit your work to Him. Finally, thank Him for His help.

By Kim Pettit, Magazine Training International board chair

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I attended a professional conference a few weeks ago, and it was invigorating to learn from experts and peers in the areas of editing, writing, and design. An in-person conference is a great way to boost skills! Magazine Training International offers in-person conferences periodically. The next MTI conference is in French, in Côte d’Ivoire.

How can you keep learning on a continuous basis, even if you can’t attend an in-person conference?

Informal Learning

Asking questions is a great way to keep learning new skills and techniques. Questions can be directed to people you know in your field, but don’t overlook the power of on-line questions. Through social media and commenting on blogs, you can ask questions of people you don’t know personally.

Several years ago, I was having lunch with an editor at another organization and we started talking about tools for creating memes. I was a novice at this skill and my first few attempts looked terrible. She mentioned that she liked the tool – PicMonkey (www.picmonkey.com) – which I had never used. After our lunch, I went online and tried it out. I learned a new skill. Since then, I’ve used a combination of PicMonkey and Canva (www.canva.com) for quick images to use on social media. While I may have eventually stumbled onto these tools, being open to asking questions and listening for new ways of working helped me learn.

If you aren’t physically close enough to go to lunch with a colleague, you can ask questions on social media or by commenting on blogs. Follow people in your profession and have them serve as virtual mentors, learning from their experience and interacting with their content.

Online Learning

Online courses and webinars offer inexpensive or even free training that is targeted to particular topics. Magazine Training International offers current courses and a library of past courses. Many other organizations offer such training.

The Poynter Institute has a News University that offers webinars on a variety of topics. Some courses have a fee for the training, but there are usually several free classes in their schedule. Check out the current listing at https://www.poynter.org/newsu/. In April 2019, the course offerings included a free 90-minute course on fact checking. https://www.poynter.org/shop/fact-checking/handson-factchecking/.

Many sites offer free social media training, although the quality of the training varies greatly. As you engage with such free courses, you will notice that some are focused mostly on selling something to you after you have finished the free course. I would suggest caution in paying for such content unless you are sure of the reputation of the source of the training.

Schedule Learning Time

Intentionality is key to continuous learning! Sometimes we learn new skills “accidently” by stumbling onto new information. But developing a lifelong habit of learning means that you are investing regular time in your skills. Whether you schedule learning time once a month, once a quarter, or once a year, put it on your calendar. Develop a list of topics that interest you and would be helpful for your professional growth. Then search out resources and make the time to invest in your growth.

Professionals who have been on the job for years are still learning, because what makes them great is their openness to new ideas, new ways of work, new technologies and new media.

When Michelangelo was 87 years old, he is reported to have said, “Ancora imparo” which means “I’m still learning.” (Fact-checking note: Some scholars dispute whether or not he actually said this.) I would love to be able to say that I’m still learning, for as many years as I have life and breath.

By Carla Foote, Fine Print Editorial

 

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Last week, I met with an aspiring writer. For years, Marie has dreamed of writing fantasy novels for teens and young adults. She shared her ideas with me about a parallel universe where a princess awaits rescue and mythical creatures abound. Marie hopes to use allegories to communicate her faith, imitating great Christian writers she has long admired. Her eyes opened wide as she described the imaginary world she’d built.

We spoke for over an hour. It turns out the lovely realm is only in her head. Marie has no outlines, no completed chapters, and only a few scene descriptions written out.

Marie is a young woman, full of hope. I had no desire to quench her spirit, but I did want her to be realistic about the task at hand. We researched the average length of a book in her genre. Together, we discussed how many words she would have to write each week in order to get a first draft of a novel ready within a year. (To have a draft of 80,000 words, for 50 weeks she’d have to write about 1600 words per week—equivalent to a medium-length magazine article, or twice the length of the average blog post or newspaper column.) The figure is feasible, but requires commitment and, of course, hard work. We spoke of routines she could implement to accomplish her task, resources she could use to equip herself, and communities where she might find support.

I don’t know what the result of our conversation will be, but I was touched by Marie’s passion. She took notes. She asked questions. She was eager and excited, even after all my caveats and demurrals and remonstrations about the nature of writing. “It isn’t easy,” I said. “It may not be rewarding,” I said. “You will probably have to revise your book several times, and throw away far more words than you’ll keep.”

A friend of mine, an editor, had a similar experience. She also met with a young woman last week. That writer brought along a manuscript. She was further along than Marie. But the manuscript was in a rough state. My friend read a chapter or two, noting trite turns of phrase, labored descriptions, non sequiturs, and other flaws. She pondered how to break the news that the manuscript was nowhere near as ready for publication as the writer imagined. Somehow she managed to bring the conversation to an end, without ending the relationship or the writer’s hopes, but spurring her to further action.

Inspiring and challenging writers is a delicate task. I was grateful that my conversation with Marie was far easier than my friend’s conversation. I’m sure a time will come when feedback will be hard to give, and harder still to take. When that day comes, I pray I’ll show the gentleness and grace my editor friend did. And in the meantime, I’ll be hoping that Marie turns her dreams into a marvelous manuscript.

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Do you struggle to turn visions for your magazine into a real plan of action? Moving from dreams to reality is often where people get hung up. According to the article “Business Plan Toolbox: Business Planning with Accountability” by Stephie Althouse, most companies face these common obstacles:

  1. There is a significant skill gap between the company’s core expertise and the ability to convert that expertise into money.
  2. Many visionary founders find building and running a team challenging.
  3. The core expertise lives only in the brain/s of one or a few key people.
  4. High-expertise leaders often prefer to do the work themselves instead of delegating it to others.
  5. Investment monies are difficult to impossible to get due to lack of scalability.

In her article, she offers solutions to each of the obstacles, including finding accountability to carry them out. Some ways to the create the accountability needed include:

  • Involving your team in creating the business plan.
  • Treating the plan as a living, breathing document.
  • Agree on an accountability SYSTEM with your team and follow through.
  • Define “Success Behaviors” that support you and your team in using the accountability system and have a thriving and fulfilling experience in your work (and life) – we will talk about that in the next article.

Continue reading to discover Althouse’s plans for accountability to make your dreams a reality.

quotes
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The use of quotes can either be deathly dull or breathe life and interest into your article. There are so many things to consider: the interview of your subject, attribution, when a quote is powerful enough to use as the lede or conclusion, which parts of the quote to use, and more.

Below are some resources that will help you with each of these decisions, which will, ultimately, get you to the heart of the story with the use of powerful quotes.

Continue reading for more tips:

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By Shane Parrish, founder of Farnam Street

The best advice I’ve ever gotten about thinking came from a private-company CEO who has a thirty-year track record that’s up there with Warren Buffett’s. One day he said to me, “Shane, most people don’t actually think. They just take their first thought and go.”

We’re all busy. We’ve got meetings, phone calls, texts, kids, spouses, parents, friends, and of course the ever-present email. Busyness has become an end in itself, and nothing is more dangerous. What my CEO friend meant was that people are losing the ability to think through a problem.

Most people schedule themselves like lawyers. They work in five- to eight-minute increments, scheduled back to back. The best part of their day is when they manage to sneak away for a quick coffee with a friend before heading into the next meeting they haven’t had time to prepare for.

I actually schedule time to think. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I protect this time as if my livelihood depended on it because it does. Sometimes I’m in the office and sometimes I’m in a coffee shop. I’m not always thinking about a problem that I’m wresting with. I’m often just thinking about things I already know or, more accurately, things I think I know. Setting aside time for thinking works wonders, not only for me but also for most of the people I’ve convinced to give it a try.

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analogies
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I was in church, singing along with the worship songs, when I almost choked on my words. The song was based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (NIV)

But the lyrics on the screen at church said, “My yolk is easy and my burden is light.”

As I tried not to laugh, I looked around to see if anyone else was as distracted by these words as I was. Nope, everyone else was focused on worship, while I was thinking about breakfast and an “over-easy” egg yolk.

Yoke or Yolk.

When Jesus was talking to the people in his cultural context, the analogy of a yoke made sense to everyone listening. Undoubtably, they could look at animals plowing a field on the edge of town and see two animals yoked together, pulling a plow.

But in our modern setting the word “yoke” is not in common usage, especially in the U.S. where city dwellers have little appreciation for farm life, and farm tasks are mechanized with tractors rather than animals. The concept of a “yoke” that distributes the burden of plowing is foreign to most people. When the word was incorrectly used in the song lyrics, no one seemed to notice the mistake.

However, modern people do know what a “yolk” is – the rich yellow center of an egg. What did people think Jesus meant in this verse, if they were reading it as My yolk is easy and my burden is light? Most likely, people were just singing along, not thinking about the specific words.

This error of intermingling yokes and yolks points out the importance of going beyond spell check in proofreading material. The word wasn’t misspelled in the lyrics, the wrong word was used.

Also, the yoke/yolk error suggests that we choose analogies carefully for our audience. Jesus knew that people saw yokes in their regular lives. I’m not suggesting we re-write Scripture, but when we write fresh content, it’s important to use analogies that are meaningful to our audience rather than recycling analogies that are no longer relevant.

–Carla Foote, Fine Print Editorial

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When you are working to engage a reader and to elicit a response, the tone of an article matters.

How Strong?

Recently I was editing an article for a client who had a great article with a prophetic voice. He was calling out people who said they put God first, but in actual life, others things seemed to take the top place.

“On Sundays we sing passionately about how Jesus satisfies our every need. But even a casual reading of our social media posts tells a different story … ”

I wondered if we should give the reader the benefit of the doubt and say: “But even a casual reading of our social media posts may tell a different story …”

In this instance, after discussing the word choice, we stayed with the stronger voice rather than adding the word “may” to the sentence. But there were several similarly strong statements at the start of this article, and I wondered if the reader would stop reading or tune out before they got to the place of deciding to turn wholeheartedly toward Jesus. There’s a fine line between presenting a compelling thought and turning off the reader.

Positive or Negative?

In a less weighty piece for a different client, I noticed that the writer often stated something in the negative, even if he was trying to elicit a positive response in a marketing brochure: “Our initial consultation is always free, so it can’t hurt to chat.”

The writer was using the words “can’t” and “hurt” while trying to get the reader to take a positive action. There is no need to make the reader think something is going to hurt, when you are offering a free consultation!

I suggested: “Our initial consultation is always free, so let’s chat about your needs.”

In addition to being positive, this sentence keeps the focus squarely on the reader. It told the reader that the company makes their needs a priority.

Another sentence originally touted excellence, but in a way that introduced doubt: “We pride ourselves on excellence and refuse to deliver sub-par results.”

This sentence starts with the implication that this is a great company that does great work, but then doubt is introduced. Why are they talking about sub-par results? Will they deliver sub-par results on my project?

I suggested: “We pride ourselves on excellence and the delivery of high-quality of results.”

The choice of a word or phrase makes a huge difference in tone. This step of editorial polish is important and can make the difference between good content and great content.

–Carla Foote, Fine Print Editorial

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Attribution is ascribing a work or remark to a particular person. With the popularity of pithy sayings on social media, it is tempting to quickly Google a list of quotes from a famous person, such as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. or even Jesus.

However, these quickly “sourced” quotes are not always accurate. Here I have placed “sourced” in quotation marks to show sarcasm. Careful sourcing involves finding the original speech, book or other setting for the actual words being quoted. Google “sourcing” can involve a few clicks to find another person who says that a quote is accurate, even if the sources are not reputable or research-based. Simply noticing that many people attribute a particular phrase to a famous person doesn’t mean that person actually made the statement. Volume isn’t veracity in sourcing.

There are several ways that sloppy attribution of quotes can go wrong: Either the person didn’t actually say what is being credited to them, or they might not have said it in the way that it is being used in the shortened version.

While the internet can contribute to questionable attribution, it also makes the words of famous people accessible for research. I can actually listen to the “I Have A Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28, 1963 to the people gathered for the March on Washington. Or I can read the text of Mahatma Gandhi’s “Quit India” speech from August 8, 1942.

The third Monday in January is a national holiday in the United States, honoring the January birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a civil rights leader who played a significant role in the fight for racial equality in the U.S. He was assassinated in 1968. As a preacher and a national leader, his writings and speeches are extensive. Quotes from Dr. King are indeed inspirational. But in the midst of sharing inspiration, accurate attributions are important.

In 2019, on the holiday celebrating Dr. King, I saw two instances of a quotation that I was curious about. The idea sounded good, but I hadn’t seen it attributed to Dr. King before, so I decided to dig in a little and verify the accuracy of this attribution.

The quote is: If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.

When I first read the quote, I have to admit that it sounded a bit like Mother Teresa to me. But that was based just on style, not any research. A quick Google search revealed several instances attributing this quote to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (one in a speech by the President of an Ivy League University). But a number of attributions were to Napoleon Hill, a new name to me.

So who actually said this first?

In the 1928 book, The Law of Success in Sixteen Lessons, Napoleon Hill said, “If you cannot do great things yourself, remember that you may do small things in a great way.” I found the actual book online and saw this quote on page 113.

It is possible that Dr. King quoted this phrase at some time during his many speeches and sermons. I did not do exhaustive research on all of his speeches and writing. Wikiquote is not a perfectly reliable source, however, it does catalog many specific quotes and their sources from books and speeches. Working backwards from Wikiquote, it is possible to find the actual source document for attribution. Searching the Wikiquote page for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not reveal the “small things” quote. But Wikiquote is not exhaustive.

Another good source of attributions is LibQuotes.com, whose motto is “Don’t quote it if you can’t source it.” In searching their site, they reference the “small things” quote as coming from Napoleon Hill. That’s how I found the name of Napoleon Hill’s book, and a few more clicks lead me to the actual text. Each quote on the website includes an “i” icon for more information and points to the original source. A writer or editor can then pursue the source document for verification.

Perhaps this work seems tedious, but attribution matters. And since the famous historical figures have plenty of strong, well-sourced material to choose from, if you want an inspirational meme for social media, pick something that is traceable to a reliable source!

Of course, beyond the issue of accuracy, there are a flurry of memes for particular holidays and events. In addition to considering the source for a quote, consider the context and your own voice. Are you pulling together a meme to join popular trends? Or is it core to your work and voice? But perhaps that’s another topic for a blog – to meme or not to meme?

In my research for this article, I found some interesting sources and articles on attribution and quotations.

  • LibQuotes.com is a great site for finding sourced quotes. Start here when you are seeking attribution, or even just inspiration.
  • The Anatomy of a Fake Quotation– This article shows how on social media an introductory comment and a quote can start out as accurate, but when the words are reposted and blended together, the result can be inaccurate and spread quickly. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/05/anatomy-of-a-fake-quotation/238257/
  • 9 famous quotes that people get wrong– This is a humorous list of contexts that are often omitted when a short quote is pulled from a famous source. My disclaimer is that I am sharing this link but I did not research each of the particular examples given, although I am familiar with several of them. https://www.businessinsider.com/famous-quotes-2017-6

Carla Foote is an editor and writer who works for a variety of clients through Fine Print Editorial.  This blog is used by permission and first appeared on www.fineprintedit.com. Carla edits Disciple!, a quarterly magazine for The Navigators ministry, in addition to other projects for The Navigators. She manages a blog and social media for an author, and edits books, podcasts and curriculum for a variety of clients. Previously, she was the executive editor and publishing manager for MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers), and was responsible for all operations of MomSense magazine and Connections magazine. Carla served as a trainer for MTI in Kenya in 2018 and in India in 2012 and is a member of MTI’s Board of Directors.

–Carla Foote, Fine Print Editorial