I've had a bunch of memorable managers in my day, but the most unforgettable by far was Brad.

Brad came in to replace another manager and made an immediate impression. He was young and assertive, and he was handpicked to run our team by the home office. Right away, Brad had lots of great ideas. He gathered the staff each day and talked about creating synergies, leveraging outside-the-box paradigms, spending money to make money, and scrutinizing our customer service to produce cutting-edge results–all for our "team" that served pizzas in the mall.

Brad lasted about three months. I won't tell you how many times you can roll your eyes in three months. It's a lot.

Illustration: Christophe Vorlet/ www.vorlet.com Supplying lumber and building materials is a pretty straightforward business, maybe even as straightforward as slinging pies. After visiting and interviewing hundreds of pro dealers over the years, I can say that–for the most part–our industry is driven by uncomplicated, honest people who do business with a minimum of bull. But even in the mere seven years I've been with ProSales, times have changed. The business is growing more complex, more sophisticated. For better or for worse, we have all adopted some business clichés–value-added and win-win immediately come to mind–that in and of themselves don't really mean a thing.

Sure, they mean something to you when you say them. They mean something to me when I write them. Employees on the receiving end of corporate buzz talk, however, tend to be alienated and ultimately think that management is untrustworthy and weak. So says a survey by Investors and People that MSNBC.com reported on in early November. Workers interviewed for the survey said phrases like "blue sky thinking," "the helicopter view," and even "heads up" lowered morale and caused a misunderstanding about roles and responsibilities. On the other hand, managers interviewed for the survey were oblivious: More than half believed the buzz to be harmless banter.

A March 2006 study by human resources consulting firm Watson Wyatt found that companies that worked to remove the jargon and deliver effective internal communications have a 19.4% higher market premium and deliver 57% higher shareholder return compared with their chatterbox peers.

If you're talking big business in the pro dealer space, look no further than Pro-Build, the amalgamation of The Strober Organization, Lanoga Corp., and most recently Hope Lumber and Supply. As the company approaches $7 billion in sales, terms like "economies of scale" and "synergy" are becoming unavoidable, and communicating those ideas to employees in a way that makes sense is equally obligatory.

"I don't know that we always avoid the buzz words, but the direction from my office is always the same: Be frank and honest and keep the folks informed," says Hope president Jim Cavanaugh. "People, in the absence of information, tend to think the worst. The acquisition by Pro-Build, for example, was extremely positive, and it was important to communicate as much information as we could at the earliest possible time." As long as you can continue to give it to the team straight, Cavanaugh says, they will remain patient through change and retain their confidence in management.

Chris Wood It's really that simple. People like working for people who can treat them as equals, communicate ideas clearly, concisely, and effectively, and keep the business buzz to a minimum. A little bit of jargon is always OK, but dealing with it day in and day out ultimately becomes an unfortunate and unforgettable experience for staff.

Indeed, every time I walk past the old pizza joint, I think of Brad. I never did find out what happened to him, but here's hoping he didn't end up working for you.

–Chris Wood is executive editor for ProSales. 415.315.1241 x307 E-mail: [email protected]