Vol.12 No.17 December-10-2012

December 9, 2012



The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Before Looking To 2013, Look Back At 2012’s Achievements

It’s the time of year when we desperately start planning how to complete our pre-holiday work and begin thinking about what 2013 might bring. But as the pace of life increases, with work and the pre-holiday round of shopping and social activities, it may be a good time to adopt this tip from Microsoft project manager J. D. Meier on his blog: Create an Achievements List. 

He urges you to regularly write down a list of your achievements — for the day, the week, and the month. At this time of year, it would also make sense to add your achievements for the year.

“If they aren’t worth writing down, then they probably weren’t worth doing,” he notes. “If you are doing things that aren’t worth doing, that might be a problem — unless you have infinite time, and your boss or your customers reward you for doing things that don’t matter.” 

He says if you don’t review your achievements:

  • You lose touch with your impact while chasing the next thing. “You do more, but feel appreciated less,” he writes.
  • You start to lose the ability to articulate the value you delivered, both to yourself and others.
  • You fail to appreciate your effort. As that happens, you start depending on the fates. Your ability to produce outstanding results gradually erodes as your ability to put in the effort diminishes with a lack of psychological reward.

2. The Sole Purpose Of Customer Service

The only purpose of customer service is to change feelings.

That’s the provocative advice of marketing whiz Seth Godin. And it goes against the grain, since often in customer service we’re trying to change the facts — the price, a concern with the product, or how long someone has waited for service. “Sometimes changing the facts is a shortcut to changing feelings, but not always, and changing the facts alone is not always sufficient anyway,” he writes on Seth’s Blog.

If your customer service protocol is based on stalling, denying or begrudging — and, in the end, acquiescing to the few who persist — he says it will be a failure. “The customer who seeks out your help isn’t often looking to deplete your bank account. He is usually seeking validation, support and a path to feeling the way he felt before you let him down,” he notes.

3. Keep Your Pet Peeves In Check

We all have pet peeves. And we usually let them reign in the office. But executive coach Kate Nasser, on the LeadChangeGroup blog, warns that our pet peeves can reduce our leadership effectiveness since they can be off-putting to others and limiting to ourselves:

She lists some common pet peeves (which you may share, or which may remind you of ones you foist on other people):

—  An organized desk and workspace is a sign of clear thinking and effectiveness. You recoil at messy desks, and insist on excessive tidiness.

—  The need for encouragement is a sign of weakness. You don’t like to babysit employees, but miss the chance to show them their talents are noticed and valuable.

—  Don’t take me where I don’t want to go.  You don’t like being pushed by your employees, so elbows go out.

—  Stop whining. You hate to hear complaints, and so miss things as people hush.

To make sure pet peeves don’t inhibit your leadership and team, she suggests:

  • Bring pet peeves out in the open. Encourage everyone at an all-hands meeting to share one pet peeve. You’ll all learn more about each other.
  • When you speak, own your pet peeves. Admitting your own limitations builds respect.
  • If you are unaware of your pet peeves, get feedback. Ask family and friends what your pet peeves are. “A 360-degree feedback on your leadership style will also limit the destructive power of your pet peeves,” she notes.

4. You Don’t Need To Solve For 100%

Reviewing executive self-assessments, leadership coach Scott Eblin came to the conclusion we’re all so busy doing stuff that we can’t see what needs to be done. That led to a further conclusion, he says on his blog: You can’t solve for 100% (and usually don’t need to anyway).

The problems leaders face are so complex that it’s a waste of time to seek a perfect solution since by the time you get to the 100th step things will have changed. So instead of solving for 100%, try solving for the next few steps or as far as you can get.

5. Zingers

  • Value carefree time:  Consultant Patrick Lencioni says many of the new ideas and insights at his firm come to life while staff are eating lunch, waiting in line at the airport, or standing in the middle of the office chatting. He thinks the best leadership teams understand the importance of “carefree timelessness,” chunks of time where there are no agendas or time pressure. (Source: Pat’s POV)
  • Set unachievable goals:  Nathan Bull, senior executive in Accenture’s operations consulting practice, says leaders should set goals unachievable under the current business model in order to inspire their organization to truly innovate. Examples: President John F. Kennedy’s goal to land a man on the moon within the decade or Google’s challenge to organize the world’s information. Setting such apparently unachievable goals forces individuals to fundamentally re-think their mental models. (Source: InnovationManagement)
  • Ask fewer questions: If you want feedback on your web site through a pop-up questionnaire, limit yourself to five questions or less, says MIT Sloan School Research Fellow Michael Schrage. Tests regularly show that more site users will respond when you ask fewer questions. (Source: HBR Blogs)
  • Check staff turnover:  How much staff turnover is too much? HR consultant Alison Green says it depends on the reason. If you’re attempting to move out low performers or employ a lot of entry-level workers, high turnover may be fine. But if people are fleeing bad management or low wages, it’s a problem. So find out the context. (Source: Ask A Manager)
  • Which end is up?  Monkeys peel bananas from what humans would consider the wrong end — the nub rather than stem. Copywriter Joe Nafziger says that some of your best ideas will similarly come by thinking about your brand, organization, or clients in a way completely opposite to what’s traditional. (Source: TheIdeaBrand)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:  The “Don’t Budget” Alternative

Question:  We have just finished our budgeting for next year and it was extremely frustrating — slow, overly complex, and at times emotionally volatile. Can you suggest any tips to improve?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

Have you thought of junking it altogether, and not having a budget? That may seem loony, but some big companies have experimented with the idea, and have found the process effective.

  • It’s not like your team will run hog wild if there’s no budget and spend like crazy. They know what’s acceptable from the past.
  • It’s not like you will have no benchmarks. You have the previous year’s actuals to compare against.
  • As well, if a great idea emerges in February, it can be jumped on without people screaming there’s no room in the budget to pursue the opportunity.
  • And it’s not like those generating revenue will doze off if they (and you) are any good. They should be competitive, find joy in their work, and know that you are expecting gains. Indeed, without a budget, maybe they will shoot higher.

Think of the time you will have saved, and the needless bickering and worrying. Without changing much else, actually.

That being said, I’d suggest seeding into your operations a special annual effort to attack costs or enhance revenues. But it doesn’t have to come in the fall, in a frenzy. It can happen anytime.

  • Maybe the first no-budget year, you might try a lean exercise. Read some books on lean strategy or invite in an expert, and see what you can do to increase efficiency.
  • The next year, brainstorm how to increase revenues 20% or 30% in 18 months, and apply some of the better ideas.
  • Two years afterwards, discuss what would happen if you cut your expenses by 10%, and if it exposes any sensible changes, grab them. Maybe one year you could train people in figuring out return-on-investments on their major expenditures, or play with the so-called zero-based budget concept, and imagine what you might do if starting from a blank page for expenses and revenues.

Obviously some of these approaches will remain emotional for people. And depending on what you choose, it can be gruelling. But it will be novel, presumably contoured to circumstances, and not a tired, old, repetitive annual process that produces very little for the time invested.

So there’s an alternative to consider:  don’t budget. But keep controls on costs, the foot on the revenue accelerator (without speeding), and every now and then scrutinize your revenues and costs in a creative way.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:  Stories That Change Culture

One of the most potent tools a team has to support culture change is storytelling. Stories teach new behaviours, celebrate best behaviours and articulate identity. Usually they are memorable, and easily repeated. They are inherently human.

Some teams don’t really manage their stories when planning culture change, but this year we’ve seen several clients really embracing storytelling as a management tool. And some leaders benefit from tips to sharpen their tales:

  • Where to start (A critical event that triggers a “journey” is often a good place to start your story.)
  • The middle (Don’t gloss over the challenges, conflicts and triumphs, which build drama and interest.)
  • The end (What blissful new state did the journey achieve? What’s the lesson or moral of the story?)

One mentor you might read is Nancy Duarte, author of Resonate – Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences. She was the genius behind Al Gore’s powerful An Inconvenient Truth, and offers great analysis of the “hero’s journey” story structure. She also emphasizes the power of structuring your stories by alternating between the “what is” and the “what could be”. It builds inspiration and aspiration.

Some great tips to improve your stories are also available in Chip and Dan Heath’s bestseller Made to Stick – Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.  We regularly recommend their six key pointers:

—  Simplicity (Keep the idea short but powerful, like a proverb.)
—  Unexpectedness (Use surprise or imply something the listener doesn’t know.)
—  Concrete detail (Language is often abstract, but life is not.)
—  Credibility (You can use either experts or non-experts with direct experience.)
—  Emotions (For people to take action, they have to care.)
—  Stories (And especially those containing wisdom that will be told and retold.)


8020Info helps teams develop and implement strategic plans, stakeholder consultation/research and marketing communications more effectively. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries at (613) 542-8020, or by email at watercooler@8020info.com

8. Closing Thought

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.”

— H. Jackson Brown