Vol. 10, No. 4 – March 15, 2010

March 15, 2010


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Five Reasons Dreams Don’t Take Flight

Entrepreneurs dream. It’s those dreams that lead to new businesses and social agencies. But on the Giant Impact web site, consultant John Maxwell says most of us never see our dreams come true for the following five reasons:

  • We have been discouraged from dreaming by others: People who aren’t following their own dreams resent us pursuing ours. “If we listen to external voices, then we allow our dreams to be hijacked,” he says.
  • We are hindered by past disappointments and hurts: Many of us live with the memory of past failure. Failure, however, is a natural part of life, and if we’re going to attain our dreams we have to summon the courage to deal with past hurts.
  • We fall into the habit of settling for average: Like gravity, life’s circumstances constantly pull on our dreams, tugging us down to mediocrity. Being exceptional demands extra effort and discipline.
  • We lack the confidence to pursue our dreams: Dreams are fragile, and will be assaulted from all sides. They require, as a counter-weight, self-confidence.
  • We lack the imagination to dream: Many of us do not allow ourselves to dream. “We trap ourselves in reality and never dare to go beyond what we can see with our eyes. Imagination lifts us beyond average by giving us a vision of life that surpasses what we are experiencing currently. Dreams infuse our spirit with energy and spur us on to greatness,” he concludes.

2. Improving Your Dashboard

The most common mistake in designing dashboards with critical indicators of your operations is to treat all information as equally important, says consultant Zach Gemignani of Juice Analytics. On DashboardInsights.com, he notes that Amanda Cox of the New York Times design group phrased it perfectly: “Data isn’t like your kids; you don’t have to pretend to love them equally.”

He offers these strategies to focus on the information that really matters:

  • Find the core: Your dashboard should have a core theme based on the essence of the problem it is meant to address. A sales dashboard may be about how to move leads through your pipeline while a marketing dashboard might focus on how to optimize your marketing investments. “Finding this core will give you the logic and argument for discarding extraneous information,” he says.
  • Ask a better question: Too often the question asked in creating a dashboard is, “What would we like to know?” That leads a laundry list of unrelated metrics. Therefore, ask a follow-up question: “What would we do if we knew this information?” That question separates your whimsical interests from important and actionable information.
  • Push to the appendix: If it’s impossible to ignore requests that certain information be included in the dashboard, create an appendix report that includes such “interesting” information but keeps the focus on the most critical data. “In other words, keep truly critical information on the front page and suppress ancillary information,” he advises.

3. Seeking Help

Outside perspectives from people you respect can help improve your organization. Consultant Jason Womack urges you to pull out a small piece a paper, put your name in the centre, and draw a small circle around it. Then draw outward-bound lines from that circle, at least eight lines, all around the paper.

On each line write the name of someone you admire, look to for advice, is really smart, and you enjoy learning from. Then call each person, and ask if you can schedule some face-to-face time. After the initial small talk at that session, ask if it’s all right if you share a situation or problem you are facing that you could use some advice on. “In the listening, learning happens,” he observes in the Jason Womack Company newsletter.

4. The Best PowerPoint Slide

In a recent interview, PowerPoint expert Dave Paradi was asked, “What is the best PowerPoint slide you have ever seen?” After some thought, he gave a surprising answer: A black slide, where there was essentially nothing on the screen.

Use a black slide as you are delivering the key point you want people to remember at a sales pitch or other presentation, or telling an emotional story.

“Effective presenters use black slides to focus the audience on only one thing, the powerful message they are delivering. There is no visual to distract the audience or compete with the message. The spotlight is on you, not the visual support,” he notes in his PowerPoint Tips newsletter.

5. Zingers

  • Marketing consultant Roy H. Williams says that passion does not produce commitment; commitment produces passion. (Source: Monday Morning Memo)
  • Consultant Howard Guttman suggests staying close to new recruits by scheduling weekly feedback sessions to answer questions and address needs and concerns. (Source: Executive Excellence)
  • Since not everybody opens all the e-mail marketing messages you send to them, try adding an unobtrusive “Did You Miss?” notation at the bottom of your next message, with links to some recent offers. Marketer Mark Brownlow got a three per cent open rate with that gambit, which is a bunch of clicks he might not otherwise have sparked. (Source: Email Marketing reports)
  • Colorhat (http://colorhat.com) is a free online tool that helps you to track time on various projects and sub-projects, and issues a variety of statistical reports. (Source: Lifehacker.com)
  • Consultant Seth Godin is tired of presenters at conferences who fail to be effective because they needed two minutes more than they were given. The lesson is not to leave the most important part of a meeting or presentation to the end. Expect the amount of time you have is going to be the time you have been allotted — and then plan to use a little less. (Source: Seth’s Blog)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:
Supervising Subordinates

Question: How can I better control projects and help subordinates do the best job possible?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter replies:

The empowering part of me urges freedom; the controlling part of me urges supervision. The truth is that you need both, and the proportions will differ for each employee and by project.

When I was a newspaper editor, I would often have a reporter return from an event and excitedly talk about some aspect of what happened. I would agree that should be the main focus of the article, and on occasion be astounded a few hours later when the matter wasn’t even mentioned, let alone be emphasized, in the story. It was a reminder of how fascinating the human mind can be, and how quickly subordinates could lose or change focus.

At the same time, I can remember instances when reporters burrowed away on a project for weeks or even months, lost in the details, and how hard it was to help them because they were drowning in information. I had little idea of the totality of what they were grappling with, and a heavy-handed intervention at the wrong time could be unproductive.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure you start on the same page. Ask the employee, at the end of the meeting when you assign the project, to summarize the main points he or she is taking away. Depending on the size of the assignment, you may ask for a quick e-mail summary in the employee’s words, which you can return with amendments. If the employee isn’t asked for anything in writing, consider writing your own summary, for your own files and perhaps for the employee.
  • Mark on your calendar the deadline for the project. Also mark in any obvious check-in times, to ensure you follow up on how things are developing. You might also want to have a list of all the things due from subordinates — that could include simple e-mail queries as well as formal assignments.
  • Keep in touch. Try to open up conversation on how the employee is faring, in a casual way, at regular intervals. Those intervals, of course, will vary with the length and importance of the assignment, the trust you have in the employee, and the employee’s preferred level of supervision.
  • Close to the deadline, send a reminder of the due date. You might want to include the original notes on the assignment, with a comment on what changes have been agreed to since and a request to be briefed sooner rather than later on other changes you may not be aware of.
  • At about that point, if you haven’t already had an oral briefing, seek one. Keep it high level: What are the main points that will be in the final report or other product of the assignment? But if there are some minor issues you are worried may be overlooked, raise them. Also ask: Are there any surprises for me in the final report?
  • You probably do some of that now. But it’s important to remember that when you delegate something it generally doesn’t go away. It requires supervision, through a carefully defined — not haphazard — process.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:
Emotional Tone in Your Message

It was a small thing at a municipal public meeting last week: a citizen raised an awkward, faintly acusatory question that implied the City had been neglectful of process. What impressed us was the tone of the response. Tone is always important — some studies say the actual words amount to only 7 per cent of the message, with 38 per cent delivered by tone and 55 per cent through nonverbal cues.

A senior manager responded to the challenge — without defensiveness. And although the incident in question occurred before she became responsible for the portfolio, she didn’t take an easy way out by shifting blame to her predecessor. Her real message was delivered not in her words but in her tone — open and attentive, approachable but direct, reassuring but firm, reflecting a commitment to fair public process. She also looked the part, embodying the message. Her emotional tone and nonverbal message addressed the real issue of confidence in the City’s process, and the meeting smoothly went on.

Communications consultant Nick Morgan advises that, rather than ignoring emotion, executives should spend a few minutes feeling or “living” the emotion they want to convey before meeting or delivering a speech. For more, see Three Steps to Make Your Next Speech Your Best on Harvard Business Review Blogs: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/03/three_steps_to_make_your_next.html

8. Closing Thought                                                                 Top

“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

— Patrick Overton