Vol. 12 No. 5 – March 26, 2012

March 25, 2012


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Six WaysTo Get Better Feedback

Feedback helps us grow and develop. To attract feedback, consultant Kevin Eikenberry suggests the following six behaviours on Hodu.com

  • Ask for it: Don’t assume you’ll automatically receive feedback. Often you must ask. And it pays to ask ahead of time — before you start working with someone on a project — so they can observe you more carefully and offer thoughtful advice.
  • Value it: When you give someone feedback and they seem to reject it, you’ll be less likely to offer any more in future. So keep that in mind when you receive feedback, thanking the individual for their help.
  • Listen to it: Receiving the feedback isn’t enough; you must hear it! “Listen with your ears to what is being said, so you hear the words. But listen too with your eyes and your heart,” he writes.
  • Be open to it: It’s easy to be open to feedback when you agree with it or have already thought about the ideas being shared. But it’s also important to be open to feedback that comes as a surprise or makes you feel uncomfortable.
  • Depersonalize it: When you take feedback personally, you get defensive, and the other person will sense the hostility and be less likely to offer feedback in future. Try to decouple the feedback from you as a person and treat it as a comment on something else — your behaviour.
  • Use it: You may not act on every bit of feedback you receive, but if you never act on any, don’t count on receiving much.


2. Proof Points, Counter Points, And Signature Points

In customer service, it’s important you understand the role that proof points, counter points, and signature points play in determining how your brand is perceived and understood. On ChangeThis, customer experience consultant Michael Kanazawa explains:

  • Proof Points: These are operational elements that speak to customer expectations of the experience associated with the organization or brand. Starbucks has wide appeal as a place to take a break from a busy day, not just an outlet to purchase a cup of coffee. Proof points are the warm colours in the store, the relaxing music, and the treats to supplement your coffee as if it was home.
  • Counter Points: These are the operational elements that contradict the positive expectations the customer has about your organization or brand. United Airlines had a slogan about “Flying The Friendly Skies” at a time when its customer service was amongst the worst in its industry. If you can’t eliminate counter points, switch the branding thrust: United might have been affected less if its slogan had emphasized what it actually delivered — that the airline flew to more cities than its competitors.
  • Signature Points: These are the elements that are highly unique expressions of the organization or brand and are delivered operationally with very high consistency, authenticity and sincerity by employees. “Signature Points are the types of things that people are compelled to buzz about with others,” he says. It’s the warm chocolate cookies you receive unexpectedly at a hotel or the recommendations from Amazon when you make a selection.  


3. Beware Of The “Too Short” Meeting

Consultant and board member Nilofer Merchant isn’t a fan of meetings, but she warns that in the haste to reduce our time in meetings, we must beware of the too-short meeting. It’s a meeting where we fail to actually deal with the issue at hand, either inadvertently or intentionally. It’s the meeting where the organization faces a critical and complicated strategy issue, but allocates only two hours for the board to discuss it rather than the full day needed.

“Too often, we spend our time in the mindless, the routine, and the problems of yesterday … perfecting things that don’t even need to be perfected. But we don’t spend the time rolling up our sleeves on the thing that needs to be addressed. Don’t bring people together if you’re not going to use them well. And stop avoiding the real issues,” she writes on her blog.


4. Test With Three Strategy Questions

For top performance, consultant Art Petty suggests on his blog that you regularly ask your team three key strategy questions to test, rather than automatically assume, that an initiative will benefit the organization:

  • How does the initiative we’re considering help us to grow or create power — new customers, for example, or new revenues from existing customers?
  • How meaningfully different is this initiative to our clients?
  • How defensible is our approach versus our most dangerous competitors?  “Too many ‘me too’ and easily replicated initiatives is a formula for stagnation or decline. If you cannot pass this critical acid-test question, something is wrong,” he stresses.


5. Zingers

  • Productivity expert Jason Womack suggests stopping halfway through the designated time for a meeting and reminding people of what you intended for the session. (Source: The Womack Report)
  • If you’re bringing in some interns this summer, here are 10 ways to make the best of them: Explain what the organization does. Ask them what they want to get out of it. Set clear tasks and responsibilities. Make them feel a part of the team. Give regular feedback… and ask for some in return. Listen to their ideas. Make sure they feel valued. At the end, thank them for their hard work. If they’ve earned it, give them a good reference. (Source: Management Today)
  • If you want to improve your Twitter clickthroughs, social media researcher Dan Zarella recommends writing longer tweets — between 120 characters and 130 characters, since context seems to help — and placing the link about a quarter of the way through the message. (Source: GetElastic Blog)
  • Consultant Jon Gordon urges you to keep pushing your people to be their best. Your team needs your toughness to grow. (Source: Jon Gordon’s Blog)
  • Research shows that, when interacting with an organization, people remember the peak of the experience (be it good or bad) and the last part of the experience. Entrepreneur Seth Godin says the easiest way to amplify customer satisfaction, therefore, is to underpromise, increase the positive peak, and make sure it happens near the end of the experience you provide. (Source: Seth’s Blog)


Q&A with 8020Info:  Overcoming The Plan-Do Gap

Question:  We now have a plan, but how can we bridge the gap between planning and doing that seems so common?

8020Info Senior Associate Consultant Karen Humphreys Blake responds:

This is indeed a common challenge. Once a workplace grows beyond a small number of individuals, leaders have to count on employees to get things done.  Many successful organizations have found the answer lies in making a strategic commitment to truly engage their employees in the work of the organization.

These efforts can have a very positive impact on the bottom line. Studies over the last few years have found a high return on investment when companies adopt strategy-driven employee engagement programs:

  • Create a workplace where employees can build a personal and emotional relationship to the employer brand.  Creating an engaging environment for employees involves mutual trust, authentic communication, respect, shared values, and a commitment to growing together say the authors of The 2020Workplace by Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd.
  • Share your organization’s vision, mission and values with employees when they first start working with you and make opportunities to continue to reinforce these important foundational messages regularly, both verbally and in writing.
  • Talk openly about the business context. Educate your employees about the business or organizational environment and regularly share information about your plans as well as your financial and other performance metrics.
  • Ask for, listen to and act upon suggestions employees make about how to improve organizational performance.  There are many ways to do this: invite small groups of employees to meet with the president several times a year; encourage managers to regularly solicit suggestions from staff members; and put in place suggestion systems that reward employees on the spot or when a more formal written suggestion can be shown to increase sales or efficiency.
  • Find ways to recognize and reward good employee performance. Find ways to show employees how their individual performance links to corporate performance. This can be done on an individual basis through regular manager-employee meetings and performance reviews. It can also be achieved by sharing stories with all employees regarding how actions by individual employees have made a difference.


7. News From Our Water Cooler:  Facilitation Made Easy

There’s no doubt that a skilled facilitator can help a group perform at a higher level, but great outcomes from a group discussion also depend on the participants. Last week we had occasion to see this in action with about 14 board members and senior staff interacting in a planning session to develop priorities for a four-year workplan.

All participants contributed ideas, concerns, analysis, insights and different points of view, but three of them particularly helped the person at the front of the room trying to manage process:

  • One participant showed by example that she had come prepared – her homework done, notes ready – and presented her points with an enthusiastic sense of fun, which did much for the tone of the discussion.
  • Another waited for the right moment to name the “elephant in the room” – a delicate situation that no one really wanted to deal with. That helped clear a log jam.
  • One was willing to respectfully disagree with prevailing thought in the group, ensuring that a natural tendency to “be nice” didn’t trump a considered look at both sides of an issue.

We always appreciate compliments on our facilitation technique, but are mindful that it takes the whole room to help a group do its best thinking together. The contributions of those three participants were very much part of the “facilitation”.


8. Closing Thought

“Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment.”
— Rita Mae Brown