Vol.13 No.1 January-21-2013

January 20, 2013


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information
for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

News From Our Water Cooler: Celebrating Our 200th Issue

This marks our 200th issue. The first Water Cooler, a somewhat daring venture at the time for a young consulting company, slipped into email boxes on April 30, 2001, and since then, every three weeks or so, we have passed along new ideas with a practical bent as they have come our way. In total, it amounts to about 400,000 words, roughly four to five books, delivered in manageable chunks to our readers. 

We invite you to join us in looking back at some notable articles from the past — a sampling from items that drew active comment from readers or clients who found them helpful. We limited ourselves to five, covering different aspects of management. And as a special treat, we went through the Closing Thought quotations that are a hallmark at the end of each edition, and selected 10 as Zingers for this anniversary issue.


(Past issues are available at: https://8020info.com/newsletters-blog/)

1. Five Questions To Build Strategy

People make strategy much harder than it needs to be, Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management argues. On Harvard Business Review blogs (and in Playing To Win, his book with former Procter & Gamble CEO A. G. Lafley, to be released in February, 2013) he advises that strategy is really about answering five questions:

  • Goals:  What are our broad aspirations for our organization and the concrete goals against which we can measure our progress?
  • Competitive Focus:  Across the potential field available to us, where will we choose to play and not play?
  • How to Win:  In our chosen place to play, how will we choose to win against the competitors there?
  • Capabilities:  What capabilities must be built and maintained to win in our chosen manner?
  • Systems:  What management systems are necessary to build, operate and maintain these key capabilities?

The questions are simple conceptually, although obviously not simple to answer. They are also interrelated. The trick, he says, is to come up with answers that are consistent with one another and mutually reinforcing.

Another trick is to avoid getting hung up on which question to answer first. Most companies start at the top with some kind of mission or vision discussion that he says “drives participants around the bend. The reason it drives them crazy is that it is extremely difficult to create a meaningful aspiration/mission/vision in the absence of some idea of Where to Play and How to Win.”

Instead, he suggests an iterative approach, thinking a little about the various questions in turn, so your answers become harmonious and your strategy avoids being internally inconsistent.

[From Water Cooler #169 – April 4, 2011]

2. Preparing For Difficult Conversations

There is a tendency to want to avoid or, at least, procrastinate over difficult conversations with others. Sometimes that means when the conversation occurs you are unprepared. Consultant Cheri Baker, on her Emergence Consulting blog, recommends the following checklist to prepare properly:

  • Write down why you are worried about the conversation. Is it not wanting to seem foolish, or concern your reputation is on the line? Be clear about your worries.
  • Write down what you want to achieve in the conversation, and what you think the other person wants to achieve.
  • Write down what you are worried they might say or do.
  • For each of those scenarios, write down what you will do. If you’re worried the other person might cry, for example, you might respond: “I am sorry that this upsets you, but it’s important we move forward.”
  • Talk through your plan with someone else, to gauge if your worries are reasonable and responses realistic and fair.
  • Say your planned responses aloud a few times, so the phrases become anchored in you and will come out properly under pressure.
  • Just prior to the conversation, re-read your goal to keep it fresh in your mind.

“Enter the conversation with your goal in mind, and with a commitment to listen.  Know that if your ‘worries’ come true, you’ve prepared some phrases and responses to get you through the tough moments.  Instead of focusing on those phrases, focus on listening to the other person,” she concludes.

[From Water Cooler #191 – July 9, 2012]

3. The One Marketing Number You Need To Grow

Is there one survey question you can ask customers that can serve as a useful predictor of growth?

Frederick Reichheld, the Bain & Co. specialist on loyalty, set out to answer that question and after two years of research — linking survey responses by customers to their actual purchases — he found the answer. It was somewhat surprising, since he had assumed the question would talk about satisfaction or loyalty.

Instead, he reports in the Harvard Business Review, the question is about customers’ willingness to offer a referral: “How likely is it that you would recommend [Company X] to a friend or colleague?”

In most industries, the percentage of customers who were enthusiastic enough to refer a friend or colleague correlated directly with differences in growth among competitors.  

If you use the question, allow respondents a 10-point scale in which 10 means “extremely likely” to recommend, 5 means neutral, and 0 means “not at all likely.” That segments your customer base into three logical clusters that can be used in your marketing. At the top are “promoters,” with a 9 or 10, who tend to have the highest rates of repurchase and referral. The “passively satisfied” log a 7 or 8 and detractors score from 0 to 6.

Reichheld warns to pay attention to your detractors as well as your promoters, developing a “Net Promoter Score” by subtracting the percentage of detractors from promoters. At AOL, for example, that was –10, which explains the company’s struggles.

[From Water Cooler #47 – January 12, 2004]

4. Recruiting By Work Type

To improve your success in recruiting, consultant Lou Adler suggests in Inc. magazine that you divide the work that has to be done into four types and look for candidates who fit that profile:

  • Technical — work that involves details, analysis, or implementing technical or administrative processes.
  • Managerial — managing and organizing teams to upgrade and improve existing processes.
  • Entrepreneurial — work that involves a fast-paced, challenging environment, where quick decisions have to be made without all the facts, as in sales.
  • Visionary — work that requires creative or strategic thinkers.

Adler advocates preparing job descriptions by focusing on which of those four characteristics people need to be successful, with less reliance on the specific skills, experience and academics that seem to go with the job. We’d add a fifth dimension: Service — people who innately like working with other people and helping internal and external customers. “The whole purpose of this work-type matching is to prevent hiring the right person for the wrong job,” he says.

[From Water Cooler #16 – March 11, 2002]

5.  Good To Great And Social Agencies

In Good To Great And The Social Sectors, a self-published monograph that got little attention in December 2005, best-selling author Jim Collins applied some of his principles on success to social agencies:

  • Defining Great: You need to define success in terms of your mission and determine how to measure it, such as number of ovations for an orchestra. “What matters is not finding the perfect indicator but settling upon a consistent and intelligent method of assessing your output results, and then tracking your trajectory with rigour,” he says.
  • Leadership: To get things done within a diffuse power structure, leaders need to rely on persuasion, political currency, and shared interests — the skills of legislators. Those are skills top business leaders will also increasingly need.
  • Getting The Right People On The Bus:  In social services, where it is harder than business to get rid of poor performers, it is vital to make the right hiring decision and that comes most effectively by working with the person beforehand.
  • The Hedgehog Concept: Consider what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be best in the world at, and what drives your resource engine — your ability to get funds. Then try to operate in a way that fulfills all three elements, so they are reinforcing each other. Avoid straying from the intersection of those three strengths.
  • Building Momentum: Don’t expect to achieve success through one flamboyant program. Build momentum by slowly and steadily building your brand reputation so supporters believe not only in your mission but also your ability to accomplish it.

“Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline,” he concludes.

[From Water Cooler #81 – January 9, 2006]

6. Zingers: Some Favourite Closing Thoughts 

  • “One of life’s great tragedies is the murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts.”  — Benjamin Franklin
  • “A good scare is worth more to a man than advice.”  — Edgar Watson Howe
  • “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  — Michael Jordan
  • “We are not retreating — we are advancing in another direction.”  — General Douglas MacArthur
  • “The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind but how to get the old ones out.”  — Dee Hock, founder of VISA International
  • “Leadership is plural.”  — Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University men’s basketball coach
  • “Always design a thing by considering it in its next-larger context — a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”  — Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950), architect and furniture designer
  • “Ain’t no use hurryin’ if you’re on the wrong road.”  — Satchel Paige, ageless baseball pitcher
  •  “I have always wished that my computer would be as easy to use as my telephone. My wish has come true. I no longer know how to use my telephone.”  — Bjarne Stroustrup, designer of C++ computer programming  language
  • “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”  — W. Edwards Deming

7. Q&A with 8020Info:  Changing Habits (2)

We face a tough challenge in the coming year — changing our culture, and replacing old organizational routines with new, better habits. Any tips?

8020Info President and CEO Rob Wood replies:

In the last issue of the Water Cooler, we looked at culture change using a lens from the psychology of habits and corporate routines, referencing Charles Duhigg’s helpful book, The Power of Habit. We saw that a habit loop has three key parts: a cue, the routine and the payoff; the middle part (routine) is usually the easiest to change.

In 2010, best-selling authors Chip and Dan Heath published Switch – How to Change Things When Change is Hard, which offers these key pointers:

Provide the logical mind with clear direction and reasoning:

  • Find and learn from any past “bright spot” examples — even if successes were few, they suggest reasons to be confident change is possible.
  • Script the critical moves — make key steps clear and new routines easy to start.
  • Point to the “destination postcard”, keeping the desired end state in sharp focus.

Engage the emotional side and build motivation:

  • Find the feeling — vividly touch the emotion that inspires and motivates action.
  • Shrink the change — focus on smaller next steps to bridge the gap to new habits.
  • Grow your people — cultivate a growth mindset/identity that supports change.

Shape the path with a supportive environment:

  • Tweak the environment — rearrange furniture, tools, processes and priorities.
  • Build habits — use checklists and “action triggers” to specify the when and where.
  • Rally the herd — create new language and change social norms/peer perceptions.
  • Keep the switch going — provide reinforcement at each step of the transformation.

We have a few routines of our own to improve in 2013, so we’ll be taking advantage of these tips as well  … let’s compare notes in a year!

[From Water Cooler #200 – January 21, 2013]

8. Closing Thought 

“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.”

Dale Carnegie