September 9, 2013


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. The Solo Retreat

When Bill Gates was running Microsoft, he was famous for his solo retreats, heading off alone to his cottage with some food and reading, and pondering his company’s direction. Consultant Cheri Baker, from her own solo retreat, asks when was the last time you spent several days alone to ponder your life’s work?

“In a world where it’s hard to get time off for a vacation, the idea of a work retreat may sound silly.  A solo retreat isn’t a vacation, however.  It’s an opportunity to create significant personal growth in a short period of time,” she writes on her blog.

She offers some tips:

  • Don’t try it in your office or your study at home. Get away, both literally and figuratively.
  • Make sure you are alone, not bringing the family along. She’s an extrovert, and so being alone goes against the grain. But she finds the sessions fulfilling.
  • The environment should be peaceful rather than stimulating. “Natural environments can be an excellent choice, although some business owners I know like to lock themselves in a hotel room. Personally, I like trees,” she writes. Bring your favourite tea, and make sure you have a cozy chair and your favourite music to ensure comfort.
  • Move slowly. Breathe. Take time to slowly make tea. Listen to the wind. “A retreat invites slowness,” she advises. “Speed does not equal productivity.”
  • Bring an agenda with you – some big questions you want to ponder.

2. Dealing With The Loss Of A Protégé

It can be a staggering blow when a protégé you’ve invested considerable energy on tells you they are leaving. But management consultant Art Petty says on his blog you should be proud — and get over it: “Part of growing up as a leader involves letting the people you’ve supported and coached, sometimes from day one of their careers, move on to new opportunities inside and outside the organization.

“While it’s always tough to lose a talented team member, this is in large part why you do what you do. Rather than dwelling on the departure of the valued team member, focus on the many positives surrounding this issue.”

He suggests keeping it in context:

  • Remember the departure is not about you. It may feel like that, but the individual is moving towards something that offers growth and success.
  • Take pride in having nurtured a great professional.
  • If the move is internal, recognize that you have gained some added influence. You maintain a strong bond with this person now in a new unit.
  • If the move is external, it can lead to new opportunities, through the introductions the protégé will offer down the road.

“The parallels between parenting and leading are many, and much like parenting, there comes a point when your job is done and it’s time to step back and let someone go. Well done,” he concludes.

3. Be Classy When People Opt Out

It’s lovely when people subscribe to an email newsletter or some other offer from your organization. But if they decide to opt out, email marketer Janine Popick recommends on Inc.com that you:

  • Make sure the email address provided for unsubscribing actually works.
  • Make sure the process is quick. They shouldn’t have to go through several questions and pages to get off your list.
  • Don’t send them a note telling them their request to unsubscribe has been received and will be processed. Do it immediately.
  • Don’t ignore the unsubscribe request, or write back to ask if they’re sure. Don’t send an email to tell them you have unsubscribed them; they know.
  • Don’t redirect them to your web site’s home page to try to get them to shop or reconnect. Redirect them to a “you’ve been unsubscribed” confirmation page.

4. Don’t Make Your Employee Survey A Waste Of Time

Employee surveys are a waste of time —and a generator of cynicism— when organizations ignore comments given by staff.

“If you ask people for their input, it is vital that you recognize their contribution. You may not be able to accommodate all the suggestions you receive, but if you don’t acknowledge the responses and be transparent about why you’re doing what you’re doing, you might as well kiss your leadership credibility goodbye,” consultant David Dye writes on the Lead Change Blog.

Make your survey short and concise, taking no more than 10 to 15 minutes to fill out. Outline when people can expect a response, and keep to that deadline. When you can’t take action, explain why.

5. Zingers

  • The way of rules:  Remember that your way isn’t the only way, advises consultant Terry Starbucker. Also: If you are going to make rules for all, apply them to all. And if you want your staff to remember something, you will have to say it 15 times. (Source: TerryStarbucker.com)
  • Format your schedule: Financier and Harvard Business School Lecturer Bob Pozen says productive mornings begin at night. Write your schedule on a two-column format: On the left put your appointments and phone calls, and in the right column, the purpose – what you are trying to get out of it. (Source: New York Post)
  • Don’t stumble at the fork:  The fork in the road offers only two difficulties, says entrepreneur Seth Godin: Seeing it, and taking it. Most organizations that stumble fail to do either. (Source: Seth’s Blog)
  • Be productive in the gaps:  When productivity guru David Allen isn’t doing anything else, he’s cleaning up. He’s getting his inbox to zero or getting his desk in order – as well as capturing, clarifying and organizing stuff that is pulling on his attention. (Source: Productive Living enewsletter)
  • Not so fast:  Slow down. Take time to coach. (Source: GreatLeadership Blog)

6. Q&A with 8020Info: Strategy Development Processes

Question:  Do you have any basic tips on how we should design our approach to strategy development?

8020Info CEO and President Rob Wood replies:

Making strategy is different from planning standard operational work: It should focus on those meaningful changes of direction and significant goals that require special attention, effort, expertise or resources beyond your on-going business concerns. Here are five considerations that we commonly review with clients as they design their strategic planning projects:

Focus on choices:

Traditional planning processes often spend too much time on detailed mapping of the organization’s known operational and strategic landscape — the traditional SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) exercise.  In practice, much of that information is never really used in developing strategy.

You will likely find it far more efficient to start with the organization’s impending “forks in the road”, fundamental choices that must be confronted or the top few priorities that must be chosen. Then explore them, working out from these core questions with focused analysis, generation of potential solutions and development of specific strategies.

Focus on the pivotal, not just the important.

Some planning processes get bogged down in areas that are important, but where the organization is already doing the best it can.  Instead, look for opportunities where a new strategic focus could have the biggest impact and advance your position the most.

Your core services are important, for example, but you may already be delivering them with superior performance, leaving little room for significant improvement. A pivotal strategy, in this case, might involve sharpening a long-neglected marketing, communication and promotions unit.

Identifying a pivotal strategy also requires that you understand external dynamics: What are your key success factors and the one or two pivotal drivers in your operational environment that will determine strategic outcomes?

Collect input in advance to get a fast start.

The best single bit of advice we can offer on process design is to collect input on key strategic questions in advance of a planning session, perhaps using an online input tool or email. Compile the input and provide it to participants a couple days before your planning session.

This approach encourages participants to think about key issues before they get in the room. They will start with a sense of where everyone stands on the issues as a group, and you won’t waste your precious time together merely sharing information when you could launch directly into a productive discussion.

Many of our clients like to gather advance input not only from participants, but also from other stakeholders — such as front-line staff, customers/clients, organizational partners, former and future board members, and subject matter experts.

Incorporate methods to build consensus.

There are many techniques you can use to help build consensus in the course of developing strategy — consensus you will need when the time comes to put your plans into action. We’ve had good success, for example, with “consensus voting cards”, planning assumption exercises, and pro-con discussions. Voting with dots is a win-lose approach that can divide a group as easily as it clarifies consensus.

Consider change management before signing off on strategies.

Putting a strategy into action will almost always involve managing transitions and changing organizational habits, so take time to consider those implications as you develop your plans. Will you be able to create a sense of urgency for change and manage the training/education elements, communications, negotiations, transition blockers and cultural retooling needed to bring your strategies to full success?

Team concerns about managing change may be the unspoken fear in the room —don’t make a strategic gaff because you failed to get these anxieties on the table. Often these issues will influence or even change your strategic direction, so it helps to build a step in your process where you can look at the change implications.

7. News From Our Water Cooler: Using an Independent Facilitator

We often hear from organizations interested in engaging an outside third-party facilitator to help make their planning discussions more effective. There are both pros and cons to that approach.

The most frequently mentioned need is for someone who can guide interactions in an independent, neutral and fair-minded manner — especially when issues are sensitive or factions in the group are butting heads.

Outside facilitation should also support better collaboration, allowing managers to work with staff members (or board members with senior management) rather than setting up a “we-they” dynamic in the structure of the process. Similarly, third-party facilitation allows leaders to be full participants in the planning discussion rather than being restricted to the role of managing the process.

A good third-party facilitator should also bring some added value to your planning activities by virtue of his or her outside perspective and “fresh eyes”, hearing ideas advanced by participants without an insider’s filter or “baggage” from the organization’s past. At the same time, they may be able to suggest useful alternatives and approaches from other groups that have faced similar issues or circumstances.

The benefits of engaging an outside facilitator must be balanced with the cons of additional cost and the limitations of a discussion facilitated by someone who lacks deep knowledge of your organization — you may be better served by someone in-house, perhaps a colleague not on your planning team, who has an expert grasp of the more technical aspects to be discussed and/or the nuances of your group’s dynamics.

8020Info helps teams develop and implement their strategic plans, 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

“Have no fear of perfection — you’ll never reach it.”

— Salvador Dalí