November 10, 2013


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Nine Tough Questions Managers Constantly Ask

Consultant Art Petty believes it’s too easy to let ourselves off the hook for poor performance by teams and team members. He suggests on his blog that you regularly ask yourself these nine tough questions:

  • What’s happening outside the walls of our organization? Has anything occurred elsewhere that requires changing our strategy?
  • How is my team (and how am I) doing in serving our internal customers? You need to regularly review the feedback from internal customer groups.
  • Are we measuring the right stuff? Performance measures for your team must link to corporate strategic executives.
  • What am I accountable to my team for? What do you have to do better so they can succeed? What must you stop doing?
  • Am I keeping my team plugged in to the organization’s performance? Do you regularly update everyone on operating results?
  • What’s the feedback on my feedback? Are you providing timely feedback and is that feedback promoting better performance? Do you acknowledge and reward exceptional performance?
  • Do I have the right people in the right positions? Are you moving fast enough to get the right people in the right chairs — and the wrong people out of their chairs (and perhaps out of the organization)?
  • Am I paying attention to my people as humans, co-workers and professionals striving to grow in their careers? Do you help them achieve career goals while remembering they have families and lives beyond the workplace?
  • How would associates describe the working environment? What’s working — and what’s not?

2. E-mail Mistakes To Avoid

If your emails aren’t drawing the results you want —from co-workers, prospects, or partners— you might consider these tips from FastCompany writer Amber Rae on mistakes to avoid:

  • Sending emails only when you need something: The best time to build a relationship is before you need something. She points to a friend who sends five thoughtful emails each Sunday night to check in with people he likes.
  • Using the first person too much: Many emails are littered with the first person. Instead, shift the focus to the recipient. Before sending an email, she suggests reviewing how many times you find the word “I” — and then edit some out.
  • Sending the email at the wrong time: Just because you have written an email does not mean you need to send it immediately. “Delaying the send is one of the most powerful and underutilized tools of emailing. Evaluate whether or not the message is urgent and needs to be replied to immediately,” she writes.
    “Scheduling emails to be sent in 24 or 48 hours gives you (and your clients) space to breathe between non-urgent projects, and it also sets up a rhythm of communication whereby your client no longer expects you to reply instantaneously.”
  • Sending to too many people: Putting more recipients in the “To” field does not mean you’ll get more answers. She argues a perfect email is one sent to exactly the person it needs to go to, and with a desired outcome specified.

3. Don’t Lead People To A Dead End With A QR Code

If your organization is using or intends to try QR codes (Quick Response codes), marketing consultant Drew McLellan warns on Drew’s Marketing Minute that you must make sure it doesn’t lead someone to a dead end. After all, if someone takes the trouble to scan your QR code in a promotion message, they have some interest in what you have to say. “Don’t create a stunted, one-way conversation.  Give me a chance to continue the dialogue,” he writes, speaking for the responder.

So invite the individual to sign up for a newsletter, or give them the chance to win something worthwhile, or offer them a sample, or ask their opinion. Create a conversation instead of a dead-end communication.

4. Improving Your Networking

Whether it’s at a dinner party or a conference, networking calls upon you to reach beyond yourself to others. Business advisor David Morin says on the Dumb Little Man Blog one way to be successful in such social situations is to be interested, not interesting. Rather than waxing eloquent about yourself —talking about your latest promotion, fabulous new organizational offering, or wonderful vacation— it’s more effective to take a genuine interest in the other people you meet.

He also recommend being positive — but not too positive. Nobody, after all, likes to be around a cynic. At the same time, you shouldn’t spread false rays of sunshine. Just be clear-eyed and honest — and thus, trustworthy.

5. Zingers

  • Go find the action:  Nothing important happens in your office, says consultant Wally Bock. Go and wander. (Source: Three Star Leadership Blog)
  • The cost of missed calls:  Business consultant David Cooper recently called one of his favourite restaurants and the phone rang 11 times without being answered by a human or machine. So he instead went to a restaurant he had wanted to try, the meal was excellent, and he’ll return again, putting the original place out $320 and counting. He warns that people expect you to answer their calls within three rings, or they may head elsewhere. (Source: The Donald Cooper Corporation Newsletter)
  • Prepare to finish early:  Early is better than late, says leadership development consultant Tim Milburn. Early to end a meeting, early to finish a talk, early to pay off a debt, early to complete a project. And the path to early is paved with preparation, he believes. (Source: TimMilburn.com)
  • Assess to-do lists on payoff vs. effort:  Inc.com columnist Geoffrey James suggests developing priorities among the items on your to-do list by rating each by the amount of effort required (1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest effort) and expected results (again 1 to 10, with 10 the highest impact). Now divide the potential results by the effort required and use the score to determine your priorities. (Source: Inc.com)
  • Empathy first:  When someone corners you and starts whining, consultant Jennifer Miller says you should start by displaying empathy: “I can hear that you’re frustrated about X.” Then set boundaries: “Before we go any further, I have a question: Are you looking to vent, or do you want me to take some sort of action?” If they indicate they want to vent, respond: “I’ll be glad to listen for a few minutes.” (Source: The People Equation Newsletter)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:  Is Bigger Better or Small Beautiful?

Question:  When structuring an organization, is small better than big?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter replies:

You rarely hear anyone talking optimistically about shrinking their organization, except under budget duress. Everyone wants to build — and by build, they mean bulk up. So we are driven, almost in our DNA, to make things bigger.

But ever since British economist E. F. Schumacher’s 1973 collection of essays Small Is Beautiful, there has been a romanticized vision around small and an increasing number of practical arguments. Yes, big offers scale and economic benefits that can flow from that. Big offers power. But small offers flexibility, a sense of connectivity and cohesion.

So we break down organizations into units, and some organizations even have experimented with putting limits on size, like 200, at which point they subdivide a mushrooming department or factory into two. Others say that if you don’t know everyone by a first name, it’s time to subdivide. We break big problems down into smaller ones, if we can. We try to limit the number of people at meetings, for effectiveness. To-do gurus urge us to break projects into small, actionable items. Books are broken down into chapters, reports into sections.

Small requires smarts in a competitive environment. It seems to saddle you with a disadvantage: The small, local firm competing with the Wal-Mart behemoth, the small non-profit up against the big national fundraising machines, the small municipality trying to fight Toronto for tourism or talent. But there are an abundance of examples around us of thriving local businesses, small non-profits, and small municipalities. Like the tortoise and the hare, David and Goliath, they can win.

Probably the issue is not small vs. big, as if one of them wins out over the other every time. For every specific challenge in front of us, there is probably a distinctive best choice. Figure out which that is, rather than instinctively choosing to be big (or small).

7. News From Our Water Cooler:  Using “Soft Votes” for Planning

When taking a team through a planning process, there will be times when you want to check in with them to sample opinion on an issue or gauge consensus in support of a proposal. You need something structured, but not as formal as a hard final “vote” — that would be premature.  We’ve found two approaches to be both popular and effective:

Consensus Voting:

Larry Dressler outlines a great approach in his excellent and succinct book Consensus through Conversation — How to Achieve High-Commitment Decisions.  Each participant is provided with one red card, yellow card and green card. After a proposal has been presented to the group, participants hold up one of their cards to signal:

—     Green: I support the proposal as the best decision we can arrive at for our organization and its stakeholders at this time.

—     Yellow:  I could support it, but have some questions/concerns I need addressed.

—     Red: I don’t support the proposal as it doesn’t serve the best interests of the organization at this time.

This approach allows you to “take the temperature” of the group, moving on quickly when there’s high agreement or taking time when you need it to explore different concerns or conflicting arguments. After hearing concerns, it’s not unusual to see a group revise the proposal, take another vote and see green consensus cards all around.

Interactive Technologies:

We have long recommended having participants provide feedback in advance of a planning session, using online tools like SurveyMonkey. The method encourages better prep, and feeding the results back to the group in advance will give participants a better sense of where everyone stands going into the discussion.

Increasingly our clients like to use interactive “clicker” technology in their planning sessions, which allows participants to vote anonymously on various proposals, assumptions, issues, options or potential priorities brought forward.

We happen to use tools from Turning Technologies to present questions and options in PowerPoint format. Participants then use their “clickers” to vote (similar to small RF-frequency radio remote controls), with results being calculated and displayed instantly. The group can then review the results, explain concerns and explore reasoning behind various choices.

As with consensus cards, you can move forward quickly when all agree, or take time as and when needed to explore divergent positions and complex issues. It’s a great technique to cover a lot of material in a limited amount of time. Plus it’s fun.

8020Info helps teams develop and implement their strategic plans, stakeholder consultations and marketing communications and 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

“Victory is won not in miles but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later, win a little more.”

— Louis L’Amour