December 1, 2013


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Four Communications Tips That Came With Time

Katya Andresen, the incoming CEO at a collaborative online classroom provider, ePals, has been working for more than 20 years. She sometimes wishes she could go back to her younger self and share some of her hard-won wisdom about how to communicate effectively.

“How convenient it would be to whisper in my young ear the knowledge that would save a lot of mistakes, angst and frustration,” she notes in a blog post on LinkedIn.

Here’s what she wishes she had known:

  • Making a case: It’s not about me; it’s about them. When a message under-performs, a product falters, or a partnership staggers, inevitably it’s because the work being done does not resonate with the audience’s priorities, values and perspective.
  • Persuasion: Feelings first, facts later. You must awaken the heart to arouse the mind. And although at times you may want to avoid that simple prescription, she warns there are no exceptions. “We have to move people emotionally before they will take in information — or act,” she writes.
  • The message: The messenger matters. You can have a stellar message, but with the wrong messenger it will fail. And with faith in traditional spokespersons and marketers at low ebb, people are increasingly turning to friends, family, independent authorities and peers for recommendations.
  • Perspective: Be generous when you’re hungry. When you are focused solely on extracting something from others instead of what you give them, you will wind up in trouble.

2. What Amazing Leaders Do

Robin Sharma coaches leaders, and over the years has distilled what he has learned into a series of practices that top leaders follow. In his blog, he says they include:

  • The job of a leader is to grow more leaders: He warns bluntly: “If you’re not building more leaders, then you’re not leading, you’re following.” Your job is to help people do work they never dreamed they could accomplish. Inspire them to use their talents to the fullest.
  • Nothing happens until you move: You need to start small and dream big – but above all, you must start today. “Nothing happens until you take massive action. The sad reality is that procrastination is nothing more than the defence mechanism of choice used by scared people,” he writes.
  • Your behaviour reveals your beliefs: You tell the world what you believe not with your words, but by how you behave. If you present work that has typos, you indicate that being sloppy is fine. Mistreat others, and you demonstrate you’re selfish.
  • Respect is not granted but earned: If you have a title or a large office, there’s no guarantee people will respect you. You have to earn that respect. And, counterintuitively, the quickest way to earn respect is to give it.
  • Victims don’t achieve great things: Victims make excuses while leaders achieve great things. Victims complain — they are negative and cynical. Instead, you want every day to be open to possibilities — to be making things better.

3. Finding Isolation

We crave – and need – time on our own, in which we can focus intently. Knowledge workers need to interact with others, but they also need some periods of complete isolation to be effective. Information Overload specialist Nathan Zeldes, on his blog, recommends:

  • Work from home part of the time — a day here or a day there. If necessary, call in sick before a major report is due.
  • Leave the office for a week or so to concentrate on big issues, as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was known to do.
  • Implement a Quiet Time arrangement in which your team recognizes certain periods, usually in half day chunks, as interruption-free.
  • Take advantage of travel, when you might find some isolation time in a hotel room. “For those whose routine includes many business trips, this actually has an impact (at least for me it had — my best ideas came to me during such trips),” he says.

4. Avoid Tattoo Thinking

Tattoos essentially are forever. So you should think carefully before you get one, because it’s pretty much an irreversible decision.

But entrepreneur Seth Godin says most of the choices you make at work don’t last forever. And the benefits of taking a risk will be higher than with a tattoo. Whether it’s experimenting with a web page or changing your pricing, the impact will be short term, not a lifetime.

“So go ahead and act as if your decisions are temporary. Because they are. Be bold, make mistakes, learn a lesson and fix what doesn’t work. No sweat, no need to hyperventilate,” he writes on Seth’s Blog.

5. Zingers

  • Gentle straight-talk:  We’re told that “brutal honesty” is a good thing. But consultant Wally Bock counters that “gentle honesty” is better. When you are brutally honest in giving feedback, staff members will stop listening, the brutal part overwhelming the honest message. Gentle honesty goes further.
    (Source: Three Star Leadership Blog)
  • Wooing recruits:  Don’t assume the candidate you have chosen for a job will accept. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison tries to spend time presenting the offer personally, when possible at a dinner outing with the candidate and spouse, since that demonstrates the genuine importance he places on the candidate’s future.
    (Source: ChiefExecutive.net)
  • Stop-work deadlines: If you’re often late for meetings and events, writer Drake Baer recommends setting a “stop working” time, geared to the fact it will require a few moments to unplug from your task at hand. In that vein, avoid getting sucked into highly absorbing work 15 minutes before the meeting, sticking instead with shallow tasks like answering email. And expect things to go wrong —traffic to be messed up, for example— when you plot your schedule.
    (Source: FastCompany.com)
  • Emotions driving viral:  Digital advertising executives Kelsey Libert and Kristin Tynski say the emotions that are common in viral content are curiosity, amazement, interest, astonishment, and uncertainty. Admiration was also unexpectedly found in highly shared content.
    (Source: Harvard Business Review Blogs)
  • This won’t take long:  If you’re starting a conversation with a stranger —somebody sitting beside you on a plane or at a Starbucks, for example— begin with an implied time constraint you face that indicates this won’t be a long conversation. That allows the person to relax and sets a better mood. For example, you might begin: “I don’t want to be trapped in a conversation for the entire flight…”  (Source: Shepa Learning Company Positive Networking Tip)

6. Q&A with 8020Info: Protecting a reputation when crisis strikes

Question:  We’re doing risk assessments and crisis planning for our organization. What should we keep in mind about communications to protect our reputation?

Senior 8020Info Associate Karen Humphreys Blake replies:

It’s important to develop a plan for how you will handle communications in a crisis — before you’re in the midst of one. Organizational crises come in many forms. They can result from natural disasters such as an ice storm, a malicious act such as arson, a technological problem such as a computer system failure, or even misconduct on the part of an employee. How well you communicate during such a crisis can make or break your reputation.

Here are some pointers:

  • If crisis strikes, be proactive and get the information out ahead of the news media and other communications channels. This gives you a greater ability to present or ‘frame’ the information the way you want. (For a good example, see this vignette about how Jack Layton got “out in front” of a campaign crisis:  http://www2.macleans.ca/2013/11/16/from-jovial-to-brutal/).
  • Be honest, frank, open and authentic.  A good example is the down-home style and actions demonstrated by Michael McCain, President of Maple Leaf Foods, during the company’s listeriosis crisis a few years ago.
  • Communicate early, often and regularly.
  • Anticipate all the bad news and get it all out at once if you can.
  • Be quick to demonstrate empathy – both in words and actions – with regard to anyone affected.
  • Welcome and accommodate the news media and be sure to use a single media spokesperson.
  • Consider setting up and using Twitter and Facebook accounts as these can become great ways to communicate information quickly during a crisis.
  • During the crisis, listen to your audiences. Be sure to address their questions and needs.
  • Evaluate the importance of each of your stakeholder groups and target each as appropriate. For example, get information to your employees as quickly as possible.
  • Take responsibility for your share of the problem, apologize sincerely, and tell the audience how you will correct the situation and avoid a similar event in future.

Nothing beats having a written communications plan in place before a crisis strikes. Planning allows you to select and train a spokesperson, have media contact information at your fingertips, and ensure your hard-earned reputation remains intact.

7. News From Our Water Cooler: Is it your time to flourish?

With year-end now in sight, snow on the ground and clients busy booking their projects for the new year, the change of season brings a moment for taking stock before planning for the new year. In this office, our attention is drawn to a list posted on our whiteboard — an insightful framework known as the PERMA Model.

It comes from Flourish by Martin Seligman, a professor of positive psychology, and his work on the essential elements of happiness and well-being. As you reflect on your activities this year, you might assess how well your efforts align with these five key elements of well-being:

(P)  Positive emotion (bringing happiness and life satisfaction ­– the pleasant life)

(E)  Engagement (being absorbed in your activities and experiencing timeless “flow”)

(R)  Positive Relationships (ongoing social relationships and random acts of kindness)

(M)  Meaning (belonging to and serving a cause or purpose bigger than yourself)

(A)  Accomplishment (the satisfactions of achievement, winning and mastery)

By adopting an approach to work and life in keeping with these five essential elements, we can all flourish personally and professionally.

Our best wishes to you and yours for a safe and happy holiday season.

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

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”  

— Bill Gates