Vol.13 No.6 May-06-2013

May 5, 2013


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Welcome To Content Marketing

The latest buzzword in marketing is content marketing. But if the buzzword is new, the idea is old, says digital strategist Hollis Thomases. You experienced it when you read your first in-flight or LCBO magazine, or picked up a Michelin Guide to check out a restaurant.

“Content marketing is about speaking to audiences through a company’s own stories. Instead of purchasing their way into the consumer’s mindshare through advertising, companies create compelling content that attracts an audience on its own,” she explains on Inc.com.

Soap operas were an early example, with soap manufacturers producing shows aimed at women’s imaginations, as Old Spice does today with its recent campaign featuring Isaiah Mustafa. Back in 1895, John Deere got into content marketing with a magazine featuring stories for farmers, The Furrow, which still exists today, along with a web site. In-flight magazines welcomed readers to a world built around the airline and Michelin Guides, started in 1900, gave the company a boost by offering practical information, travel tips, and maps to vehicle service stations.

If you want to try content marketing, she advises that these days users consume information in real time, so there’s a diminished shelf life for your content. Digital content enables direct engagement with your consumers, so make sure you encourage two-way interactivity rather than limiting yourself to one-way broadcasting. Finally, quality matters. “If your content stinks, no one will want to consume it consistently no matter how often you publish it or how interactive it is,” she stresses.

2. Tips On Giving Bad News

There comes a time when any leader must deliver bad news. Here are some tips from New York educator Fred Ende on his blog:

  • Deliver it early: Since it always is easier to bring joy to people rather than pain, the tendency is to put off delivering bad news.  But waiting can be problematic, notably if the information starts to come out prematurely, eroding trust and respect, and making it even more difficult to move forward. “Aside from any initial waiting necessary to collect fact-based information, bad news should be delivered as soon as it is complete, and as often as updates are available,” he advises. Inform people that more information will be coming when known.
  • If you delegate, make the message incorruptible: If you can’t deliver the news personally, remember that the challenge with bad news is that everybody will hear it differently. Make sure your delegate knows the ins-and-outs of the news, and has been briefed on potential questions from recipients. “The worst result of delegation happens when a message is delivered that is wrong, or a question is asked that is answered incorrectly. It’s never fun for the messenger to go back and correct his/her mistake, and it is never pleasant to have to undo damage a messenger may have made that likely resulted from your inability to get the message across correctly,” he writes.
  • Empathize, encourage and embark: Allow recipients to cry, vent, or be alone. Next, encourage them to reflect on the news and let them know that you will work to help them deal with it and move on, providing support.  Finally, embark on a journey to turn the bad news into something good.

3. Assume Your Business Model Is Obsolete

Geoff Colvin recently wrote in Fortune that while innovation is a hot concept these days, most of the discussion centres on products and services; the more profound challenge for organizations is imagining a new business model.

Bryant University Professor Michael Roberto builds on that notion on his blog, suggesting that chief executives should ask their senior management teams to assume their way of operating is outdated and figure out a new way to be meaningful, satisfy clients and bring in revenue.

“Don’t wait for revenues to sag or margins to decrease.  Don’t wait for new rivals to emerge, or substitutes to disrupt your industry.  Engage in the exercise even if conditions seem quite good for your company at the moment.   Simply going through this process may lead to some valuable insights.  Then make this thought experiment a part of your repertoire… engage in it from time to time with the senior team,” he writes.

4. Listen For…

Bosses tend to talk too much, and so it’s not unusual to hear advice urging them to listen. But consultant Wally Bock, after noting you can’t learn much when talking, offers some specifics of what to listen for on his Three Star Leadership Blog:

  • Listen for questions you can answer.
  • Listen for ideas you can try.
  • Listen for problems you can help solve.
  • Listen for clues to what matters to your team members.

5. Zingers

  • Meeting Cockpits:  Visuals can be powerful, so use the wall space to make the most of meetings, advises Rutgers journalism professor Christopher Hamm. After all, if you walk into the command centre of a military operation or the cockpit of a commercial airliner, every square inch of wall space is devoted to actionable information. (Source: Entrepreneur.com)
  • Time Outs:  In basketball games, coaches can call a time out to offer just-in-time advice and make crucial adjustments. Consultant Kevin Eikenberry says leaders need to figure out a way to call time outs with their teams when necessary. (Source: Leadership & Learning Blog)
  • Creativity Circles:  Innovation Professor Bruce Nussbaum says that to be innovative, you must work with creative people. Ask yourself who are your most creative colleagues and friends, and who best brings out your creativity. Then assemble a creativity circle in which you connect with them to develop breakthrough ideas. (Source: Fastcodesign.com)
  • Persuasion By Choice:  Psychology blogger Jeremy Dean says research shows the most practical and effective persuasion technique is to reaffirm the other person’s freedom to choose. When you ask someone to do something, add on the sentiment that they are free to choose — “do not feel obliged,” for example, or “but you are free to do otherwise.” The technique is most effective face-to-face. (Source: Psyblog)
  • Ignoring Troublemakers:  Fortune 15 company executive Karin Hurt says the trouble with troublemakers on staff is that they bring out the worst in your leadership… and they may be right. Troublemakers may force you to lose patience and ignore the fact that they are worth listening to when they raise salient concerns. (Source: Let’s Grow Leaders Blog)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:  Processes For Better Decisions

Question:    Are there approaches that would help our Board make better decisions?


8020Info President and CEO Rob Wood replies:

You would be well advised to start with a close look at the “four villains of decision making” identified by Chip and Dan Heath in their book Decisive ­– How To Make Better Choices in Life and Work.  They draw on research in psychology to show how our best intentions are disrupted by biases and irrationalities when we make decisions.

They quote the Nobel Prize-winning professor Daniel Kahneman who remarked that “a remarkable aspect of your mental life is that you are rarely stumped.” We seize on information that is close to hand — easily accessible — and quickly jump to an interpretation. We tend to consider issues in a limited context and seek out information that supports our position rather than evidence that gives us pause for thought.

The Heath brothers suggest that good process can fix problems that persist whether we simply trust our guts or conduct rigorous analysis. In fact, they reference a study of good decision-making that showed process mattered more than analysis — by a factor of six!

They propose a four-step process to counteract four types of bias:

  • Narrow framing (unduly limiting the range of options we consider when making a decision — for example, one study by Paul Nutt of Ohio State University showed that only 29% of teams considered more than one alternative!)
  • Confirmation bias (seeking out information that affirms our beliefs and ignoring information that doesn’t fit or contradicts our views)
  • Short-term emotion (being swayed by impulses in the heat of the moment — emotions that soon fade, but after the decision has been made)
  • Overconfidence (having too much faith in our ability to predict future developments and events, or the outcomes and consequences of our decisions)

As a solution, they propose a WRAP process:  Widen your options; Reality-test your assumptions; Attain emotional distance before deciding; and Prepare to be wrong.

These are all approaches that can be formalized with processes and practices, whether it’s to ensure you consider more than one viable option when making a choice, or looking at contrary evidence, challenging your own assumptions about outcomes, and building in time to let angry or enthusiastic emotions “cool off” before confirming a final decision.

We’ll look forward to hearing how you make out.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:  Succession Planning

Perhaps it’s just that we’re seeing the long-touted edge of a waterfall — baby-boomer retirements — but increasingly the issue of succession is coming to the fore as a strategic issue for organizations, particularly in smaller organizations that have been guided for many years by a strong CEO or founder.

The issue is fraught with many potential challenges to be addressed — here’s a short checklist:


  • What kind of strategic environment will the next leader face and what kind of leader will succeed in that environment?
  • What critical issues must the new leader address?
  • Should changes to the organizational structure be made in tandem with the transition?
  • Is there a desire for culture change (or not) with new leadership?
  • What are the organization’s risks during transition and how should they be managed?


  • What should be done if a talent pool has not been cultivated to provide a supply of potential external candidates and/or internal candidates prepared to take on greater responsibility?
  • How will the board be involved with this critical process (rather than leaving the responsibility for succession to the incumbent CEO or the chair of the board)?
  • What techniques would be most effective in assessing candidates (knowing that some studies show 30-40% of new hires don’t work out in the first 18 months)?
  • How best can the organization manage the “politics” of succession — the emotional dynamics that are often present and can sink the new candidate if not managed well?
  • How should the board communicate with staff/stakeholders and prepare for succession without undermining the current leader’s authority (i.e. making them a “lame duck”)?

Further reading is available in the Ivey Business Journal, where Thomas Saporito outlines 10 key dimensions of CEO succession.

8. Closing Thought

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

— Anne Bradstreet