Vol.13 No.8 June-17-2013

June 16, 2013


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. What To Do When An Employee Cries At Work

When an employee suddenly starts to cry in the middle of a conversation, most managers are dumbstruck as to the proper response. Harvard Business Review Contributing Editor Amy Gallo canvassed various experts, and presented these guidelines:

  • Act like yourself: Your first instinct is probably to help, somehow, and you shouldn’t abandon that impulse. “What specifically you do — offer a tissue, ask what’s wrong, give a hug, suggest a walk outside — will depend on your relationship, how long you’ve worked together, and the office culture. The key is to engage, and let the tears flow, instead of ignoring or judging the person, she writes in Harvard Business Review Blogs.
  • Figure out what’s really going on: Don’t assume you know the reason for the tears. It may be a performance review session, but the tears could arise because the employee is upset about her mother’s illness. Tease out what’s going on.
  • Keep it simple: If the problem is personal, stick to a simple and comforting response like “I‘m sorry” or acknowledge “this is a horrible situation”.  Don’t tell him to buck up or pass along a related story of your own.
  • Focus on work-related concerns: Whether the concern is personal or work-related, listen and try to help them handle the office aspects. So if she’s worried about a sick mother, what can be done at work to help out?
  • Don’t play psychiatrist: Stay within your comfort zone and, where needed, refer the individual to professional help, within or without your organization.

2. Key Questions For More Effective Selling

To help prospects who are interested in what you have to offer, sales executive John Treace shares these five friendly questions on Inc.com:

  • What brings you here today? When somebody enters a business, the common question is “What can I show you today?” But that can just lead the individual to respond, “Nothing, I’m just browsing.” Asking why they came invites the sharing of information that can provide useful insights for you to pursue.
  • Why do you want this product and service? If asked whether you have a certain offering, don’t confine yourself to a simple yes or no. Follow that by generating a conversation about what is motivating them.
  • How will you go about making this decision? It’s vital to know how the purchase decision will be made, so you can tailor your approach accordingly. Treace remembers a situation when he learned the vice-president of engineering would make the purchase decision, alerting him to focus less on price and more on engineering parameters.
  • What is your timeline? This will tell you the degree of urgency, which you should match, showing you understand the prospect.
  • What would you like to happen next? “This powerful closing question is easy to use and — crucially — isn’t intimidating for the prospect,” he observes. “The answer will uncover any still-unanswered objections the prospect has, and if there are none, you’re clear to bring the sale to a close.”

3. Improving Your Time Management

If you’re struggling with time management, Canadian non-profit executive Ian McKenzie suggests keeping a log of your activities for two to three weeks. Then, he writes on his Ian’s Messy Desk blog, ask these three items of every activity:

  • Does it need to be done? Just because the weekly sales report has been produced for 10 years doesn’t mean it should continue.
  • Does it need to be done by me? After determining the necessary tasks through that first question, determine whether you need to do it or someone else can. Perhaps your assistant can handle that sales report.
  • Does the process need to be improved? Can the tasks be carried out more efficiently? Are you making the best use of the latest tools and processes?

4. Work With People You Don’t Like

When you are hired, your job is not to do what’s detailed in your job description, insists careers blogger Penelope Trunk. Instead, it’s to help your boss.

And the boss that you’re most likely to help the most is someone who doesn’t share your skill set at all.

“This means that if you’re good with people, you need to work with someone who is terrible with people. If you’re good with numbers, you should work with someone who is terrible with numbers,” she writes on her blog.

That will be an uncomfortable situation, as you may not like the person very much because of the stark differences in your skills. But success, she believes, comes from putting yourself in uncomfortable situations.

5. Zingers

  • The Human Beings: Senior executive Karin Hurt salutes a colleague who, every time a strategy, policy or project is being discussed, asks about “the human beings”.  Not “resources,”  ”headcount,” or even “people” or “employees”.  Instead, he focuses everyone on the living, breathing humans they will affect. (Source: Let’s Grow Leaders Blog)
  • Git ‘er Done:  The world does not reward perfectionists. It rewards those who get things done. (Source: Lifehack.org)
  • Faces That Remind: A rule of thumb for typefaces, according to entrepreneur Seth Godin, is to never draw attention to your typeface choices unless you want the typeface to speak for you — an elegant typeface, for example, to signal your elegant product. He shares a guideline from design pioneer John McWade: Use Franklin Gothic Condensed for your headlines and Garamond for your body copy. Change it if you want, but only when you want to remind the viewer of something. (Source: Seth’s Blog)
  • Who To Believe?  Good leaders get people to believe in them, says personal development author Jon Gordon. Great leaders inspire people to believe in themselves. (Source: Jon Gordon’s Blog)
  • Hiring on Gut:  Consultant Art Petty says when you find yourself fighting your gut instinct on hiring someone the gut is almost always right. The credentials, smiles and interviewing skills might be saying “yes” but if the gut says “no”, listen to it. (Source: Management Excellence Blog)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:
Strategic Plans in Uncertain Circumstances

Question:  How can our non-profit develop a strategic plan when our operating environment is very fluid — prone to sudden funding changes, filled with policy uncertainties, and high-impact decisions being made outside our control?


8020Info CEO and President Rob Wood replies:

All strategy is made under some degree of uncertainty, but many organizations are jarred when they can no longer count on a stable, predictable environment for planning. And with government financial constraints prompting significant shifts in policy and funding these days, many non-profits and public sector groups aren’t sure how to adjust their approach. Here are nine options to consider:

  • Signal-triggered moves:  As you identify and think through possible scenarios, can you identify early signals that would indicate your future is unfolding in a particular way? Then develop a portfolio of strategic options with the appropriate one to be triggered when the signals appear. (If our funding is cut back 10%, we’ll do this; if our budget is flat-lined, we’ll do that.)
  • Conditional strategies:  Similarly, can you develop step-by-step strategies that are pursued as pieces fall into place?  (We’ll wait and see until the government formalizes its policy; then launch a pilot project once we get approval, expanding it into an on-going program but only if the pilot is successful.)
  • Matching strategies:  If the number of alternative, uncertain futures you face is limited, can you build provisional strategies for each one?
  • Good strategy regardless:  Frequently a particular strategy is good for the organization no matter what happens, or in the face of a variety of different risks– much like a healthy diet is good for you whether you’re a diabetic or not.
  • Decision rules as strategy:  When circumstances are changing rapidly, it will sometimes make more sense to use strategic “rules” rather than plans. (Examples:  Look after the downside and let the upside look after itself. When a program can be self-sustaining, pursue that option. Focus on what we know and do best — “stick to the knitting”.)
  • Fit for anything: Can you retool your capabilities to perform more effectively in a rapidly changing environment? (For example, setting aside some financial reserves; delaying hiring; structuring for more flexible, adaptive approaches; improving two-way communications; or building better relationships with funders, policy/decision makers and partners.)
  • Leave it to fate:  Consider the advantages of a wait-and-see approach: Can you reserve the “right to play” or keep your place with modest resource investments while avoiding premature commitments?
  • Or not:  Alternatively, is there a leadership role you can play to shape your environment (such as developing and proposing a new model that government could adopt as the standard for your sector)? Your strategic leadership can help policy makers with their decisions, influence their options, and shape outcomes in your favour.
  • Do the right thing:  Recently we had a client in the health care sector who was trying to figure out “what the ministry wanted”. In the end, they gave up on guessing, but succeeded by following an old rule: When you don’t know what to do, just do the next right thing.

7.  News From Our Water Cooler:
Frankenbrands & Brandroids

This week we participated in a MarketingProfsU online seminar on Building the Living, Breathing Brand, the kickoff session for its Marketing Writing Bootcamp. Presenter Tamsen Webster caught our attention with two fun buzzwords that highlight a pair of common marketing pitfalls:

  • Frankenbrands:  She uses this term for brands that have been “cobbled together over time, often by different people, as different initiatives come up”. The voice (and often the defining meaning) of the brand is significantly different from one platform to another — such as legendarily friendly customer service by phone, but abysmal service through online channels, which makes the brand confusing.
  • Brandroids:  This term describes brands that “are the epitome of the content marketing machine: they are one-note and relentlessly so”. She describes the way every piece of content and every interaction seems to be “a variation on a single theme, with no variety or real personality, just an endless stream of content”.

The solutions to these traps involve finding balance between the two extremes of “one-note” vs. “different everywhere”. Anchor your marketing activities to the context and core of what your brand stands for (your “brand DNA”), and plan your storytelling to support the overarching narrative for your brand — its purpose and essential promise, and the meaning you co-create with those audiences relating to your brand.

Tamsen says “stories (content) should hang on the brand, like hangers in a closet”.  Paraphrasing her American example: If the Canadian Dream is our country’s narrative, then stories of immigration, building the railroad, Sir John A. Macdonald/confederation, and the Montreal Canadiens (or Maple Leafs) are the stories that help illustrate it.

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

“We will be the same in five years from now as we are today, except for two things, and those are the books we read and the people we meet.”

— Charlie Jones