January 19, 2014


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. How To Become Idea-Active

When Walt Disney visited Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, ideas jumped out for a family-friendly amusement park he had been contemplating that would become Disneyland. That’s an example of how creative ideas are not imagined but are found, according to Bill Fischer and William Bole, authors of The Idea Hunter. Ideas don’t emerge from the minds of innately creative people but already exist in the world and simply need to be discovered.

That means becoming “idea-active.” A book review on Soundview Executive Summaries sets out four principles for becoming idea-active:

  • Be interested in the world around you: “Those who excel at the Hunt understand that almost anyone can hand them an incredible idea, which they are generally free to use,” the authors write.
  • Be prepared to diversify: Ideas can come from many different places. The phonograph was based on ideas picked up by Thomas Edison’s team from products developed for the telegraph, telephone and electric motor industries.  
  • Exercise the idea muscle every day: You always need to be on the hunt, alert for new ideas. When Scott Cook’s wife complained one day about the drudgery of paying bills, it led him to wonder if he could “quicken” the process, and Intuit’s accounting software (Quicken) was born.
  • Be agile in handling ideas: You need to be flexible in figuring out how to develop an idea and take it to market.

 Interested. Diversify. Exercise. Agile. Together, they form the acronym IDEA – and can help you be idea-active.

 2. Five Hiring Practices To Banish

Given how critical recruiting is, it’s important to eliminate sloppy practices from your organization. Here are five hiring practices to stop immediately, from HR blogger Alison Green:

  •  Not using phone screens before in-person interviews: Taking 10 to 20 minutes to talk on the phone with a candidate can often lead you to rule out that individual immediately, and save the bother of an in-person interview.
  • Conducting courtesy interviews with no intention of hiring the candidate: Interviewing an individual you don’t intend to hire because someone – a friend, or a board member – asked you to is, contrary to belief, not courteous, but a waste of time on both sides. It also raises false hopes.
  • Checking references after making a job offer: A surprising number of employers wait until after a job offer is accepted before checking references. That’s the reverse way – a terrible way – to handle the situation.
  • Requiring a degree when the work doesn’t necessitate it: Demanding a degree can often rule out someone with otherwise excellent qualifications for the position. It’s far more sensible to gauge the totality of what the individual has achieved.
  • Asking softball questions instead of probing into track record:  Don’t spend the bulk of the interview asking softball “getting to know you” questions. Probe into the candidate’s past experiences – the nitty-gritty of what they achieved, and how. If possible, supplement that by finding ways to see them in action, simulating the work they will be doing.

3. The Weakness In Your Strengths

A strength overused can become a weakness, consultant Kevin Eikenberry notes on his blog. It’s nice to be persistent, for example, but at some point that can turn into stubbornness, a weakness. It’s great to be open-minded, but can that prevent you from being decisive.

He asks you to develop a list of your strengths, seeking input from others to supplement your own thoughts. Then think about the risks associated with overusing those strengths, and identify specific situations where you overuse each strength. 

Similarly, he asks you to compile a list of your weaknesses and consider how that weakness may actually be a strength. Being detail-oriented can be treated as a weakness in fast-moving organizational climate, but at times it’s a definite strength.

With the insights from those exercises, develop an improvement and growth plan based on a balanced focus on both strengths and weaknesses.

4. Reduce Those Bulletpoints

In a world of information overload, it helps to reduce the bullets on your PowerPoint slides. Presentations expert Dave Paradi recommends this “3R” process:

  • Rank the words or phrases in terms of importance to the audience.
  • Reduce the text down to the most important words or phases, which can dramatically reduce the length of a point.
  • Rephrase the selected words and phrases so that they make more sense to the audience. Sometimes this may mean creating a second bullet because the first point contained two key elements.

“By having shorter, more meaningful points on the slide, you make it easier for the audience to understand the key point and then listen to you as you expand on it,” he writes on his blog.

5. Zingers

  • Rules for texting: If you text at work, here are a few rules from columnist Geoffrey James: Don’t text a question you can Google; don’t text SPAM; don’t accidentally text a wrong number – check it before sending; and don’t text anything complex, since texting should be for short messages.
  • Breaking up is hard to do:  When you have a very unproductive, needy client, you can probably solve both your problem and your client’s by letting him go, says consultant David Neagle. There’s probably a better match for him out there. The polite words to use as you say that it’s not working out: “It’s not you, it’s me.”
  • Put the least first:  Instead of shunning your least-favourite team members, pay attention to him or her. Consultant Monica Wofford says the individual may be telling you the tough stuff that others won’t raise or seeing what others miss. They’re courageous, willing to point it out and risk unpopularity.
  • Hang out with creatives:  Want to become more creative? Bruce Nussbaum, a professor of innovation and design at Parsons-The New School of Design, says you should hang out with more creative people: “Bring creative people into your work, your hobbies and your life, and learn from them. See what they do and how they do it.”
  • Whether you know… or not:  In periods of uncertainty, executive coach Scott Eblin urges you to share what you know and say what you don’t know. Also, ask for input. Don’t assume you have to make all the decisions yourself.
    Next Level Blog)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:  Make It A 12-Week Year?

Question:   We are just finishing up an annual plan for our organization. Any tips for making implementation more effective?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter replies:

 The problem with annual plans, as everyone knows, is that they aren’t annual. We get excited about them in the first month to six weeks of the year, and then our focus drifts. Towards the end of the year, we get the wheels in motion again.

So to be more effective, you need to figure out how to get everyone to pay attention for 12 months of the year.

Alternatively, you can apply a technique promoted by consultants Brian Moran and Michael Lennington. They recommend, in the catchy if somewhat initially confusing title of their recent book, The 12 Week Year.

Recognizing that most of our work on an annual plan is probably done over only three months or so, they suggest applying that energy in one burst to a single goal or a few goals. Athletes may recognize this as periodization, in which you concentrate and overload your attention to one specific skill for a short period of time.

Treat the 12 weeks as if they are a year, demanding your best effort for those goals. Then, after 12 weeks, a new year will start, without Auld Lang Syne but perhaps with champagne to celebrate attaining your goals.

They argue 12-week planning is more predictable than 12-month planning because the further you plan into the future, the less predictability you have. You can in fact define with a reasonable degree of certainty what actions you need to take every week over the next dozen weeks to get to your goal.

The scope may seem narrow, with just a few goals, but they tout that as a benefit. “There will always be more opportunities than you can effectively pursue. With the 12-Week Year, the approach is to be great at a few things instead of mediocre at many things. In 12-week planning you identify the top one to three things that will have the greatest impact, and pursue those with intensity,” they write.

So consider trying the 12-week year approach for your efforts.

7. New From Our Water Cooler: Plan for Moments of Truth

One of the most important marketing issues involving your clients or customers (or patients or voters) involves understanding what may be called “moments of truth”.  You may have insights into their goals, behaviours and interactions, or what influences their decision-making, but it’s pivotal to understand those moments that make or break your relationships with them.

An example: 

Power spikes during the recent ice storm apparently damaged our server at 8020Info. It wasn’t noticeable immediately, but one Saturday afternoon while trying to catch up on work from the holiday break, we discovered suddenly that we couldn’t save files. Then it became impossible to access the main drive holding thousands of our key files. The file directory seemed to be corrupted and, despite knowing we had a thorough backup system, panic was slowly rising in our throats. Time to contact our computer network service and support team at Ryan Computers!

This is the type of incident that really tests a service relationship — one of those moments of truth.

—  In this case, owner Michael Ryan responded to our call within minutes on that snowy Saturday afternoon. As a test of easy access and responsiveness, Michael and his team passed with flying colours.

—  Their tone was always helpful, friendly, courteous and professional — we give them high marks for customer care.

—  They outlined the actions they would take and when: promises they kept, thereby earning a checkmark for reliability.

—  They kept us in the loop regarding their progress in promptly replacing our server system and restoring all 85,000+ files, so on performance and communications – also a check.

It’s easy to see how their performance reinforced our trust and commitment to an ongoing 14-year business relationship.

If you want to be ready for “moments of truth” with your clients, you need to know what those critical interactions and proof-points might be, and then be prepared for when they occur. You need a team ready with the right training, expertise or knowledge and a step-by-step approach to act decisively in those moments.

Checklists and training can help make the right habits automatic. Starbucks, for example, developed training around a simple tool for its newly hired baristas, so they would know just what to do whenever an annoyed customer brought forward a complaint. It’s called the LATTE method: Listen to the customer, Acknowledge the complaint, Take action to solve the problem, Thank them, and Explain why the problem occurred.

Developing such approaches will force you to be explicit about how you want to handle these tests of relationships and give your frontline staff the tools and confidence to perform effectively when they are tested with critical “moments of truth”.

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

“I never worry about action, but only inaction.”

— Winston Churchill