September 28, 2014


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Six Key Leadership Decisions

Consultant Art Petty says six key decisions shape you as a leader. They stand out because they change the trajectory of people, teams, and organizations:

  • “We’ll go” decisions: You may not be Dwight Eisenhower deciding whether to launch or delay the D-Day invasion in threatening weather, but senior managers are accountable for the fortunes of others and face critical strategic and implementation decisions.
  • “Who to grow and how to support them” decisions: Developing others is critical for success. You must understand the skills and capabilities needed; assess the values and character of subordinates; and decide equitably who to coach and who to let go.
  • “When to trust” decisions: Leadership involves letting go and trusting others to solve complex problems that you are accountable for. “There’s no more frightening moment in time for some than the moment when they take their hands off the wheel and let someone else steer,” he writes on his Leadership Caffeine blog.
  • Navigating successfully through gray zones: Making a call on ethics and values can involve issues in a gray fog, but you’ll be challenged repeatedly to cut courageously through the murk and make it black and white for others.
  • Learning to see and accept your own blind spots: Don’t be delusional about your own capabilities. Understand who you are, and what you are missing.
  • Deciding what kind of leader to be and then working at it: You are writing your legacy everyday. Make it something that will give you pride.

2. The Future of Customer Service

A recent study of consumers found that when receiving great service, 53% of those tested had the same cerebral reactions triggered as when feeling loved.

“When it comes to customer service, it’s not about what consumers think. Great service is about feelings,” Trendwatching.com states. With that in mind, here are some trends that organization suggests watching:

  • Video Valets: You may use Skype or Facetime to keep in touch with family or some far-flung friends. Organizations can link in real time with their clients through webcam-enabled interactions. The Fiat Live Store, for example, allows customers to connect with staff in the car company’s showrooms. They wear head-mounted cameras and can help you virtually explore vehicles while answering your questions. “Video Valets don’t have to be about dealing with customer questions or complaints. Can you offer new experiences, trials and tests via webcam?” Trendwatching asks.
  • Plan B: Some products now come with their own back-up plans to reduce the risk of trying something new. When BMW launched the electric i3 vehicle, it gave owners reduced rates to a gas-powered rental if needed. What limitations exist for your offering, and what back-up plan might help?
  • Politeness Pays: Le Petite Syrah, a café in France, charges less to customers who greet baristas with pleasantries. MTS India gives free wifi to people at public events who use the refuse containers. What can you do to encourage greater civility and politeness from your clients?

3. Smaller Boards Pay Off

When creating a governing board, your instinct may be to keep it small but the momentum is usually towards inclusion and a larger board. A new study reported in The Wall Street Journal may reaffirm your first instincts: Governance researchers GMI Ratings found that small boards at major corporations led to deeper debate and more nimble decision-making.

Companies with small boards outperformed their peers by 8.5 percentage points. As well, those with large boards underperformed peers by 10.9 percentage points. “There’s more effective oversight of management with a smaller board,” Jay Millen, head of the board and CEO practice for recruiters DHR International, told The Journal. “There’s no room for dead wood.”

You may not run a large corporation, but the findings are worth considering. In the study the smallest boards averaged 9.5 members compared with 14 for the biggest. The average size for all companies was 11.2 directors.

4. Beware Of Acronyms and Jargon

WOAJ is an intriguing acronym. You undoubtedly have no idea what it means, but presentations expert Dave Paradi knows since he created the term: It sits on one of his slides in front of a symbolic brick wall, and stands for Wall of Acronym and Jargon.

His recent survey on financial presentations found respondents viewed the use of acronyms as one of the biggest barriers to understanding the message.

He notes that in the workplace people don’t want to admit their ignorance of important-sounding terms. So they stay mum, and leave the presentation missing important points – if not the key message.

“Be careful about using jargon or acronyms in your presentations, especially to audiences who are not specialists in your field,” he concludes on his ThinkOutsideTheSlide blog.

So no WOAJ.

5. Zingers

  • Don’t be your own hurdle:  Those obstacles in your way may not be real, says Melissa Jun Rowley, creator of the series The Magic Makers. “A lot of roadblocks in business and in life are simply delays or illusions we create in our minds because there’s a voice inside of us that feeds self-doubt and fear. I used to let that voice dictate how I pursued my goal — meaning I stalled half the time. I finally learned that the hurdle in front of me was me, and that the delay in progress was an opportunity to think and do things differently.” (Source: FastCompany.com)
  • Don’t settle for no-shows:  If your manager always cancels his weekly meetings with you, consultant Alison Green recommends switching such sessions to a time he is less likely to cancel and sending an agenda beforehand to remind him about the meeting. If it gets cancelled anyway, try saying, “I know you’re busy but even though we can’t do our regular meeting this week, can I have 10 minutes?” (Source: DailyWorth.com)
  • Don’t miss out:  Build the scarcity principle into your web site, warning viewers of limited availability or offering a time-sensitive discount to prompt action. (Source: Nielsen Norman Group)
  • Don’t negotiate when … Tuck School of Business Professor Judith White says there are two types of people you should never negotiate with: A counterparty who flips repeatedly between conciliation and provocation (it’s common and acceptable, however, for people to be provocative at the start of negotiations and conciliatory later on); and a counterparty who persists in seeing people in terms of absolute good and evil. (Source: Harvard Business Review Blogs)
  • Don’t appeal to average: Entrepreneur Seth Godin says it’s arrogant to think you have made something so magnificent that everyone should embrace it. Our best work can’t possibly appeal to the average masses – only our average work can. So find the humility to walk away from people not enthused by your work. That will allow you to develop great work. (Source: Seth’s Blog)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:  Internal Promotion or External Hire?

Question:  We’ve got an opening – a current employee could be promoted into it and probably do well. Should I promote her or seek somebody better from outside?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

While I’m always aware I might do better than my internal favourite in such situations, my own experience also leads me to be acutely aware that chances are I could find an apparent prize who turns out to be a louse.

The problem is we know the warts of the internal candidate but don’t know them for the external candidate. So we underestimate the potential of the internal candidate and overestimate the potential of the external candidate. Indeed, we usually are hung up on the negatives with the internal person and are seduced by the golden lustre of the external candidate. Not a fair, or sensible, evaluation.

These days, we are alert to the importance of culture and fit. We already know how the internal person fits with our culture, or we wouldn’t be considering her for promotion. But the outsider… all we have is a hunch. And that’s another reason why external hires often flop. They could turn out to be a fish out of water, unable to duplicate their success in a new, different culture.

But instead of focusing on culture and fit, we usually obsess on the opposite. We seek somebody to shake things up. Perhaps the internal person does that routinely in their job, and your hesitation may come in part because you have discounted that component of her performance, or it’s not the kind of earth-shattering change you dream of.  Yes, external hires often shake things up. But not always for the best.

Then there’s the impact on others who work for you. How engaged will they be at work if positions they envision for future promotions routinely go to outsiders? Sure, you aren’t talking here of always hiring from outside. But making it a default preference to always hire from inside, if possible, does increase engagement and loyalty (assuming you aren’t promoting somebody who everyone, with reason, detests).

So my suggestion is to stop dreaming. Call her in and promote her immediately. Then get on with helping her to become a great success.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:
New Complexities for Campaign Communications

As municipal election campaigns start to heat up, it’s been interesting to watch those planning political campaigns as they grapple with new communications realities. A lot has changed from just four years ago: The old mass-media publish/broadcast model has been rocked not only by interactive social media but by changes in audience behaviours.

A report from brand consultants Wolff Olins, reported in Wired Magazine by Kyle VanHemert, outlines some key behaviours that are shaping the marketplace today. Political (and all other) marketers might take heed:

  • Today’s consumers are more informed –and more skeptical– than ever. People now support (buy from/vote for) individuals and organizations they believe in. “Unlike the parent-child relationship of the past, or the top-down relationship in the past, companies and people are meeting as equals,” says Wolff Olins CEO Karl Heiselman. “It’s much more like a one-on-one relationship you would have with another person. It’s based on reciprocity and honesty and trust.”
  • People are side-stepping institutions and connecting through direct relationships: VanHemert notes consumers aren’t sidestepping traditional ways of doing business just for the sake of it; they’re doing so when an alternative is more attractive. For example, look at the success of Airnb, which enables consumers to bypass the traditional hotel industry and rent out an apartment directly from someone they don’t know.
  • People are making, not just consuming: The report drives the point home with a statistic from a BBC study. A little more than seven years ago, only 10% of people were active contributors online, now it’s 77%.
  • People are reclaiming their time: With our attention constantly under siege today, we’re increasingly determined to take back control of our time. The report advises: “Don’t be demanding. Instead, find ways to be completely on demand.” That means at any time on any platform where they might be looking for you.

Marketing has rapidly become a more complex and demanding discipline, as those campaigning for office this fall are discovering — it takes trust, direct connection, two-way communication, and an on-demand approach.

8. Closing Thought

“Life is not a matter of holding good cards but of playing a poor hand well.”

— Robert Louis Stevenson