November 30, 2014


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs

1.  Office Politics — Dealing With It The Right Way

The words “office politics” can send a chill down the spine, a reminder of the ugly side of working with others. But trainer Dan Rockwell, on his Leadership Freak blog, suggests there can be positive ways to deal with this normally dark issue:

  • Connect with people you don’t like: Treat them with respect and kindness — true for everyone around you, but particularly for those with power and authority. “If extending kindness to people you don’t like is below you, you have a problem,” he writes.
  • Accept everyone as they are: Just because you accept them doesn’t mean you approve of their actions or like them. But not accepting means you are rejecting them and that can create adversity.
  • Deliver exceptional results and elevate your social game: It’s naïve to simply keep your head down and do your work. “Those who skillfully play the social game are more successful than those who don’t. If this rule bugs you, you need it,” he observes.
  • Think of your team: Your team is at risk —or may be forced into taking sides— if you fall prey to a skilled office politician. So learning these skills serves them as well as you.
  • Engage in ethical office politics with the motivation to help people: Helping others is always a good idea. You never know when you might be able to help someone you don’t like. So connect with others.

2.  The Day The Presentation Lady Flopped

Nancy Duarte is known as The Presentation Lady. She has helped many prominent figures with presentations, including Al Gore with his stunning Inconvenient Truth lecture. But in 2007 she flopped, in a presentation to her own staff – her toughest audience, given they are presentation experts.

She saw an impending economic downturn, with 50% of their business at risk, and prepared what she thought was a brilliant presentation, complete with umbrellas to symbolize the coming rainy days.

But on Linked-In, she says she failed because:

  • She didn’t provide enough context: It was clear to her what lay ahead but not to others. “What is often evident to us as leaders isn’t always clear to our employees because we’ve lived very different lives. Always give context for why,” she says.
  • She failed to see things from their perspective: Her team was young and had never experienced an economic slide. They couldn’t grasp that a thriving organization could be threatened so badly by external forces. She should have considered how to communicate from their perspective.
  • Scare tactics backfire: While she was terrified about the future, she shouldn’t have used scare tactics to persuade. That creates ill will.
  • She didn’t test the message or get the managers on board: She didn’t check the message with a test sample of the audience, which she now does. And she failed to get her managers primed to become ambassadors for her message.

3.  Successful Innovators Don’t Care About Innovating

With today’s obsessive focus on innovation, consultant Doug Sundheim asks us to step back and address an important fact: Successful innovators don’t care about innovating.

For them, innovation is merely a byproduct of trying to solve customer problems.

“If this distinction seems like hair-splitting, it isn’t. The two focuses create vastly different realities,” he writes on Harvard Business Review Blogs.

A focus on innovating tends to stem from self-centred motives like protecting the company from competitors or building a growth engine. Focus on solving interesting and important problems tends to be born from customer-centred motives such as understanding what makes customers upset or ecstatic. Customer issues in such a culture are front-and-centre. “And since people naturally want to solve problems, it pulls (them into) innovation,” he explains.

He urges you, and your staff, to get out of the building and talk to your customers. Listen to their challenges. Then start to figure out solutions. That’s innovation, the right way.

4.  Time Management Advice From Tom Peters

Peter Drucker said the number-one trait of an effective leader is that they do one thing at a time.

But in an interview with The McKinsey Quarterly, management guru Tom Peters observed: “Today’s technology tools give you great opportunities to do 73 things at a time or to at least delude yourself that you are. I see managers who look like 12-year-olds with attention deficit disorder, running around from one thing to the next, constantly barraged with information, constantly chasing the next shiny thing.”

He shares contrarian advice from Dov Frohman’s Leadership The Hard Way: keep 50% of your time unscheduled and remember the secret to success is daydreaming.

5.  Zingers

  • First turn on energy:  As you network through the holiday season, keep in mind this advice from consultant Carol Kinsey Goman: Turn on the energy before you walk into the room. (Source: Shepa Learning Company Newsletter)
  • Recognize your stars:  Shine the spotlight today on a super employee, says Janine Popick, CEO of social marketing firm Vertical Response. Send a thoughtful note, take him or her out to lunch, or post a quote from a customer or other employees praising the individual. (Source: Inc.com)
  • Balance homepage design: Large images are appealing and are therefore increasingly being used as the focal point of web home pages. But design specialist Kathryn Whitenton warns that visceral appeal is not the only requirement for a good user experience. Web sites also need to deliver content and functionality to users, and over-emphasizing a single design element means users will be less likely to notice other elements, some of which may serve more important goals. (Source: NNGroup.com)
  • Connect with your manager: Consultant Alison Green lists these mistakes subordinates make in one-on-ones with their manager: Using the time exclusively for updates instead of having a real dialogue; not asking for feedback; not debriefing recent work to draw lessons; not driving the agenda of the session; and lastly, not scheduling them at all. (Source: The Fast Track Blog)
  • Getting off the call:  Here are some phrases to save yourself when trapped on a long, unproductive phone call – “I have only eight minutes to discuss this”; “my next appointment is waiting”; “I’d like to discuss this at length with you but before we proceed, please send me a detailed written description of your points to make sure I have them right”; or, “what’s the next step?” (Source: The Organized Executive Blog)

6.  Q&A with 8020Info:  Solving Wicked Problems

 Question:  Are there situations where typical planning approaches just don’t work?

8020Info President and CEO Rob Wood responds:

Yes, and Jay Rosen, an author and professor at New York University, calls them “wicked problems”. It’s a useful concept to help you identify when you need to change gears.

With “normal” approaches to problem-solving, we typically define the problem, evaluate possible solutions, pick the best one, assign or hire experts and implement the plan. But with wicked problems, that approach won’t succeed. “Institutions may require it, habit may favour it, the boss may order it, but wicked problems don’t care,” Rosen says.

He suggests that climate change is a great example of a wicked problem today — there are multiple interconnected issues and many different stakeholders who define the problem in different ways; there is no one “right” way to view the problem or its solutions; and we have never solved anything like it before.

A “wicked problem” has these features:

  • What’s the real problem? It is hard to say what the problem is, to define it clearly, or to tell where it stops and starts. There is no one “right way” to view the problem. A lack of staff engagement, for example, might have many ambiguous or different causes.
  • How should it be framed? Together with a vague sense of what problem should be addressed, the way it is framed will change what the solution should be. For example, is the problem with health care a matter of costs? Of access? Of operational structure? Of public expectations? All would have different solutions.
  • How to break it down?  The wicked problem is interconnected to a lot of other problems; pulling them apart is almost impossible.
  • Which stakeholder(s) to serve?  Wicked problems involve many stakeholders, all with their own frames, which they tend to see as exclusively correct. Ask what the problem is, and you will get a different answer from each.
  • Solutions must be invented:  Rosen notes that every wicked problem is unique — there are no prior solutions on the shelf, and solving one of them won’t necessarily help you with others. Also, you may not have enough support to try stuff that will almost certainly fail at first.
  • The problem keeps changing: A wicked problem is never definitely resolved. We just run out of patience, or time, or money, Rosen says. It is not possible to understand the problem first, then solve it; rather, attempts to solve it reveal further dimensions of the problem.

Try using a different approach:  do-learn-adapt (repeat).

With wicked problems, there is no right place to start, so simply start somewhere and see what happens.  Involve people who are creative, pragmatic, flexible and collaborative. Encourage them never to invest too much in their ideas because they will have to alter the plan as they work through their wicked problem, constantly testing their ideas on different stakeholders. It’s a more entrepreneurial, discovery-oriented approach.

This type of do-learn-adapt strategy will be different for many organizations and their cultures, but it beats the standard study-plan-implement model when it comes to wicked problems.

7.  News From Our Water Cooler: Four Levels of Culture Change

When discussing strategy development with clients, we find the topic of culture change often comes up. It’s one of those areas where strategies can have a high payoff but often are hard to implement and require sustained effort over time.

A related problem is where to focus and how to start. Perhaps you can use a tool found in This Will Make You Smarter (from John Brockman, Publisher & Editor of Edge). It is called The Cultural Cycle, outlined in a piece by Stanford’s Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner from The Tech Museum.

The cultural cycle is a repeating process of interactions across four levels:

  • Individual selves (one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions)
  • Everyday practices and materials/artifacts that reflect and shape individuals
  • Institutions (education, law, media) that enable everyday practices
  • Ideas and values about what is good, right and human

The model recognizes that no action is caused by either individual psychology or external influences — both are always at work. And a change at one level usually requires change at all four levels to be sustainable. People create cultures to which they later adapt, and in turn cultures shape people in ways that perpetuate those cultures.

If you’re planning to tackle culture change, you might consider how best to focus your efforts on these four nested, interactive levels of culture.

3.  Closing Thought

“Readers may be divided into four classes:

  • Sponges, who absorb all that they read and return it in nearly the same state, only a little dirtied.
  • Sand-glasses, who retain nothing and are content to get through a book for the sake of getting through the time.
  • Strain-bags, who retain merely the dregs of what they read.
  • Mogul diamonds, equally rare and valuable, who profit by what they read, and enable others to profit by it also.”

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge