September 27, 2015


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs

1. Getting Management Right

Managing people is difficult. But some tips from Mary Ann Masarech, BlessingWhite’s lead consultant for employee engagement, may help you get it right. It starts by asking yourself:

  • Does everyone on your team understand their top three priorities for the next few months?
  • Do you really know what gets in the way of each team member’s performance?
  • What can you do within your control to shape your team’s work environment?
  • What one or two changes would have the biggest impact on your team’s satisfaction and contribution? If you can’t make those improvements on your own, how (and to whom) can you make your case for change?

Those are basic questions we often ignore. By focusing on them, you plunge into fixing the impediments to productivity in your workplace.

On the firm’s web site, she recommends taking time every week or two to discuss each team member’s workload and help them prioritize which outcomes matter most. They are probably not addressing this basic step; you likely aren’t a direct part of their thinking if they are. Also, have conversations with each team member to understand what’s helping them to achieve high performance and engagement, and what is simply interfering.

She urges you to recognize high performance and address poor performance. Don’t forget that leaders need to excite their people to exceptional performance through what management professors Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones have described as an “edgy intensity to raise the bar on performance.”

2. Think Balance Beam, Not Mountain Top

A common metaphor for individual and organizational performance is the mountain top. We are climbing, ever higher, towards the summit.

But leadership coach Kate Nasser thinks it’s better to adopt a balance beam framework. For example, the greatest challenge for a business is managing growth. “This is an issue of balance: Projections, investment, supply, demand, etc. Yet many continue to act as if they’re still in start-up mode and focus on climbing to the top,” she writes on her blog.

Focus on balance: Developing high performance teams is about balance. We need to get diverse personality types, occupations, ages, and educational levels to work together. As more cultures mingle at work, we again must address achieving balance.

In their actions, leaders must seek a yin-yang on many fronts. We need a balance between telling and asking, candour and care, and humility and outward strength.

Other balances for leaders to consider are intuition and data, safety and risk, big picture and details, creative thinking and critical thinking, practicality and inspiration, and reflective listening and active expression. Overemphasize one side of these delicate balances, and you can trip up.

“Unfortunately, somewhere many have learned that focusing on balance is the same as maintaining the status quo. It isn’t! When you have balance, you can move faster, perform better, and adapt to change more easily — without tumbling,” she says. So forget the mountain top and focus on those balance beams of your life.

3. Abandoning PowerPoint (And Returning To It)

In January, 2014, consultant Dan Ward began a year-long experiment in professional communication: He abruptly stopped using PowerPoint. He didn’t make a big deal about the change but it seemed to work beautifully. His presentations were smooth and effective, and the new approach meant he spent no time fussing with fonts and formats and looking for lame art to highlight his slides.

Then one day he gave a presentation on innovation for about 45 minutes. No notes, no charts. And his wife happened to be present. He says she lovingly suggested that “it was a good talk, but it might have been better if I’d given the audience something to look at other than me.” On the ThoughtleadersLLC Blog he accepts the feedback: “She had a great point. She always does.”

Ward still gives some chart-free presentations, and they work well. But he also uses PowerPoint occasionally, sharing a small number of charts, and that can be even better. You may want to experiment yourself to find what mix works best.

4. Play With Parkinson’s Law

Cyril Northcote Parkinson declared in 1955 that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Blogger Roz Bahrami suggests applying that notion by allotting reasonable times to tasks and setting your timer.

“Be conscious of that clock as you work, knowing that when the time runs out, whether it is 9 minutes or 90 minutes, you have to be done. You will be amazed at how much you can accomplish,” she writes on WomenOnBusiness.

Also, expand the marginal rule of quality. Recognize that, at a certain point working on a project, your pace and focus falters, and you start to waste time. Finish, and move on.

5. Zingers

  • Which way are you trending? Everything you do is going to raise your average or lower it, says entrepreneur Seth Godin. That applies to your next hiring, the service experience your next client receives, or any other activity. Each interaction is a choice: You can move towards mediocrity or its opposite. (Source: Seth’s Blog)
  • How are you at reception? Here’s a dilly of an interview question, from John Fallone, head of talent at Tilt fundraising: “We require that each person at the company work reception for half a day every two months. Would you be OK with this?” The company actually doesn’t have such a policy, but the immediate reaction says something about the job candidate. (Source: Inc.com)
  • Too often late? If an employee is continually late for work and meetings, consultant Shaun Belding recommends this approach: “Fred, being late for things once in a while is inevitable. It happens to everybody. But it’s happening to you more often than once in a while. Being late once sends the message, ‘Ooops, I goofed.’ Being late on a number of occasions sends the message, ‘my needs are more important than everyone else’s’. I’m sure that is not the impression you want to leave people with.” After that advice, ask for a commitment to improve. (Source: BeldingSkills.com)
  • What have you read this quarter? Consultant Michael Lee Stallard recommends reading a business book with your team every quarter, and meeting to discuss what ideas you can borrow. (Source: MichaelLeeStallard.com)
  • Are you getting what you tolerate? Every organization has poorer performers — what trainer Dan Rockwell calls the bottom 10 % of the staff. He advises you to address their performance. In many ways, leaders get what they tolerate. Keep working to develop everyone on your team, including the bottom 10%, searching for their performance triggers. But also keep them away from your top employees. (Source: Leadership Freak)

6.  Q&A with 8020Info:  When Plans Are Languishing

Question: As we enter the last quarter of the year, many plans from the retreat we held in January have not been implemented to the extent I expected and some are untouched. What should I do?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

That was then. This is now.

Start by considering:

How many of the initiatives are as important now as you thought then, and how many are outdated, overcome by time? If that retreat were held today, is there anything obvious that was missed or would be on your agenda now, given what you have learned?

Don’t make this a big reflective exercise for the team. Just sit down for half an hour yourself and write down what comes to mind.

Also, why didn’t you get the traction you expected and has anything changed now that will make movement easier? How can you make it different this time and accomplish more?

Now, on a blank sheet of paper, write down no more than three initiatives worth starting now, whether on that January list or not. Consider carefully whether you are best with just one luminous goal to set out for the troops or whether you need to have more. Write down the obstacles — probably the same ones that have blocked you already on the stale-dated items.

Also, consider time frame. If the action item is from January, can you use the inactivity since to spark greater momentum now and try to finish by year’s end or do you, realistically, need to extend your time frame beyond December?

The time you have lost is gone. You have to be realistic about the best way to start now. At the same time, organizational initiatives from January are frequently carried out in February, October and November, so it may still be achievable in the original time frame.

Also, if you can, write down two things you hoped to get done that can be accomplished super-quick without too many resources, so you can secure some quick wins. If nothing fits, so be it.

Renew your plan:

Now, keeping in mind the obstacles that have prevented action so far this year, develop a new plan, figure out who on the team will be accountable for which tasks, and take your ideas to your colleagues. Don’t over-dramatize the failure to act before now. Don’t blame anyone (other than yourself, if you wish). But make it clear that you are determined to do better.

7.  News From Our Water Cooler:  Strategic Plan Timelines

Given today’s fast-changing environment, what length of time should be covered by your strategic plan? That question popped up recently in a thoughtful discussion with a highly engaged board of directors as they commissioned their first strategy development project.

In our practice, most clients focus on strategies to be implemented over a three-year time horizon — it usually offers the best balance between the amount of time needed to implement critical new strategies and how far out you can anticipate future conditions with any degree of confidence.

The plan typically is supported with operational plans, budgets and change management activities, and reviewed and/or updated annually.

We don’t see many five-year strategic plans any more, and increasing numbers of organizations are starting to look at “continual” strategic planning, which involves drilling down on particular strategies every year as implementation progresses, stalls, is completed or external conditions change.

No one wants to hold off on a major strategic decision, waiting for the next five-year cycle. Meanwhile, ad-hoc, situational responses often turn out to be more tactical than strategic.

Your situation may require a longer or shorter cycle, depending on:

  • Speed of changing conditions: How fast your strategic landscape is changing and how new trends, risks or competitors are putting strain on your existing strategies.
  • The rhythm and cycles of your sector: For example, building a new hospital might take 7-10 years; reprogramming a radio station might take just a couple months after ratings come in; a new annual event might take three years to reach full maturity.
  • Pending internal developments: For example, the timing of significant changes to the structure of your business or funding model, changes in mission, leadership, products or services, innovation in operating processes or adoption of significantly new technologies.
  • Governance timelines: Municipal councils often match their strategic priorities to terms of office, for example, or your projects and partnerships may be time limited, concluding after some set period of time.
  • Time required to implement strategy: Some types of strategy need a longer timeline for implementation, such as culture change or developing new long-term strategic partnerships or commercializing pure research.

Regardless of the timeline, you’ll want to design your strategic plan consistent with broader, longer-term directions, framed by your mission and/or vision. That may lead you to a three-year plan with a 10-year vision and regular updates to revise it as needed to adapt to changing circumstances.

8.  Closing Thought:

“If stupidity got us into this mess, why can’t it get us out?”

Will Rogers