November 30, 2015


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs

1. Mistakes To Avoid As A New Manager

If you’ve just taken a managerial post —as a first-time or even veteran leader— here are mistakes to avoid, courtesy of consultant Art Petty.

  • Leading off with “things are going to change around here”: Unless your boss has insisted your unit is a disaster, you need to show respect for the work of the group and prior manager. “You won’t win any hearts or minds by suggesting that everyone else was incapable of functioning without you around,” he writes on his blog. Another variant to avoid: “There’s a new sheriff in town.” Everyone will psychologically run for the hills.
  • Leading off with “nothing’s going to change”: Of course changes will occur. Don’t try to assuage concerns about your entry by telling a lie to kick off the relationship.
  • Leading off with immediate restructuring: Invest three to six months in assessing talent and dynamics before remaking the group. “And don’t forget to ask for your team’s help,” he adds.
  • Leading off by just listening to the noisy ones: Some people will be eager to tell you what’s wrong and steer you right. Don’t forget the quiet folk who may have the best observations.
  • Leading off like a solo consultant: You aren’t an outsider who can stir everything up and leave quickly, without long-term ties to anyone. You’re responsible for others, for a significant period of time.
  • Leading off by trying to be everyone’s friend: You’re no longer one of the gang.

2. Getting Project Development Right

Projects offer scope for developing the talents of your team. But too often managers leave figuring out the development possibilities to the team members rather than taking an active role and even baking those possibilities right into the project itself.

Consultant Wendy Axelrod, on SmartBlogs, suggests:

  • Before the project begins, staff it for maximum development possibilities: Instead of grabbing some experts who can crank out the work quickly, find team members who could learn from the experience and take the time to understand their different talents and skills sets. Encourage team members to get out of their silos and problem solve, learning together.
  • Launch the project with the requirement for development: You’ll undoubtedly set the team up by outlining mission, goals, monitoring protocols and decision-making authority. Add deliverables that require team members to grow their skills and help others to do the same. Have team members indicate what they want to learn and how they will help others.
  • Once the team is operating, demonstrate your ongoing interest in development: Monitor the amount of development taking place, and re-balance the assignments if necessary. When possible, add complexities into the assignments that challenge the team to expand their skills and perspectives.
  • At the end of the project, debrief for both business results and development growth: At the closing meeting ask about their learning experience and how that will lead to their improved performance in the future. Discuss ways to improve teams in future.

3. Improving Your Presentations

PowerPoint should not be a substitute for thinking. Executive Karin Hurt says to start your process by thinking about your message: What you want your audience to do as a result of your presentation. “I’m always amazed at how fuzzy that often is. Don’t start with the deck, start with your message,” she writes on her Let’s Grow Leaders blog. “Your slides are gravy, not the meat.”

Then build a model that will help crystallize those ideas for your audience. The food pyramid (a graphic that shows how much to eat from various food groups) is an example of a simple model that clarifies in a powerful way.

Use compelling visuals, not clip art. And end with a call to action. Ask your audience for whatever you need or want them to do.

It doesn’t end there, however. Create a separate document to leave behind, with the additional details and data to support a minimal number of slides (with just the main points) you should have used.

4. Making Coffee Chats Work For You

“Do you have time for a coffee over the next couple of weeks?”

That innocent request usually comes with the explanation the individual wants to learn more about your organization or get career path advice.

Jason Goldlist, chief marketing officer of Wealthsimple, went from being willing to assist over coffee to scheduling shorter calls or politely declining because of the time involved.

Then he switched his approach. As he reveals on the Insead blog, before the coffee chat he would ask that they help him out with one of his own priorities in some small way. They might be asked to visit his web site and register, offer feedback on an issue, or give a referral to a friend. It worked: They were willing, and the subsequent conversations were enhanced by the knowledge they had gained of his company.

5. Zingers

  • Why they walk away: Customer service continues to be a problem, according to a Consumer Reports survey in the United States. Nearly 90% of the respondents dealt with customer service for one reason or another during the past year. Half of those surveyed reported leaving a store during the year without making their intended purchase because of poor service, and 57% got so angry they hung up the phone while talking to a customer service representative. (Source: Consumer Reports)
  • Give answers online: The lower your percentage of sales online, the more important it is that you answer customers’ questions online, says marketing consultant Roy H. Williams. That’s because the categories with the lowest online sales are also the ones that typically see the greatest levels of online research. With prospects’ time at a premium, you must correctly anticipate and answer their unspoken questions. (Source: Monday Morning Memo)
  • Start, stop, carry on: Periodically hold start-stop-continue meetings with your team, advises consultant Michael Lee Stallard. Determine any activities your team should start that you are not already doing, current activities you should stop doing, and those you should continue. (Source: Michaelleestallard.com)
  • Break earlier: The best time for taking a break to refresh your energy would seem to be mid-morning, not the afternoon, according to a recent research study. The results suggest it’s better to break before you have used up your mental resources since that helps you recuperate. (Source: Lifehacker.com)
  • Take time for the thorns: The 10-10-10 guideline for one-on-one sessions with staff misses the mark, according to the Lighthouse blog. The idea is to give 10 minutes for them, 10 minutes for you, and 10 minutes to talk about the future.  But that’s not enough time for them to raise a thorny issue and leave you time to deal with it together. As a result, the system may encourage little more than status updates. Set aside an hour instead. (Source: Lighthouse Blog)

6.  Q&A with 8020Info:  Sorting Out Office Conflicts

Question:  Where do I start to sort out a personality conflict in the office?

8020Info President & CEO Rob Wood responds:

A lot of different types of disagreements are all simply labelled “personality” conflicts. But, there are distinct types that should be resolved in different ways.

We can be guilty of seeing personal traits and “personalities” as fixed and unchanging, and indeed some values and preferred ways of doing things are deeply ingrained. Some clients have helped their teams to reduce conflict and perform at a higher level just by doing some work to help staff understand different personal workstyles — we each work differently. Some of us are analytical and others expressive; some are driven by results while others are aiming for harmony and equilibrium in their workplaces.

Amy Gallo, Harvard Business Review editor and author of the HBR Guide to Managing Conflict at Work,” explains a way to break it down in a recent IdeaCast: 4 Types of Conflict and How to Manage Them.  (A written transcript of the podcast will be available by December 7.) She clearly explains four areas of focus to navigate an office full of competing interests, clashing personalities, limited time and resources, and fragile egos.

She says you start by understanding whether you generally seek or avoid conflict, identifying the most frequent reasons for disagreement, and knowing what approaches work for what scenarios. That allows you to plan for a productive conversation to resolve the conflict.

In addition to Relationship Conflict (e.g. fed by the personal feelings triggered when interactions lack respect, have a snapping tone or raised voice), she identifies three other important types of conflict:

  • Task Conflict: These underlying causes of conflict involve disagreement on what’s to be done or the goals for a project. For example, sales may want to close a deal quickly and please a client while legal wants to go over the details slowly and carefully to reduce liability and risk.
  • Process Conflict: Rather than tension over the “what” or the goal, this type involves disagreement over the “how” and often is linked to the decision-making approach. One team member may feel it’s important for everyone on the team to discuss and build consensus around a way forward, while another expects the leader to make the call and for the team to do its bit by implementing that decision.
  • Status Conflict: These issues involve disagreements about who is in charge — sometimes the disruption of a turf war, but often a result of no clear hierarchy on a team. For example, a team may have members from different functional groups, all of whom think their department is in charge of the project. Or baby boomers may approach the work with more control and structure than millennials might. The root of such conflict involves who gets to make the call — who’s in charge?

There are many options for dealing with conflict, including doing nothing (which we often do every day for minor differences of opinion), addressing the conflict indirectly (e.g. telling a story that gives the other person a hint about your concern or a solution), directly addressing the disagreement with a productive conversation, or in the most difficult situations, exiting the relationship.

There’s more good practical advice available on the podcast, including specific tips on how to open, frame, and address conflict directly in a conversation.

7.  News From Our Water Cooler:  Boutique Digital Spaces

We’ve noticed that increasing numbers of organizations are building social media hubs to connect their diverse communities online around specific topics of shared interest. These are working spaces established outside narrow organizational boundaries or mandates to connect partners around a specific common focus or purpose.

For example, GreenChemistry Canada recently launched a hub related to the development of early-stage chemistry technologies. It’s called InnovationHouse and reaches out diversely to academics and researchers, entrepreneurs and small/medium businesses as well as industry leaders and investors, providing an online focal point for sharing information, funding applications and problem statements.

In our hometown, the municipality has recently launched a micro-site, specifically to help strategic partners and community residents rally around the city’s strategic plan, follow timelines, and track progress on Council priorities achieved over time.

As it becomes ever more common to work closely with a variety of active partners outside our own governance boundaries, we may see more of these social media hubs and micro-sites that serve as “boutique” digital spaces for information and collaboration.

8.  Closing Thought:

“A meeting is a place where you keep the minutes and throw away the hours.”

Thomas Kayser