March 1, 2015



The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs

1. Probing Questions To Ask Job Candidates

Interviewing job candidates can be a delicate task. On his blog, entrepreneur Michael Hyatt suggests probing how humble, honest, hungry, and smart the individual is. Here are some of the questions he offers to pick from:


  • How do you feel about this opportunity?
  • How do you learn best?
  • You’ve obviously accomplished a great deal. To what do you attribute that success?
  • We all make mistakes. When you discover you have made one, how do you handle it?


  • Do you think that telling a “white lie” is ever justified for “the greater good?”
  • If things go wrong with a project, what obligation, if any, do you feel about sharing it with your boss?
  • If somebody else has wronged you in some way, how do you deal with the situation?
  • Can you tell me about a recent situation where you had to share bad news with someone? How did you handle it?


  • Are you satisfied with what you have accomplished in life so far?
  • What are your biggest personal and career goals?
  • What kinds of things do you read?
  • How do you make sure that you follow up on your assignments? Do you have a system?
  • How do you typically prepare for meetings?


  • How well did you do in school? If you had to do it over, what would you do differently?
  • What do you wish they taught you in school but didn’t?
  • Do you consider yourself a smart person? If so, why?

2.  Reach For The Top

Advertising guru Roy H. Williams says you probably have never heard of Columbus, Indiana, but may have heard of Cummins, maker of the famed Cummins Diesel engine, which is headquartered in that town. He shared their story in his Monday Morning Memo, since it teaches lessons about the role of business as a catalyst for a better community.

In the early days of the post-war baby boom, Columbus was preparing for a school-building boom. But J. Irwin Miller, CEO of Cummins, was turned off by the unimaginative buildings being planned. So he set up a foundation that would pay all the architectural fees for any public building to be built there.

“You could hire the finest architects on the planet and Cummins would cheerfully pay them on your behalf. The only condition was that you had to build the building those architects drew for you,” notes Williams.

Today, thanks to the money and architectural licence, more than 50 of the world’s most beautiful buildings can be found in the town of 40,000 people, which is known as “The Athens of the Prairie.” The American Institute of Architects ranks Columbus, Indiana, as the sixth most important city in America for architectural innovation and design, after big cities like New York and Chicago.

There’s a lesson in the story about how communities can reach beyond their apparent limits, helped by inspired souls. Williams asks you to consider the difference you plan to make, whether it’s in business, in art, or in the world.

3. Beware Of Calling Yourself The Best

If we believe our product or service is the best, we can be tempted to promote it in those terms, comparing it to inferior alternatives. But even if we are superior, the theme can rebound to hurt us.

Research by Northwestern University doctoral candidate Jingling Ma and Professor Neal Roese found that such product positioning activates something known as the maximizing mindset, which leads customers to regard anything less than perfect as a waste of money.

They note in Harvard Business Review that although some people are maximizers in general, others are satisfied with “good enough”. But the maximizing mindset can be induced by situations that encourage people to look for the best.

“Companies should think twice about comparative ads and assertions of ‘optimal’ features, lest their products fall short in any way. And few brands are immune: Prior research has shown that just barely missing the best option can cause the most intense regret of all,” they conclude.

4. Inside Vs. Outside? Develop Your Own Talent

The grass always seems greener on the other side, so it’s tempting to reach beyond your organization to find the best talent. But consultant Jesse Lyn Stoner disagrees, saying on the Seapoint Center blog the best way to infuse your organization with talent is to develop it:

  • It’s less costly to develop talent internally than to recruit and bring new people on board effectively.
  • Developing talent internally is less risky than bringing in unknown, unproven outsiders because you already know there’s a cultural fit.
  • Morale is higher in organizations where individuals know they have an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • You also spur improvements in creativity, innovation, and the ability to adapt to change.

5. Zingers

  • Connect to meaning: In the classic 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, the jailers force Paul Newman to repeatedly dig and then refill a hole — meaningless labour designed to break his spirit. Leadership consultant David Dye asks whether your team is doing work that, similarly, is disconnected from meaning and purpose, either because they don’t know the “why” behind what they are doing or there is no legitimate “why.” He urges you to take five minutes per month —and double productivity— by asking them about their activities: “Why do we do this?” (Source: Smart Blogs)
  • Finish on a positive: A reprimand should end with a reaffirmation of the person’s past performance, say leadership authors Ken Blanchard and Gerry Ridge in their book Helping People Win At Work. An example: “The reason I’m upset is because this is so unlike you.  You’re one of my best employees, and you usually get your reports in on time.” (Source: Eric Jacobson On Management And Leadership)
  • Grow your board: Don’t take the skills of your board members as fixed, advise consultants Jim Gauss and Monica Burton. Assess their abilities and give them stretch assignments and new committee tasks that pull them out of their comfort zones. That will allow them to learn and grow and down the road become capable of filling other strategic gaps. (Source: Chief Executive)
  • Lean in and push: If you want to get ahead, FirstRain CEO Penny Herscher recommends being aggressive — and yes, although females can be castigated for such a tendency, she’s thinking in particular of young women who want to rise to the top. Be a rebel. Stand up and be noticed; don’t conform. “When someone tells you [that] you are too aggressive and you need to tone it down, smile and say ‘thank you’ and keep going,” she says. (Source: The Grassy Road)
  • Regaining balance: When things go wrong, two words can right the balance, says trainer Dan Rockwell. Here are several possibilities to choose from: It happens; forgive me; let go; don’t quit; I understand; move on; or, I’m listening. (Source: Leadership Freak)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:  Countering Winter Blahs

 Question:   We started 2015 with great intentions, but now my team is losing energy as reality and winter settle in. What can I do?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

First, don’t over-react to it. That’s life. Berating people never works, and your frustration could lead to that unhelpful behaviour, intentionally or unintentionally.

I have been taken recently by the suggestion we need four dates each year to reset, like New Year’s, setting out goals for ourselves and our teams but not only on January 1. That makes a lot of sense for individuals setting their own objectives. But it seems shakier when imposed from above on teams — that could easily be resented and demotivate them. Maybe you can talk up the notion, but more on a personal level — “here’s an interesting idea to consider” — and see if colleagues pick up the theme.

Motivation may be lagging because the purpose behind people’s work is not as clear or motivating as you might hope, and/or the metrics to provide feedback on performance may not be immediately available. Consider how you could inspire people with purpose, linking it back to their work. Ask: Do they know whether they are succeeding or not? If not, how could better metrics be employed?

There have been about 40 working days since the New Year. Each day offered an opportunity for a one-on-one chat about performance with each of your key reports — not a full, oppressive performance review but also not the typical “how are things going?” query that usually garners a flimsy answer.

Are you truly asking about how things are going, and helping them to be more effective? How many one-on-ones did you have with each person that was enriching and energizing? How many should you have had? How many will you have in the next 40 days?

7. News From Our Water Cooler:  Translating Strategy Into Results

On strategic planning projects this year we’ve noticed clients shifting emphasis from strategy development to strategy implementation. In some cases, the need is not so much for new strategies as for more effective action on continuing priorities and strategic goals.

If you’re mulling over similar concerns, you might be interested in these findings from Donald and Charles Sull and Rebecca Homkes in the Harvard Business Review:

  • Alignment alone does not enable great execution. Aligning teams behind objectives is not so much the problem — it is getting the moving parts to work together. Often we coordinate well up and down, but not across the organization. One study found only 9% of managers said they could always count on their colleagues in other functions and units, and just half said they could rely on them most of the time.
  • Execution means more than sticking to the plan. It’s also important for implementation to be agile, adaptive and creative as conditions change and unforeseen issues emerge. This includes being prepared to advance strategy by seizing tactical opportunities as they are discovered.
  • Communication must ensure clear understanding. In spite of “relentless” top-down communication about strategy, many middle managers (55% in one survey) cannot name even one of their organization’s top five priorities. Executive messaging gets diluted or muddled. “Not only are strategic objectives poorly understood,” the authors say, “but they often seem unrelated to one another and disconnected from the overall strategy.”
  • A performance culture drives execution. In most companies, the “official” culture (e.g. the core values posted on the company website) does not support execution of strategy. “True values reveal themselves when managers make hard choices — and here we have found that a focus on performance does shape behaviour on a day-to-day basis.”
  • Execution should usually be driven from the middle. In large or complex organizations, execution lives and dies with what the authors call “distributed leaders,” which includes not only middle managers who run critical functions but also technical and domain experts who occupy key spots in the informal networks that get things done.

8. Closing Thought

“I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”

— Petronius Arbiter (27 – 66 AD)