Vol-15_No-4_Mar_23-2015 ‎

March 22, 2015



The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs

1. Signs An Old Job Still Haunts You

Bad experiences can linger. A bad job in the recent or even distant past can haunt you.

“Bad jobs can hurt you in so many ways, by destroying your quality of life, holding you back professionally and making you dread coming into work each day,” consultant Alison Green writes on the US News site.

“But if you think that all ends once you leave, you might be wrong. For many people, spending too much time in dysfunctional workplaces or modifying behaviors to accommodate bad managers can end up instilling ‘survival’ habits that can hurt them once they move on to better companies.”

Here are four signs a previous bad job or bad boss is still hurting you:

  • You get defensive when your manager gives you feedback, because your old boss used feedback to punish or berate you.
  • You don’t do your best work because you learned in your last job that it wouldn’t be appreciated.
  • You still expect the worst from your manager or co-workers.
  • You think that all managers are  _____  (filling in the blank negatively).

Take time to think through what current habits are rooted in your old work environment. As well, recalibrate your sense of normal.

“Make a point of looking around and gathering evidence about how other managers and workplaces operate,” she says. “Do your assumptions line up with reality?” And when you are about to engage in negative workplace behaviour, ask yourself if your manager has actually given you evidence you should operate in this fashion.

2. Tips For Improving Virtual Meetings

In an era of virtual meetings (or blended sessions, with some people attending the session in person and some only by video or conference call), we have to rethink our meeting protocols to be more effective. Here are some tips from The Collaboration Imperative, by Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese, which were shared by blogger Eric Jacobson:

  • Before the meeting, make sure attendees have all the preparation materials they will need and adequate time to review them.
  • Begin with a quick warm-up, such as asking remote attendees to describe what’s happening in their office or city.
  • During blended meetings, address remote attendees first and then offer the opportunity for in-person attendees to speak.
  • Ensure in-person attendees are identified when they speak. Have them introduce themselves when presenting or making occasional comments so the remote attendees know who is speaking and learn their voices.
  • Ask remote attendees to be vocal about issues affecting their participation. Emphasize that it is their responsibility to let it be known if or when they cannot hear or follow the discussion.
  • Rotate meeting times so that participants from each time-zone have a meeting scheduled during their normal business day.
  • Solicit participation even more than you would at an in-person meeting. Regularly check with the remote folks to see if they have comments, and encourage participants to speak up.
  • Wrap up by documenting key discussion points, decisions and action items.

3. Is The Grass Greener On A New Web Site?

When considering a web site redesign, organizations sometimes fall prey to “the grass is always greener” syndrome. They believe other companies have better designs, but that can be a mistaken notion.

Hoa Loranger, a director at Nielsen Norman Group, says when she asks organizations why they want to redesign, they may say they haven’t changed the web site in a long time or feel it looks amateurish compared to others.

You may be bored with your current site, but customers likely aren’t: They usually don’t sit and stare at the site for extended periods every day. Most companies are lucky if customers visit their site once per month, and even in the case of more frequent visits, users tend to like designs that are safe and familiar,” she writes on the NN Group site.

She urges that, before undertaking a makeover, you should make sure you have solid evidence a redesign is necessary for users to achieve their goals on your site. Discuss solutions that address the problems they face, rather than being seduced by trendy changes that ignore content, structure, and interaction by users.

4. Keep Your Teams To About Seven People

The average dinner reservation in a restaurant is for a party of four, Stanford University Management Professor Bob Sutton notes on his blog. The last time you were at a dinner with 10 to 15 people, it was probably difficult to have a coherent and emotionally satisfying conversation that engaged everyone as a group.

It’s the same with your teams. “If you are on a big team that keeps screwing up, where members don’t care much about each other and are fighting like crazy, try some subtraction or division,” he writes. Aim for about teams of about seven people, give or take two.

5. Zingers

  • Summing Up: Entrepreneur Robyn Scott recommends that, after any meeting or other significant experience, you should take 30 seconds to write down the most important points. She stresses this is not note-taking — even if you took notes at the session, afterwards you should reflect on and write down your takeaways. (Source: Linked-In)
  • Golden Words: Testimonials can help your organization, so contact your passionate newer clients and insightful repeat clients to see if they’ll offer one, suggests consultant Colleen Francis. Don’t aim for polished statements. Ask the individual to complete the following sentence in 25 words or less and take notes that you can turn into their testimonial: “I really like the product/service/person because….” (Source: Engage Selling)
  • Probing In Interviews: Mitch Rothschild, chief executive of the health web site Vitals, tries during interviews to see if candidates are comfortable with change, since that skill can help a small organization compete with larger ones. He also asks candidates what they think he won’t like about them in 90 days and what the person thinks they won’t like about him. (Source: The New York Times)
  • Inoculate Against Negativity: The attitude of colleagues can be contagious. If someone has a negative disposition, consultant Kevin Eikenberry suggests trying to dissociate yourself from them — literally. If that’s not possible, you may acknowledge when they are complaining, but don’t agree with them. And inoculate yourself from them by associating with positive people and reading or watching uplifting stories. (Source: Leadership & Learning Blog)
  • Some Female Strengths: Women in general are more coachable than men, better at handling criticism, more open to learning and improvement, and more willing to take criticism, research by PsychTests shows. (Source: PRWeb.com)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:   Sharpening Your Vision

 Question:   We’re working on a vision for our organization but it seems general, vague and dull. Is there a way to sharpen it up?

8020Info President & CEO Rob Wood responds:

Some boards and senior leadership teams sharpen their vision and/or strategic goals by spending the time and effort to be very clear about their “ends”, a policy governance concept that demands an explicit statement of the difference you intend to make in the world. A useful question to help you focus on ends is:

 “What difference will we make, for whom, and at what level of cost or investment?”

This question forces you to think about and specify the precise type of clients or customers you aim to serve — and those you do not. It urges you to calibrate the type of outcome or measurable difference you aim to achieve — the more specific, the better. Finally, you need to have some sense of scale for your goal in terms of the resources (time, attention, relationships, money, talent) that you’re prepared to commit to achieve that goal or vision.

You want to go beyond any generic statement like: “Our vision is to make the world a better place, for all our stakeholders, and achieve that within our current budget.”  Instead, make choices about what core audience you will serve. (It should be specific enough that you can discern ways to optimize your services for them.) Define specifically what must be achieved, at a minimum, to declare your vision or strategic goal achieved. Determine whether staff and budget and partnerships need to be expanded, realigned, streamlined or redeployed.

A path out of bland-land: 

As Mike Brown said on Brainzooming.com, organizational missions, visions and values often all sound alike — bland and meaningless. If you have boring or confusing strategic statements, he suggests asking yourself (or your team) these questions to help clarify, simplify and enrich the language:

  • How would customers or clients describe what we’re talking about — in ways that are very meaningful to them?
  • If we were telling somebody who knows nothing about our business why this idea is important to our success, what would we say?
  • If we had to explain this goal to children, what would we say so they could understand it and be able to act?
  • What are more emotional words to describe this statement?
  • How would we communicate this in a way that really inspires our employees to greatness? How about potential employees?
  • How will we talk about it when we’ve accomplished this vision or goal?
  • How would one of our mothers proudly tell a relative about what we’re trying to do?

An honest and dedicated effort to respond to these questions will help lead you to sharper strategic statements, including a crisp vision for your organization.

7. Around Our Water Cooler:   Got A Second?

This past week we were conducting usability testing sessions for some clients’ new websites. Sitting beside a living, breathing user to observe how they go about core tasks on a website provides you with a strong smack of reality — users single-mindedly focus on their task or purpose and scan content at lightning speed. Your pages, copy and headlines must be designed to be effective in that flat-out reading environment; otherwise you risk confusing, boring or frustrating your users.

These fresh experiences prompt us to pass along a few tips about writing blog or website headlines, as shared in a presentation by Hiten Shah, Co-Founder at KISSmetrics, and based on their research findings:

  • Use specific headlines that match your content.
  • Aim to have six words in your headlines.
  • Keep headlines under 65 characters to ensure search visibility.
  • Avoid words that have multiple meanings.
  • Include power verbs and interesting adjectives.
  • Negative words and numbers cause more clicks.
  • Odd numbers perform better than even ones.

If you’re using social media, it’s especially important to keep headlines under 65 characters and use six words in your headlines.

At the same time, the content must be meaningful to the scanning user. Don’t leave them thinking: “So what does that mean?”

8. Closing Thought

““He who is not every day conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson