April 12, 2015



The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs

1.  The 4R Test For Crisis Decision-Making

In normal times, organizations seek extra certainty in decision-making, often by way of focus groups or other research and careful deliberation. Risk avoidance tends to rule. But in a crisis, delay can have serious consequences, as Eric J. McNulty, director of research at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, notes in strategy + business.

If you normally seek 80% certainty in decisions, perhaps in a crisis you must settle for 50–60%. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that once you have 40% to 70% of the information you need, you can make your gut decision.

When you reach that stage, McNulty recommends the 4R test:

  • Regret: What will you regret if you fail to act and are wrong? The more serious the potential regret from non-action, the sooner you should make the decision.
  • Repeal: How difficult will it be to reverse course if your decision is wrong? The easier it is to repeal a decision, the sooner you can make it.
  • Repercussions: Who and what else will be affected by your decision? “The broader the impact, the more carefully you should consider the decision. Be sure to account for less obvious stakeholders in order to minimize unintended consequences,” he writes.
  • Resilience: What will be the impact of the decision on your resilience and that of your organization, or parties like customers or suppliers? Give more weight to the option that increases resilience.

These 4Rs will help you make better decisions in tough times.

2.  Preparing For Meetings

Just as we don’t plunge into crossing a busy street without deliberation, we shouldn’t call a meeting automatically when we hit a problem.

On Harvard Business Review Blogs, associate editor Gretchen Gavett says that before holding a gathering you should ask: Have I thought through this situation? Do I need outside input to make progress? Does moving forward require a real-time conversation? Does this necessitate a face-to-face meeting? In each case, if the answer is no, don’t give yourself a green light for a meeting but pursue other options, such as email, chats, or video conferencing.

If you have to solve a problem, the guideline is to have eight or fewer people at the session. For brainstorming, 18 or fewer. To rally the troops, 1,800 or fewer.

Another issue is whether you should make a presentation at the meeting or ignite a conversation. Presentations expert Nancy Duarte says you will want to present if you:

  • need to communicate an already formed idea;
  • already have information about the audience’s needs and wants;
  • need to inform, persuade or entertain the audience;
  • do not require real-time feedback from the group;
  • need a single event to move the folks towards your objective.

On the other hand, focus on stimulating the conversation if you:

  • need to encourage consensus, build upon or more fully develop an idea;
  • need more information on the audience’s needs and wants;
  • need to build a personal relationship with the audience;
  • need the group’s input to move forward;
  • need continuous encouragement to accomplish your goal.

3.  Hire Moms

Tim Sackett hires moms. And it pays off in great productivity.

The HR consultant has no tolerance for managers who steer away from hiring mothers because they might have to stay home with a sick kid or take an early lunch to attend a fourth-grade play. His own mother started her own business, paid her own mortgage, and raised two kids — and he sees other mothers being just as dedicated.

“The Moms I hire are some of the strongest employees I have.  They come to work, which for many is a refuge of quiet and clean, and do work that is usually less hard than the other jobs they still have to perform that day and night.  They rarely complain, and usually are much better to put issues into perspective and not freak out,” he writes on his blog.

He says he almost didn’t write the post as it felt like he was giving away the recipe to his secret sauce for recruiting. The main ingredient: Moms.

4.  Dealing With Open Offices

Getting work done in an open office can be difficult, with the noise and interruptions. On TLNT.com, productivity expert Laura Stack suggests using a signal whenever you need quiet time, such as the manager who kept his office door open but asked staff not to interrupt if he had on his red Coca-Cola cap.

“Get together with your department and agree on a signal everyone will use consistently. Installing curtains across the cubicle door? Turning your nameplate around? Wearing orange armbands? Partially closing the door?”

Also, increase background noise with sound-masking technology, which makes speech less intelligible and the words, therefore, less distracting.

5.  Zingers

  • Get The 2% Buy-In: Pareto’s 80-20 rule applies to many organizational activities. But consultant Ram Charan also highlights the rule of 98-2: In any organization, large or small, about 2% of the people have a disproportionate influence on the other 98%, so as a leader you need to make sure you have their buy-in. (Source: The Attacker’s Advantage)
  • Two Types of Tech Hero: Toronto-based consultant Donald Cooper says every business needs two technology “heroes” — one to oversee the operational technology that will give you top efficiency, and one to guide the marketing technology used to create databases, newsletters and web sites. If you don’t have them on staff, look for those you can rent part-time. (Source: The Donald Cooper Corporation Newsletter)
  • Meaningful Apologies: Entrepreneur Seth Godin says an organizational apology requires compassion for those who’ve been hurt as well as contrition, a sign the organization recognizes it was wrong and has learned from the incident. “The disappointing thing is that most people and organizations that take the time to apologize intentionally express neither compassion nor contrition,” he says. (Source: Seth’s Blog)
  • Invest Time Now: Sitting down and taking the time to create a system that will save time in the long run is an investment that will yield benefits over and over again. (Source: SoBeOrganized.com)
  • The Answer on FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions still deliver value when written politely and personably and are chunked carefully by topic, says usability specialist Susan Farrell. Search can’t totally replace them because your users’ vocabulary and your vocabulary probably talk past each other and they miss finding find relevant information. (Source: The Nielsen Norman Group)

6.  Q&A with 8020Info:  A Marketing Priority

Question:  What’s the most important thing in marketing?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

Everyone would have their own picks, but I’d opt for positioning when it comes to marketing strategy and gaining attention for your message when it comes to execution. (Yes, that’s two. I cheated.)

Positioning was an idea first presented in 1972 by consultants Jack Trout and Al Ries in an Advertising Age article and then in the 1981 book Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind. It is the foundation of branding, product management, and differentiation.

Essentially, they argue that every product or service must own a place in the consumers’ minds. They pointed to Volvo as owning “safety,” FedEx “overnight,” and Crest “cavities.” When somebody thinks about that word (or “marketing category”), they should think about you. And you don’t want just any positioning — you want one that gives you a competitive advantage over others in the field.

It helps to be the first to define a category, they argued, although we now know that later movers often win a marketing space. (Amazon, for example, was not the first online bookstore but it owns that positioning today.) If you aren’t first, don’t be an also-ran; instead, create your own category. Miller wasn’t the first beer, but it created the first lite beer.

Essentially, you want to own an attribute that matters to your market. They argue you can’t own the same attribute as a competitor – so with Crest owning the cavities category, other companies had to go for whitening or tartar prevention. And you must own this idea in the consumer’s mind, not just send out messages.

Ries, in a 2005 contribution to The 22 Irrefutable Laws of Advertising, said the problem is that most brand positioning statements are written from the company’s perspective, with phrases like “we want to position our brand as the premier product in the category.” That leaves the central figure —the customer— out of the equation.

“Positioning is not what you do to the product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect,” he says.

In every consumer’s mind there are certain spots held by products today, but also open spaces that can be filled by new products. Heineken, for example, was the first brand to occupy top-of-mind position for “high-priced beer”. The folks at Anheuser-Busch then decided they could occupy an open space —“high-priced domestic U.S. beer”— with Michelob, nudging Heineken into being “high-priced imported beer”. Similarly, companies jockey to divide up markets and try to create new positions in the minds of consumers.

Finding Your Focus:  The difficulty is translating that approach into your marketing if you aren’t a Heineken, Volvo, or Amazon. For small social agencies, often the positioning comes from finding a more specific focus — it just has to be sharpened. It might be similar for lawyers, accountants, and corner stores in a small city who offer wide-ranging services. But if you talk to your clients and think about your services, or the geographical area you serve, you may be able to come up with effective positioning.

And it’s critical that you consider positioning, whatever field you’re in, as the organizing principle for your marketing strategy.

7.  News From Our Water Cooler:  “Pretty Clear” Is Not Enough

Many leaders and managers will say their organization’s purpose or strategy is “pretty clear”. But as Essentialism author Greg McKeown says, “anyone who wears glasses knows there is a big difference between pretty clear and really clear!”

If a team does not have clear goals and roles, problems will fester and people will experience confusion, stress and frustration. Lack of purpose may lead to a pattern where “it’s all good”, with the team squandering its energies on trivial pursuits, not focused on priorities. In another major pattern flowing from lack of clear purpose, people tend to make up their own rules and/or play office politics.

McKeown advocates finding your essential intent, a goal that is both inspirational (not just a vague, general mission/vision statement) and also concrete (but not short-term and unremarkable).

“Done right, an essential intent is one decision that settles one thousand later decisions. It’s like deciding you’re going to become a doctor instead of a lawyer. One strategic choice eliminates a universe of other options and maps a course for the next five, ten or even twenty years … once the big decision is made, all subsequent decisions come into better focus.”

It’s tough work, but he says we have to “stop wordsmithing, and start deciding.”

8.  Closing Thought:  Always With Us

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

— William Faulkner