July 5, 2015



The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs

1.  Talk About Change with Seven Simple Questions

Management consultant Mark Stelzner admires the brilliance of a well-placed question. A few words can stimulate revealing conversations when grappling with change initiatives, as with these seven questions he shared on LinkedIn:

  • What does success look like? This is a wonderful conversation starter for a group. Given it’s open-ended, each participant can respond with their own ideas, building on what has already been said.
  • What scares you? This question might promote an uncomfortable silence. But wait, and allow answers to come forth. “Fear —more specifically, unspoken fear— can be the archenemy of progress,” he writes. This gets project fears out in the open.
  • Is “do nothing” an option? This is a tricky question in some contexts, but it can be effective, eliciting concerns with continual change.
  • What are the inhibitors to success? Barriers arise as we seek change. This question illuminates them, which in turn can lead to a breakthrough. He suggests asking the question individually of each stakeholder.
  • How are decisions made? This points out the cultural, political, and personal factors that come together in running the effort. You’re looking not for an organization chart but for the nuances of decision-making.
  • What is the deadline? If you’re told “yesterday,” push for a clear and concise timeline. “Whether aspirational or explicit, an understanding of when one is expected to attain the future vision is paramount to success,” he says.
  • How can I help? This is your closer. It can be incredibly comforting after examining all the other issues.

2. Questions For Reviewing Marketing Materials

Here’s a question checklist from entrepreneur Seth Godin for reviewing marketing materials for a new project:

  • What’s it for? What is it supposed to do and, when it works, will you be able to tell?
  • Who is it for? What specific group is this material intended for and will it resonate with them?
  • What does this remind you of? If somebody has done something similar before using same vernacular (perhaps even you), is this better?
  • What’s the call to action? Every marketing message needs to clearly ask people to do something.
  • When you show it to 10 strangers, without prompting, what do they say? What do they ask you after seeing it? Probe deeper: Ask what the material is asking them to do.
  • What’s the urgency? Why now?

“Your job is not to answer every question, your job is not to close the sale. The purpose of this work is to amplify interest, generate interaction and spread your idea to the people who need to hear it, at the same time that you build trust,” he writes on Seth’s Blog.

3. Seven Questions For Project Launch

Continuing our theme of questions, here are seven queries that executive Karin Hurt contributes from her Let’s Grow Leaders blog. When launching a new project, use this checklist for making sure all the bases are covered:

  • Why is this project vital? You need to know why you’re doing it — and why now? Who will benefit and what do they most need? What’s the cost and why is the investment worthwhile?
  • What does success look like? How will you measure success and what process metrics will signal whether you’re heading in the right direction at the right speed?
  • Who else must we include: Who do you need on board to be successful? What stakeholders need to be brought in early?
  • How will we communicate: Think through your team communication procedures for the project. In her case, she was using collaboration systems like Gather Content, Hall, and Cage. You have lots of options beyond email.
  • How does this work integrate with other work underway? Be sure to watch for redundancy or competing efforts. In larger organizations you may need to slow down and take time to check so you can go fast later.
  • What can we learn from others who have done similar work? It pays to scout out who has done similar work and benefit from their insights. “Breakthroughs are almost always improvements of work that has come before. Be sure you know what that is,” she warns.
  • Who will do what by when? Instead of jumping right into the fray of action, take time to plan.

4. Two Provocative Interview Questions

Suzanne Lucas bills herself as The Evil HR Lady. Here are two unusual job interview questions she has collected for interviewing job candidates, passed along in Inc.

  • What was your biggest failure and who was responsible for it? Shashi Upadhyay, CEO of Lattice Engines, uses this to force reflection.
  • Rapid-fire questioning: “Who is your favourite author? Why? What was the last book you read? What’s the next book you want to read? Do you travel? What’s your favourite city? Why? What’s your favourite country?” — Jeremy Lopez, marketing director of Zero Turnaround, says fast snappy questions help to gauge knowledge, opinions, and ability to handle the stress of a fast pace.

5. Zingers

  •  Best boss ever: When thousands of managers were interviewed about their best boss, the most common answers were: my best boss listened; my best boss backed me up; my best boss trusted me and respected me; my best boss gave me feedback; and my best boss left me alone. ( Source: Eric Jacobson On Management And Leadership)
  • Drop something on the way up: Trainer Elizabeth Grace Saunders says that, after gaining a promotion, you must define what you aren’t going to do anymore. (Source: Fast Company)
  • Present stories, not lists: Presentations work better as stories, but delivery coach Nick Morgan says that because we experience life as a series of events —first this happened, then that happened— our attempts at narration usually take the form of lists and dumps of information. Instead, develop a story structure. (Source: Public Words)
  • Round out your inner circle: Executive coach Will Lukang says you can benefit from an inner circle that includes people who bring technical expertise you don’t have; business knowledge; the willingness to provide honest feedback and assessment to ensure that you are heading in the right direction; and industry insight that can help the team. (Source: Lead Change Group)
  • Hiring tips from search experts: Building on insights from Google’s hiring practices, HR consultant Tim Sackett recommends you have women interview women for leadership positions, to counter the fact that men tend to be more comfortable with men. Also ask specific questions about accomplishments — women don’t get hired or promoted because they don’t like to brag. And take detailed notes. (Source: The Tim Sackett Project)

6.  Q&A with 8020Info:  Summer Reads Worth the While

Question:  Any summer reading to recommend that might improve my abilities at work?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

This summer you might want to reflect on how harried you are when you aren’t relaxing on a vacation beach or at the cottage:

  • Psychologist Edward Hallowell probes why we are Driven To Distraction At Work and how to counter that by focusing for greater productivity.
  • Consultant Devora Zack takes aim at multitasking and offers the alternative in Singletasking.
  • And Tom Rath, an ex-Gallup researcher (whose book Eat Move Sleep from a few years ago is worth getting if you haven’t read it) has a new book, Are You Fully Charged?, which looks at three keys to energize your work and life — meaning in your work, interactions that strengthen relationships, and having the energy to do your best.

In The Automatic Customer, Canadian entrepreneur John Warrillow illuminates a great way to grow a business, by creating a subscription model where clients keep coming back automatically.

Power Score, by consultants Geoff Smart, Randy Street, and Alan Foster, offers a simple formula for ensuring your organization is running at full power: P (for Priorities) x W (the all-important Who you recruit and develop) x R (for Relationships).

Women might want to have a look at Toronto consultant Judith Humphrey’s Taking The Stage, on building a presence to succeed. Managers of either gender could benefit from The 27 Challenges Managers Face by Bruce Tulgan, which is neatly divided into 27 short sections you can pick up at any time, a summertime plus.

The best management book so far this year is Work Rules! by Google’s Laszlo Bock. He takes you inside the company’s innovative HR practices, which in a data-crazy organization are invariably tested in experiments, so there is some evidence they work.

Beyond management and the workplace, an excellent read —and fiery polemic— is Rebalancing Society, by iconoclast McGill Management Professor Henry Mintzberg. He looks at how we have been over-emphasizing the private sector in recent decades and must counterbalance by strengthening the public and “plural” sectors — the latter a helpful name for voluntary associations, clubs, non-profits, non-governmental institutions, co-operatives, unions, religious institutions, social movements and the like.

7.  News From Our Water Cooler:  Simple Frameworks That Focus

When your work presents you with “wicked” problems and situations mired in complexities, it can be refreshing to consider examples of the so-called “Rule of Three” to clarify your focus and anchor your thinking in quick-to-grasp frameworks. Here are a couple that have come our way recently:

On Dynamics:

Our friends at The Screening Room recently referenced an incisive quote from accomplished playwright, screenwriter and film director David Mamet. These three short questions would also apply to the dynamics of change management, stakeholder engagement and strategic planning:

  • “Every scene should be able to answer three questions: Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don’t get it? Why now?”

On Innovation: 

From a Harvard website focused on the early childhood development field, we get this three-part framework on what innovation needs to succeed:

  • Seeds: New ideas, based on strong science, that offer plausible routes for achieving breakthrough outcomes.
  • Soil: People and organizations who are willing to test promising ideas, learn from failure, and catalyze broader impact.
  • Climate: Policy, funding, and professional environments that encourage and support experimentation.

If your aim is to infuse your projects with more innovation, consider whether your emphasis should be on developing the seeds of new ideas, demonstrating or testing them, or focusing instead on the environment that supports innovative behaviours.

8.  Closing Thought:  Break Through Before You’re Ready

“I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.”

— Marissa Mayer