January 10, 2016


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs

1. Maslow And Employee Engagement

Perhaps you committed to being a better manager this year, inspiring employees to greater engagement in the organization. Noble thought, but how exactly do you do it?

A good way is to recall your psychology studies and the hallowed pyramid of needs outlined by Abraham Maslow, which two Bain & Company consultants recently adapted for the workplace. In a Harvard Business Review blog post, they say:

  • At the bottom level of the pyramid, satisfied employees must have a safe work environment; the tools and resources to do their jobs well; be able to get their work done efficiently, without excess bureaucracy; and be valued and rewarded fairly.
  • At the next level you can get engaged employees if they feel part of an extraordinary team, have autonomy to do their job, learn and grow every day, and can make a meaningful difference — having an impact on others.
  • The top level for Maslow was about self-actualization: In this schema we find employees will be inspired if they derive meaning and motivation from their company’s mission and are inspired by its leaders.

Consultants Eric Garton and Michael Mankins argue that too often companies focus on paying employees well, expecting they will then do anything management wants. But that’s just the bottom level; you need to aim higher. For example, employees might still feel stifled by excess bureaucracy — unnecessary meetings, cumbersome approval processes, and routine obstacles, preventing them from being satisfied, let alone engaged or inspired.

So think Maslow in 2016 and aim high on the workplace engagement pyramid.

2. Common Mistakes in Giving Feedback

Feedback is crucial to organizational success. But it can be uncomfortable to give — too often leaders shy away from sharing it, or muff it when they try. Here are some common mistakes cited by the Center for Creative Leadership:

  • The feedback judges individuals, not actions. If you lace feedback with personal judgments, the recipient will be on the defensive. You also send a message of superiority: You know what is right or wrong. That may not be helpful for the immediate conversation or future ones.
  • The feedback is too vague. Steer clear of generalized, clichéd catchphrases. If, for example, you want to encourage someone to repeat productive behaviour, you have to let them know exactly what they did to succeed, so they can keep doing it.
  • The feedback speaks for others. Stick with what you know rather than dragging a third party’s name into the discussion. That can be confusing or even enraging as the individuals you’re coaching wonder why others are talking about them behind their backs.
  • The feedback is exaggerated with generalities. In particular, avoid the dangerous words “always” and “never”, which generally go too far. Inevitably there will be exceptions, which feedback recipients are likely to raise in defence.
  • The feedback psychoanalyzes motives behind the behaviours. What you think you know about intent is just guesswork, and probably wrong.
  • The feedback goes on too long. “Know when to stop. People need time to process the information they have received,” the Center advises.

3. Improving Your Web Site’s Headlines

Want to improve your web site? Improve the headlines.

“A headline is often the first piece of content people read. And often it is the only thing people read. If you want your encounters with people to be successful, make sure to write solid headlines,” Nielsen Norman Group VP Hoa Loranger writes on their site.

Headlines must be strong and descriptive, working out of context (for when they appear in searches or social media streams). They should tell readers something useful, which means being specific, piquing readers’ attention, perhaps sharing information they don’t know. Avoid broad or generic headlines.

Don’t get too cute or use faddish vocabulary. Keep headlines tight, avoiding nonessential words. And front-load them with key words, since the group’s eye-tracking studies show readers pay more attention to the first few words in lists. “Don’t count on people reading to the end of sentence,” she warns.

4. Try A Pile-On Meeting

In football, “piling on” can bring penalties. It should usually be the same at work, but there can sometimes be a virtue in the concept. Kathleen Finch, chief programming officer of HGTV, Food Network and the Travel Channel told The New York Times she likes “pile-on meetings” when she brings together 25 people to go over projects for the next six months. She asks all participants to pile on ideas to make those projects as successful as possible.

Bryant University Management Professor Michael Roberto hails the idea on his blog, but warns that the leader first has to establish a safe environment where everyone feels they can speak up. Second, participants have to strive to build on others’ ideas rather than being critical and poking holes in colleagues’ proposals. And, of course, they must focus on issues, not personalities, avoiding personal attacks.

5. Zingers

  • Connect action and effect: Do your people understand how their actions contribute to the success of the organization? Consultant John Stoker says research shows that 70–95% don’t. So ask them if they know their impact on the organization’s success, listen carefully to responses, and be prepared to fill in any holes in their understanding. (Source: LeadChange Group)
  • End with an uptick: End your meetings on a high note, perhaps reading a customer testimonial, letter or review from someone raving about what your organization, team or an individual has done. (Source: MikeKerr.com)
  • How we perceive presence: Gravitas — a presence with weight, influence and authority — is known to help a leader. But what exactly creates it? INSEAD Professor Manfred Kets de Vries says it boils down to three Cs: courage, communication, and composure. Gravitas is a perception issue. People judge the 3 Cs by how leaders are perceived in acting, speaking, and in appearance. (Source: INSEAD Knowledge)
  • When less is more: Blogger Laurie Ruettimann finds people are hearing her messages better since she started working on her communication skills. Even her husband now hears more of what she says. The secret? She is using fewer words, not babbling on. She practises, recording herself telling anecdotes and evaluating how to improve. And she keeps a post-it note by her phone to remind herself to use fewer words in conference calls. (Source: LaurieRuettimann.com)
  • Lunch-mates boost productivity: Eat lunch with lots of your colleagues. A team of software developers who ate lunch in large groups wrote 10% more code than those who ate solo or with fewer colleagues. (Source: Shepa Learning Company Positive Networking Tip)


6. Q&A with 8020Info: Closing The Idea-Action Gap

Question: Every year it seems we do a poor job of implementing the great ideas our team comes up with in January. How can we improve??

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

It comes down to organized diligence. Nothing more — but unfortunately, nothing less. Perhaps we can offer a somewhat different view on how you might approach it.

  • First, implementation for every goal will take on a different shape and speed, but we often just vaguely assume the item is be completed “in the next year.” Start by asking how long it really should take to implement the goal, provided you give it reasonable attention. Also, what is the pace and flow of implementation? Some projects require a lot of effort at the start; some might require roughly the same effort over time until the goal is attained. Some require just a little energy at launch — or to proceed slowly at the start, as different strands are explored — and then build up steam towards the end.
  • Separate the goals into different implementation tracks, perhaps using a tool like an Excel spreadsheet. The idea is to work up an overview for judging implementation speed, but it might also reveal that goals clash in terms of when they require implementation effort — for example, July and August might require maximum effort on two key goals but it’s vacation time.
  • Now start to think about accountability. As the boss, you may be responsible overall for implementation. But hand off responsibility for each action item to somebody specific, making sure he or she is not overloaded — in general and at key times shown by the critical path spreadsheet.
  • Also, take time to consider the challenges in implementing each goal. Try a PRE-mortem: If you were to fail, what might cause it? Are there certain periods when challenges might occur for each goal? Keeping tabs on these struggles is your prime responsibility: be alert to signs they are arising and ask the right questions at the right time.

Here’s a wild idea: How about a Devil’s Advocate for each project? Not a doubter or cynic — somebody who really wants the effort to succeed, but is not in charge. Is there a way they might be assigned some responsibility for checking into progress without igniting a civil war in the office? (Devil’s advocate is the role, although you might want to call it something like Cheerleader, Check-in Assist, or Friendly Reminderer.)

Now with your Excel tracker chart, put in your calendar when you will be asking for updates on projects, according to the expected schedule. Perhaps you prefer those updates through one-to-one contact, but if they are overall team goals, schedule them for team meetings, first on the agenda, so they get top attention while everybody is fresh.

That gives you a pattern of organized diligence, contoured to the nature of the implementation projection for each goal.

7. News From Our Water Cooler: Beyond Membership

In our world, 2016 has arrived with many clients rethinking their concept of “membership” and how it relates to achieving their goals. Some examples:

  • Does our structure fit the value we deliver? An arts association found the meaningful value it delivered did not fit well within a model that restricted services to paid members. The real value of its programs served a broader constituency of “supporters”, and a different financial model was needed to sustain the organization.
  • Is our membership defined too narrowly? A national group of PhD-level clinicians have decided to review their membership requirements. Trends in their professional context suggest that those involved in managerial and non-credentialed roles could make meaningful contributions if they were to be admitted as members. But would it dilute the association’s professional identity?
  • Who do we really serve with our mission? Last year a choral group that sings music from the 12th–19th century realized that its members shared common cause with many non-members — instrumentalists who perform period repertoire, academic scholars, historians, educators and students, not to mention the loyal, enthusiastic members of their audience. The group revised the focus of its mission to be more inclusive of all those interested in being part of the “Early Music Community”.
  • Does a narrow view of membership constrain collaboration? A private group of tourism operators wishes to develop an exciting and ambitious vision for a development opportunity on a multi-use site. Their interest is visitor attraction, but to create the best possible vision for the site, the association must reach beyond its own membership to collaborate with other sectors such as retail, education, residential development, arts and heritage.

Perhaps this new year is a time for you to revisit your assumptions about membership — the members in your own group, or your place as a member in external associations — and whether there is a better way to organize, structure and align your efforts with your most critical strategic goals.

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8020Info helps teams think better together as they develop and effectively implement research/stakeholder consultations, strategic plans and marketing communications. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries.

8. Closing Thought:

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

William Gibson