April 3, 2016


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs

1.  Managing Your Polarities

You’ve probably heard many times about the importance of managing your priorities. But what about managing your polarities?

Consultant Jesse Lyn Stoner says we often have contradictory advice in the back of our mind influencing us, drawn from traditional cultural or family norms. For example: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks vs. you’re never too old to learn. Strike while the iron is hot vs. patience is a virtue.

Here are some others that she shares on her blog:

  • Plan ………. Act
  • Give ………. Take
  • Slow ………. Fast
  • Change …. Stability
  • Simple ….. Complex

There is an upside and downside to each. Take a common one at work: thinking or doing. The upside at the doing end is that your to-do list isn’t long because you get things done. At the thinking end, you don’t make a lot of mistakes.

But downsides also exist: At the doing end, you’re juggling a lot of balls — you might worry you’re taking on too much and might drop some balls. At the thinking end, you might worry about all the things you haven’t done and missing opportunities.

“Are you polarized – stuck at one end of a pole? Staying at one end of a pole too long surfaces the downside. It’s stressful and ineffective. If you don’t manage your polarities, they will manage you,” she warns.

But that shouldn’t come by finding a mid-point. You need to learn to dance on the pole — fluidly and intentionally.


2.  Important Tips For Customer Surveys

It’s common for organizations to survey consumers or clients of a service to learn where things may be going wrong. Jan West, CEO of the National Business Research Institute in the United States, offers these tips on its blog:

  • Respect your customer’s time: Many survey requests or introductions ask participants for “a few minutes of your time” but the survey may actually take up to 15 minutes to complete. “It’s tempting to overload customer surveys with too many questions. However, when you do this, you run the risk of losing a customer part way through the survey, or of a participant rushing to complete the survey and not giving responses that are insightful or particularly helpful to you,” she warns.
  • Give your customers a voice: Write survey questions that encourage customers to give valuable feedback, even if that takes more time than just asking for numerical responses to questions. Responses to qualitative open-ended survey questions, she adds, are the key to understanding what additional quantitative questions should be included on your next survey.
  • Show your customers you listened to them: When a customer believes that his or her survey participation may bring an actual response from you he will be more likely to participate. If a customer makes a specific complaint in a survey and you have a way of contacting them, reach out: show you understand their frustration and change organizational practices when necessary.


3.  Creating A Better Working Climate

If you want to have a better workplace — a more human workplace — HR consultant Tim Sackett says it starts with hiring glass-full people. “You can’t teach optimism. You can’t create it. People either have it when you hire them or they don’t,” he writes on his blog.

He concedes that high optimism alone won’t guarantee you a great employee. But it will guarantee someone who will continue to work to get better. And others will be drawn to that type of organization. “Hire talented people, and make sure they share your organization’s optimism!” he says.

Also, hire people who love to recognize others. Sure, you can establish a formal program to create a culture of recognition. But you also need people who do this naturally, given no tools or resources.


4.  Strategy vs. Experiments

There are folks these days who believe that “strategy” is not essential. They advise that it’s better to get into the field with an idea, test it, refine it, and keep testing and refining your way to success. That experimental approach is part of the “lean start-up” method, prized by many entrepreneurs.

But Ted Ladd, a professor at Hult International Business School, found after research on 250 teams that while the lean approach can be effective, having a strong strategy is more important than conducting a tremendous number of market tests.

The experimental method does work, he notes in Harvard Business Review. But more and more testing was not better. He speculates that maybe too much feedback prods the entrepreneur to change the approach so many times he becomes disheartened or it requires time, attention and resources diverted from other important tasks.


5.  Zingers

  • 50-minute meetings: To keep meetings short, time management expert Shari McGuire recommends starting them at 10 minutes after the hour. Since most sessions end on the hour, that means forcing your work into a 50-minute chunk. It also leaves time to get a drink of water or hit the bathroom before the next gathering. (Source: FastCompany.com)
  • Choice can be confusing: Eliminate duplicate links on the same page. It may seem clever to have several links to important content, in case a sole link would be missed, but it can turn your site into a navigation quagmire. Each extra link raises the number of choices a user must process and depletes the person’s attention. (Source: Nielsen Norman Group)
  • Take a load off: Leadership consultant Michael Rogers says the best question to ask a team member is “What can I do to ease your burden?” (Source: TeamworkandLeadership.com)
  • I’m coming to that: If you find yourself being interrupted during presentations with questions about items you intend to address later, presentations specialist Dave Paradi says that may be because, at the outset, you plunged into your content without giving an agenda or map of the content you intend to present. (Source: LinkedIn.com)
  • Ready to get better: Toronto-based consultant Sam Geist recommends asking this question about your organization: “If someone gave you $1 million to improve it, how would you use it?” (Source: QuickBites Newsletter)


6.  Q&A With 8020Info: To Mentor, Or Not?

Question:  A recent recruit to our organization asked me to be his mentor. Any suggestions on how to approach this?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

The first step is to consider your schedule. How much time can you give it, and would that be adequate? As well, can you be available when needed? If what you have in mind requires weekly chats and you are often away for long periods, maybe the fit is bad, unless you both like the phone or Skype for such conversations. Beyond that:

  • What is the individual seeking and can you provide it? What is the real need (which may not be what he says he is seeking) and can you provide that?
  • Before agreeing, the two of you need to explore those issues, making sure you’re on the same track and compatible.
  • Be alert that the person may not really want a mentor to coach him — indeed, may even be somewhat resistant to feedback — but actually craves a sponsor who can help push him forward. That’s actually a different role, and perhaps more important, which Sylvia Ann Hewitt argues in her book Forget A Mentor, Find A Sponsor.
  • Do you see yourself in the other person? The individual is his own person, and from the outset you have to be sure that you aren’t trying to turn him into a second version of yourself.

Approaching your interactions:

Mentoring requires listening and understanding: Stephen Covey’s “seek first to understand, then to be understood” captures it nicely. So probe; don’t rush to judgment… and advice. If you can help the person uncover the way ahead by himself, that’s ideal. Or offering alternatives may help to improve his thinking ability and give him a greater sense of control over the changes he must make.

We think of mentoring as being highly friendly — pleasant chats. But sometimes you may have to pose uncomfortable questions or offer discomfiting suggestions. Don’t shy away. Don’t try to hide it between flowery comments about the person’s positive traits. You will have a strong bond. The person sought you out and respects you. Provide the advice without garnish, simply and quietly.

You may want to think about the tempo and setting of the sessions if they continue for a long time. Are they best in the office or a coffee shop? Dinners together or conversations on your back porch may also be nice occasionally, but when mentoring is between the sexes, it can lead to misunderstandings and gossip.

Overall, this should be an exciting opportunity for you and the protégé. But tame your ego — which is perhaps the most difficult step ahead — and be prepared for some rough patches, just in case.


7.  From Our Water Cooler:

     Building Rapport In Conversations

In an article on Inc.com, Teresa Torres shares some tips on how to make initial conversations less awkward — they come from Robin Dreeke, a former FBI behaviourist and expert on interpersonal communication.

  • Establish time constraints: When you initiate a conversation, the other person may fear getting locked into to a never-ending discussion.  Set the other person at ease by defining an artificial time constraint (I’m about to … but I have a quick question). They know that even if you’re dull, the chat won’t go on for too long.
  • Use nonverbal signals to set them at ease. Signal that you’re not overly aggressive.  A genuine smile radiates warmth. A slight head tilt communicates trust. Angle your body, rather than standing head-on, to make your approach less intimidating.
  • Slow down your speech. Don’t be the fast-talking pitch man: Slow down. Slow speech builds credibility.
  • Reference a third party to initiate the conversation. A good starter question with anyone at a party is, “How do you know the host?” That’s a third-party reference. At a work function, it might be, “How did you hear about the conference?” or “What did you think of the speaker?”
  • Focus on the other person’s needs, not your own. You’ll have more success building lasting connections if you start by focusing on the other person’s needs. Give them the stage. Explore what they are looking for.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Be interested in what they are telling you. Ask for more details. Use head nods and verbal confirmations to show that you are listening. Reflect back what you hear by repeating what they said as a question to confirm what you heard or to encourage them to go on.
  • Share a little about yourself to encourage them to do the same. If the person seems shy or reluctant to talk, start by sharing a little bit about yourself, making it easier for them to engage with you.

Dreeke has many more tips illustrated with stories in his book, It’s Not All About Me: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport With Anyone. It might be worth a look to improve your rapport in networking conversations.

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


8.  Closing Thought:

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

— Pablo Picasso