April 24, 2016


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs

1. Critical Digital Strategy Questions

With digital strategy being touted as the latest hot concept, consultant Ken Favaro warns against a headlong rush into such an approach just because everyone else is doing it.

“This risks wasting enormous time, money, and opportunity. It also risks a debilitating confusion of the company’s real strategy, true needs, and right priorities in a changing context,” he writes on Harvard Business Review blogs.

Instead, consider five questions:

  • Does digital technology change the business you should be in? Could digital technology help you to expand your boundaries into new fields or is the major focus unchanged? It has for ride-sharing services, for example, but not the business model for auto manufacturing.
  • How could digital technology improve the way you add value? Can it help you to be more competitive or improve management processes?
  • Could the impact of digital technology change the customers you target? Is it eroding your market, as it has with newspapers and travel agents, or opening up new potential markets?
  • Does digital technology affect the value proposition you offer? Lego used virtual reality to enable kids to play with its bricks online, stimulating demand for their physical product. Are you blessed with such opportunities?
  • How can digital technology differentiate you from competitors? “This is not about adding digital capabilities, but about adding digital to your capabilities,” he says. For a company that depends on superior credit management to stand out from the competition, using social media, big data, and analytics can be vital.

“The trap is set when you start by asking, ‘What is our digital strategy?’ Instead, start with the five questions,” he concludes.


2.  Perfect Planning

What would one perfect day be like in your organization?

That may seem like a silly question. But in Ivey Business Journal, three consultants with CLG Canada and the head of wealth direct investing at Bank of Montreal InvestorLine recommend it as a way to help you focus on goals that, if met, would comprise success on just one day.

Staff too often don’t know which of the organization’s many goals should be their priority on any given day.

“The perfect-day concept works precisely because it fixes attention on behaviours and the results they produce, and does so in a way that feels manageable and realistic,” say Laura Methot, Julie Barker-Merz, Carolina Aguilera, and Steve Jacobs.

“Leaders so often pass over behaviours. Focused as they are on taking long-term strategies and translating them into short-term operational plans, they think it’s enough to train people, tell them what to do, give them some tools and expect them to take action. But that isn’t enough. As decades of research in behavioural science have shown, nothing really changes until behaviour changes, and the right kind of behaviour change doesn’t just happen on its own,” the authors note.

Of course, after you achieve one perfect day you will want two in a row, and three, and…


3.  Be Helpful, Not Hypeful

Make your promotional material helpful. Avoid hype and weasel words that turn off clients and customers.

“Just give them the scoop. Be straightforward and warn them about any pitfalls they might encounter — even if that means they decide not to buy what you sell,” says marketing consultant Angela Garrison, on the McLellan Marketing Group site.

Create tools on your web site that can help them, such as YouTube videos or PDFs. Offer questions and templates that help them evaluate choices. Don’t hide your phone number; make it easy for them to call a human being and get questions answered.

If somebody complains in public —or on Facebook, or some other site— respond immediately, so everyone can see you are open to concerns.

“The more honest you are at this stage, the more they’ll be reassured that they can trust you throughout the process,” she advises.


4.  Consider Hiring “Crap” Employees

When Tim Sackett was an HR manager at Applebee’s, they had a saying when calibrating the annual performance of their teams: “If you talk about anyone for more than 10 minutes, they turn into a piece of crap.”

On his blog, the HR consultant says it doesn’t matter whether it involves your best or worst employee. The longer we talk about them, the more we note their faults and view them in a critical light. We focus on the opportunities they had, and what they couldn’t do, rather than on their strengths — and what they can do.

Lesson one is to be wary of that tendency.

Lesson two is to consider hiring people who have been let go elsewhere, and other supposedly “crap” employees, which he has found can turn out well in the end.


5.  Zingers

  • Fish in nearby waters: Years ago companies selected locations to be near lumber, aluminum, or other resources critical to their businesses. But these days, says Meredith Amdur, an analytics expert at advisory firm CEB, “people are the natural resources” — and companies are making a city’s population of desirable workers a top factor in their location decisions. They might consider this advice from Bryant University Management Professor Michael Roberto: he says that rather than all businesses flocking to the same handful of cities, they should look for hidden gems in less competitive areas or near underrated universities.  (Source: Professor Michael Roberto’s Blog)
  • Be an anomaly to hold attention: Do what people expect you to do, say what they expect you to say, and you will quickly lose their attention, advises advertising consultant Roy H. Williams. So don’t be predictable, don’t “shout” out your claims, and don’t use too many words. “To gain and hold attention, you must introduce an enigma, write a riddle, make a mystery, pose a puzzle,” he says. (Source: Monday Morning Memo)
  • Use a trio of thanks: A thank-you should come in three parts, says consultant Kevin Kruse. It starts by actually saying “thanks” — don’t assume the other person will know you are grateful. Mention the behaviour or achievement you are grateful for — as a manager, that makes clear the thing you want more of. Finally, put it in context: link it to a value or to a strategic initiative. (Source: KevinKruse.com)
  • Beware of this hiring bias: Research shows that when organizations interview a succession of candidates in a day, the fourth person has the best chance of landing the job. The effect seems driven by two factors: the time taken in decision-making (about five minutes on average may be spent evaluating the first person, building to a high point of eight minutes with the fourth candidate, before declining) and comparisons with the alternatives. (Source: Business Insider)
  • Take time for your cultural side: To be a well-rounded and cultured person, no matter how busy you are, make time at least once a month for something involving art, music, or dance. (Source: Life Optimizer)


6.  Q&A With 8020Info:

 Change & Difficult Conversations

Question:  One of the hardest parts of change, we find, is having those difficult conversations… any tips?

8020Info President & CEO Rob Wood responds:

As you implement change, parties frequently come into conflict — perhaps over the purpose or logic of it (the why of the change), the impacts on their personal roles or values, or other seeds that can develop into a clash.  Some situations will require difficult conversations, along with creative problem-solving and working together to develop solutions satisfying to those concerned.

And of course, there is a tendency to want to avoid, or at least procrastinate, over difficult conversations with others.

Why can’t we just work through the issues?  What makes a conversation emotional and difficult? The heat could be generated by different views of the facts, a lack of trust, a fear or sense of threat to their identity, status, capabilities, or different personal work styles. Or, there could be a genuine conflict in interests to be negotiated.

In its 20-Minute Manager Series, the Harvard Business Review suggests the best responses to these tense encounters involve crafting a clear message, managing emotions, and focusing on a solution. They recommend steps such as:

  • Identifying and managing the emotions involved.
  • Seeing the bigger picture to expand possible solutions.
  • Framing the issue in a way your counterpart can relate to.
  • Listening actively and responding with empathy.
  • Staying flexible and managing the unexpected.
  • Finding areas of agreement.
  • Building on your new skills so you’ll be ready for the next tough conversation.

You might also want to take a look back at Water Cooler #191 where we shared consultant Cheri Baker’s checklist for preparing properly for a difficult conversation.

Taken together, these techniques involve first preparing yourself so you don’t become embroiled personally in the problem and then sensitively, but firmly and respectfully, managing around the emotional dynamics and escalators in the interaction.


7.  From Our Water Cooler:

 Millennials Are Changing Our Habits!

Maybe we’re noticing these stories more because we’ve just added a consulting project to our roster related to workforce development strategies, but pieces seem to be everywhere on the impact of Millennials (born 1983-2001 and now the largest generation ever).

It reminds us of a time long ago when baby boomers generated this type of urgent fascination and concern.

For an insightful rundown on impacts the Millennial mindset is having on the workplace, spend a little time exploring the new types of employees, work and workplaces in Is Your Workplace in Motion? (by our occasional associate and Queen’s University instructor Brenda Barker Scott, who co-chaired the 2015 Symposium on this theme).

The user experience experts, Nielsen Norman Group, have also recently released new research on Designing for Young Adults (Ages 18-25). They note that “Millennials are a hard audience to attract and keep on your website, so don’t just guess at what they want.”

And if you’re in marketing, consider these recent tidbits from Deloitte via MarketingProfs.com on How Media Consumption Habits Are Changing in the United States:

  • Social media sites have surpassed television as the most popular source of news for Millennials, with mobile devices playing an increasingly preferred role.
  • On a monthly basis, more than half of all consumers —and 3 out 4 Millennials— watch TV shows and movies via streaming.
  • The younger half of the Millennial demographic now spend more time streaming online video content than watching live television.
  • High numbers are binge-watching their shows (e.g. 5 or 6 episodes at a time)
  • 90% of US consumers say they multitask while watching TV. (But we’re not sure whether dozing off in the easy chair actually counts as multi-tasking! 🙂

8020Info helps strategy 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:

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

— Carl Sagan