May 15, 2016


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs


1.  Why Leaders Fail

Is the lesson from history that leaders succeed until they fail?

That sobering notion is raised by London Business School Professor Nigel Nicholson who suggests that such a premise underlies fixed-term presidencies or other forced retirement options. Those policies supposedly help to avoid eventual inevitable failure, allowing leaders such as Nelson Mandela to quit while they’re still ahead.

“His laudable example is an exception; we often face leadership disappointment, even in the most promising people,” he writes on the university website.

Leadership, he notes, must be adaptive. Effectiveness involves being the right person, at the right time and place, doing the right thing. He cites the following five types of failure as commonplace:

  • The Pathological Leader: There is a disturbing tendency, he contends, for us to elevate narcissists, bullies and psychopaths to lead us. They may make us safe for awhile but leave a tattered legacy.
  • The Inflexible Leader: Organizations falter or fail when leaders fail to adapt their style and strategy to changing times.
  • The Over-reaching Leader: He gives Napoleon and Margaret Thatcher as examples of leaders who tried to bend the world to their will, stretching their vision to breaking point.
  • The Lopsided Leader: Those who have an unbalanced portfolio of skills need co-leaders and teams to provide what they’re missing.
  • The Unlucky Leaders: Good leaders hedge their bets and therefore aren’t unlucky. Louis Pasteur said “chance favours the prepared mind.”

Re-examine your own leadership, considering his warning about inevitable failure if you’re not adaptive.


2.  How To Curb Leadership Failure

If many leaders face failure, what is the role of boards of directors in curbing that tendency?

Philip Anderson, a professor of entrepreneurship at INSEAD, says avoiding leadership failure requires creating an environment in which they would learn — an environment unfortunately far from what is currently common.

That’s where boards need to step in, setting a context for the CEO that helps them from succumbing to their flaws.

“Board members shouldn’t try to engineer CEO development. They should aim to create a climate within which effective development will happen naturally. This can happen through the questions they ask, the demands they make, the expectations they set and the rewards they give,” he writes on the university’s blog.

He says board members are ineffective as mentors because that role contradicts their governance mandate. But they can indirectly assist by establishing a healthy developmental environment for the CEO.

He lists these attributes of a strong learning culture:

  • Help the CEO build a strong external network.
  • Encourage “management by wandering around” with employees and customers, so CEOs can learn from those around them.
  • Have productive conflict.
  • Expect honest dissent.
  • Promote hypothesis-driven experiments.
  • Demand evidence-based learning.
  • Actively seek surprises and bad news.
  • Make it OK to be wrong or reverse course.
  • Reward results, not mystique.

Instead of replacing a faltering CEO with another less-than-perfect individual, he says boards should look out for and remedy the specific flaws that arise.


3.  Do The Math Of Customer Service

During intermission recently at The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, the line-ups for the women’s and men’s washrooms stretched across the lower lobby. To consultant Donald Cooper, waiting in line, it was yet another example of failing to do the math of customer service.

He didn’t check the women’s washroom but the men’s had just five urinals. Figuring that 40% of the audience in the 850-seat theatre were men and calculating how much time each required to do their business, 21 urinals were needed.

Switching to financial advisors, he offers another example in his newsletter: Some promise clients 12 to 14 hours a year of analysis, planning and face time. But for 370 clients, which he figures they might have, the math suggests that’s 4,810 hours a year, more than double what they can likely offer. They haven’t done the math.

Don’t make that mistake. He suggests doing the math of what it takes to delight and amaze —rather than aggravate— your customers.


4.  The Fairness Imperative

Fairness is a huge concern for most Canadians and so perceived unfairness at work can be a major problem.

On her blog consultant Julie Winkle Giulioni says research shows that, in the presence of unfairness and the strong emotions it evokes, cognitive functioning diminishes, empathy for others is reduced, and problem solving undermined.

She suggests you give attention to three areas:

  • Transparency: Feelings of inequity breed in an environment that lacks access to information.
  • Involvement: When people are involved in decisions, they are less likely to scream, “No fair!”
  • Expectations: If you have clear goals, performance standards, work rules and norms, actions in line with them are more likely to be considered fair.


5.  Zingers

  • What you condone sets the bar: Regardless of what you say, it’s the performance you’re willing to accept that becomes your true standard, consultants Eric Harvey and Al Lucia stress. (Source: Eric Jacobson on Management)
  • The match makes the mentoring: Carefully choose the people you agree to mentor. Not everyone benefits from being mentored and not every mentor is right for every mentee, warns former health care CEO Dennis C. Miller. Create a mentoring contract that both can agree to — and stick to it. (Source: ChiefExecutive.net)
  • What scares you on the new job? Medallia, which produces customer experience management software, holds a one-week on-boarding program for new hires, which includes one afternoon in which they are told to go out and do something that scares them and is holding them back. (Source: New York Times)
  • Conversation beats ad talk on social: After tracking 4,200 Facebook posts made by nine brands during a recent 18-month period, researchers found you’ll be most effective with an informal, casual, and general series of messages — like a conversation, rather than the clear, concise persuasive promotions normally recommended in advertising. ”Core principles of traditional advertising may not apply in social media,” the researchers conclude. (Sources: strategy + business; research study)
  • Four ways to earn engagement: Consultant Kevin Kruse boils the complicated matter of employee engagement to one sentence that he suggests managers keep close at hand: People give loyalty and discretionary effort to those who foster their growth, show appreciation, share a compelling vision and are trustworthy. (Source: KevinKruse.com)


6.  Q&A With 8020Info:

     Marketing, Fast And Slow

Question:  Any hot new ideas to suggest for our marketing?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

Lately I find myself coming back to something from a book I read eight years ago that got less attention than it deserved. It seems to address one of the biggest factors underlying behaviour today: perceived lack of time.

We’re all rushed, trying to squeeze too many things into too little time. Even retirees complain! It’s like we proceed with a ticking stopwatch in our brain.

The authors of Stopwatch Marketing, consultants John Rosen and AnnaMaria Turano, are telling us that marketers need to respond. How often do you talk about this issue in your marketing discussions? Does your marketing strategy reflect the importance you and others are placing on the role of time?

They note that in some cases the purchase decision will be quick, as when a tire blows and a replacement is needed. In others the process may be slow and lengthy, as when a high school student and his or her parents are contemplating which university the student will attend.

Your challenge is to understand the pace of the stopwatch (or shopping style) used by your customers, and then adjust by timing your approach to the customer accordingly, even nudging the consumer to change his or her pattern in ways that help you achieve your marketing goals.

They outline a matrix that looks at a customer’s disposition to spend time shopping for a particular product or service, and your net profit margin for that product or service. That helps a marketer design the quantity and quality of customer touchpoints and use other resources available for marketing, since marketing investments must be geared to revenue and margins.

The four segments of the matrix that emerge are:

  • Impatient shopping: On a fast stopwatch and with higher margins (allowing many touchpoints). Examples are buying tires, corporate gifts, or wine for you to take to a party.
  • Reluctant shopping: Fast stopwatch and lower margins (few touchpoints). Examples include purchases of air conditioning, root canal dental work, or wine for your spouse to take to a party.
  • Recreational shopping: Slow stopwatch and lower margins (few touchpoints). Examples include buying books, gourmet foods, time at a spa, ice cream, or wine for yourself.
  • Painstaking shopping: Slow stopwatch and higher margins (many touchpoints). Examples include buying HDTVs, personal computers, a honeymoon trip, or wine for a hot date.

In some ways, however, their general premise is as important as the specifics they offer:  Are you aware of how much time people are willing to give to deciding on your offering? Have you geared your operations accordingly? Are you demanding that they take more time to make a decision than they are willing to give — or too much time getting used to the product and learning how to use it?

Can you change that time frame? They note that Whole Foods Market slows down the ticking by providing a supermarket experience that gets people to luxuriate in shopping for food, rather than trying to get it done as quickly as possible.

So call it a timeless idea about time that can help your marketing today and tomorrow.


7.  From Our Water Cooler:  Team Motivation From Choices, Safety & “Why”

This week we’ve enjoyed spending some time with Charles Duhigg’s new book Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. The author of The Power of Habit outlines eight key productivity concepts —from motivation and goal setting to focus and decision making— that explain why some people and companies get so much done.

We noticed several tips and insights that would help those who struggle in collaborations with outside partners or team projects that get bogged down, resisting efforts to make them more productive.

  • It’s important for teams to make choices that allow them to assert control. “When people believe they are in control,” Duhigg says, “they tend to work harder and push themselves more.”
  • During the tough slogging, ask each other “why are you doing this?” This call-and-response type question is used in marine training to help new recruits get through exhausting stretches of boot camp. When you’re reminded of the meaningful “why” driving your motivation, you’ll find it easier to push through to the finish line. How often do we encourage our partners by helping them focus on why they wanted to be involved in the collaboration or project in the first place?
  • The winning condition for teams is an atmosphere of “psychological safety”. Duhigg explains how this one key factor makes a team stand out from others with similar composition, skill and leadership. Do your team members encourage each other, have fun, welcome crazy new ideas and find ways to disagree without offending each other or creating hurt feelings? Or do they focus on one-upmanship, being critical and competing with each other? You will do better when there’s “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up.”

In themselves, Duhigg’s conceptual categories don’t jump out as earth-shaking —we’ve seen them before— but his engaging and readable stories make these “secrets” come alive and give hope that we can improve. Perhaps they can make your collaborations smarter, faster and better too.

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:

“The more a man knows, the more he forgives.”

— Confucius