June 5, 2016


The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs


1.  Building An Advisory Board

Advisory boards can be one of the most effective and least expensive ways for a business owner or head of a non-profit agency to receive excellent advice. Here are some tips for making the most of such a board, from leaders canvassed by ChiefExecutive.net:

  • Pick the right time: An advisory board may not always be needed when beginning a business or agency. But as things heat up and an inflection point is near, secure some advisors.
  • Seek pushback: Go after people who will challenge you. “Employees aren’t going to challenge me like that. There is nowhere else to go to get that level of honest feedback,” says Shelly Sun, CEO of a health care agency in Chicago.
  • Tap into their rolodexes: Advisory board appointees should have a strong network you can use to advantage.
  • Go for diversity: Consultant Bill Sanders says “the best advisory boards are diverse in terms of industry, experience and perspectives. The great value in diversity is in not just hearing the different perspectives, but in the mastermind approach that sharpens everyone’s thinking and yields new approaches and solutions that we can’t generate alone or even with disparate advice from individuals.”
  • Bring on new expertise and experience: As your organization advances it will need new skills, and sometimes advisors can provide the expertise you need, such as with new technology or developments in law.
  • Make it a two-way street: Not all the advantages should accrue to you. Beyond compensation, see how you can help them.


2.  Learn From Your Competition

Some of your target customers are doing business with your competitors and consultant Donald Cooper wonders if you know why.

“Stop pretending that your competitors don’t exist or don’t matter and find out why they’re getting the business, or making the profit, that you’re not. Find out what they do well and learn from that. Find out what they do badly and make sure you don’t repeat those mistakes,” he writes in his newsletter.

He suggests making a list of your competitors. And then answer these 10 questions:

  • What products, services, quality, knowledge, coaching or joy do they deliver that you don’t?
  • In what ways are they smarter, more innovative, better equipped, or have a more talented staff?
  • Do they demonstrate more urgency, consistency, or dependability?
  • Are they better located, more friendly, welcoming or approachable?
  • Do they respond immediately, and solve problems or disputes more quickly?
  • Are their prices lower than yours? If so, can you explain those price differences in a simple way customers can accept?
  • Which of their policies are more customer-friendly or flexible than yours?
  • Are they more trusted and respected than you are — and how did that come about?
  • Do they communicate and build relationships more effectively? Do they out-hustle and out market you?
  • Is their business model more relevant in today’s market place?

After answering these questions, take action to improve your competitive position.


3.  Make Your Leadership “Team” Into A Team

Over more than 25 years as a consultant Chris Edmonds has worked with hundreds of executive teams in business, non-profits and government organizations. He found that 90% of those leadership teams are not really teams at all.

“In fact, most executive ‘teams’ are a group of individual senior leaders who meet on a regular basis to battle each other for limited resources. They battle for funds, people, time, validation, and more. Every day. These leaders carefully track which battles they won, which they lost, which were a ‘draw,’ etc. The next day, the battle begins anew,” he writes on SmartBrief.com.

What’s missing is a formalized team purpose. They meet not to work together to fulfill some joint purpose, but simply because they are senior leaders and meetings are what they do. To counter that, he says, you need to create a common cause so they are unified and have each other’s back. That’s when great things will happen.


4.  The Difference Between Bad Ads and Good Ones

Here’s a great catchphrase from an ad for duct tape: “Silence is golden. Duct tape is silver.”

The second sentence is an anomaly, jarring, but when you fill in the gap it creates in your mind, you smile knowingly and remember.

Consultant Roy H. Williams says bad ads leave no gaps and have no anomalies. Everything is stated clearly. No questions form in the customer’s mind. Good ads, however, intrigue the customer and arouse curiosity. They remember you.

“Any idiot knows what to include if you have the customer’s attention. But most ads fail to win the customer’s attention. Most advertising is just white noise. It isn’t what you include that makes you a great writer. It’s what you exclude,” he says on his Monday Morning Memo.


5.  Zingers

  • Bring me bad news too: Great leaders supposedly tell underlings, “Don’t bring me bad news or surprises.” But consultant Michael Rogers says that’s a big mistake: “What you are saying to those you lead is: Only come to me with things I want to hear. As a result people will naturally sweep time bombs under the rug. Good leaders want people to come to them as soon as there is any hint of an issue.” (Source: TeamworkandLeadership.com)
  • Fast call-backs build trust: In sales, trust takes time. The fastest thing you can do to build trust, says consultant Charles H. Green, is return emails and calls real fast. Even if you can’t settle an issue immediately, let the client quickly know you are working on it. (Source: TrustedAdvisor.com)
  • Respond with a treat and a smile: Treat naive critics like a toddler, advises entrepreneur Seth Godin. Most people don’t get too upset by anything a two-year-old says to them. If you did, it wouldn’t lead the toddler to change — and the same is true of your uninformed critics. “Buy them a lollipop, smile, and walk away,” he suggests. (Source: Seth’s Blog)
  • A definite yes, or it’s no: Entrepreneur Derek Sivers says that when he is faced with deciding whether or not to do something, unless his feeling is “hell yeah!” then he says no. (Source: DumbLittleMan.com)
  • It’s not as late as you think: Consultant Tim Sackett says 70 is the new 60 — most of us won’t retire until we hit 70+. That means many of us will have a 50-year working life. Take the years you have put in, subtract from 50, and that indicates how many years you have left. “What are you going to do with those years? I bet you haven’t even come close to accomplishing all that you want!” he says. (Source: The Tim Sackett Project)


6.  Q&A With 8020Info:

     Chasing Stars May Have Hiring Pitfalls

Question:  We just hired a top-notch “star” in our field — can we base our planning around the future successes we expect of her?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

Beware. Chasing stars —and landing them— can often prove, in hindsight, delusional.

That’s the result of research by Harvard Business School Professor Boris Groysberg. He looked at investment analysts, a group he considers to be the ultimate free agent knowledge workers, and the best of them have abilities well known to competing firms. Their expertise is also considered portable: regardless of employer, they maintain watch on the same industries and take advantage of their same contacts.

Their performance was tracked by Institutional Investor, so it was easy to compare how they fared before and after a switch in employment. And the fact is they don’t fare too well.

For example, analysts who made the Institutional Investor top rankings, and didn’t move, earned similar rankings the next year 85% of the time. But top-ranked analysts who moved had only a 69% chance of achieving a top ranking the following year.

“Even after five years at a new firm, star analysts who changed employers under-performed comparable star analysts who stayed put,” he reports.

The reason —and it probably applies in your field as well— is that we have some work skills that are portable when we move and there are other less-fluid skills related to the workplace we are situated in. The analysts took their brains and outside contacts with them. But they couldn’t take the special culture of their workplace, or the unique computer economic models their company had developed, or their colleagues who gave them useful advice and otherwise supported them.

There’s a couple of lessons:

  • The first is that the stars beyond our firm we so often lust after may not be as effective in our workplace as a person already on board and promoted into the same position. We seek the best, but it’s not always the ultimate performer in the field — it’s the person who’s best when they’re working in our organization, which may not be the same thing.
  • The second is that this wonderful star you are bringing on board needs help —perhaps lots of help— to perform as well as you are imagining. Groysberg found that when teams were lifted out from one firm and transplanted into another, they performed as well after the move. In a sense, in hiring a team, companies were also siphoning the culture and support and additional knowledge that made individuals a success.

If that type of help is not available, have some serious conversations with this individual, both before she comes on board and in the initial year, pinpointing the differences between your workplace and the original one, and how to compensate for advantages lost.

And in future, be a bit more skeptical about whether stars can be transplanted.


7.  From Our Water Cooler:

     New Priorities for Communications

When the federal government released its new official Communications Policy last month, managers in all sorts of enterprises found points that were instructive for their own practices. Caroline Kealey offers a great primer in 8 Things You Need to Know About the Government of Canada’s New Communications Policy.

The directive emphasizes the increasingly pivotal role of communications as a strategic enabler for developing, implementing and evaluating policies, services and initiatives. It also consolidates roles involving web and social media, employee communications, and opening up collaboration across departments. Here are three other priorities that are, perhaps, more intriguing:

  • Open and digital by default: Based on the UK’s government communications model, this directive clearly codifies the new federal approach: Digital media and platforms will now be the primary means to connect and interact with the public. (Kealey notes this orientation tends to be “antithetical to many … established practices, habits and cultures”.)
  • Better balance for two-way communications: It sets priority on plain language, opinion research to provide evidence for decision-making, and the “listening dimension” of communications that consider the views and interests of stakeholders.
  • Communicators have been asked to take on a formal “challenge” function. When communications leaders ask tough questions of an internal client or suggest a better way of doing things, they’re not just being difficult — they’re now supposed to constructively challenge. Many organizations could benefit from building culture around that practice.


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 only thing worse than training employees and losing them is to not train them and keep them.”

— Zig Ziglar