February 12, 2017


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs


In this issue of the Water Cooler we touch on principles of innovation, designing for digital competency, and spaces that millennials find appealing, together with how best to deliver criticism or change the “ethics quo”.  Enjoy.


1. How To Deliver Criticism That Will Be Heard

Deborah Bright was ranked amongst the top 10 women divers in the United States during her college days, which she attributes to an extremely tough coach who offered caring support and sharp criticism. From that and her own executive coaching, she developed four guidelines for delivering criticism, which she shared on Harvard Business Review:

  • Engage the person in a specific solution: Too often managers offer general criticism, leaving the recipient to guess what remedy is expected. Good swimming coaches are specific — “straighten your left leg” — and workplace coaching should also help employees develop a clear solution.
  • Link the criticism to what is most important to the employee: Her coach knew she wanted to please her parents and so if she goofed off in practice he would ask if that was likely to make her parents proud at the Olympics. Instead of reprimanding an always-tardy employee you might ask how he feels that habit affects his relationship with colleagues.
  • Keep your voice and body language neutral: Her coach would occasionally bark at her. But she advises “ideally, workplace criticism is far more effective when delivered in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, with a relaxed facial expression and with neutral body language.”
  • Heed individual preferences: Her coach knew she wanted direct, specific feedback after each dive. Ask employees how they prefer to receive feedback — for example, immediately or postponed, by email or in person.

Those four approaches will help your criticism be heard.


2. Five Principles Of Innovation

On Medium, innovation advisor Greg Satell shares five principles for innovation that include some unexpected and counter-intuitive ideas.

  • Think small: Top guru Peter Drucker wrote that “effective innovations start small. They are not grandiose.” A small idea pursued vigorously can take you a long way. It also minimizes the risk of failure, as those will be sustainable.
  • Disruptive innovations are crappy: The disruptive innovations popularized by Harvard’s Clayton Christensen typically aim first at non-consumers and light users who will buy a cheaper product or service inferior to the standards prevailing in a market. So “crappy stuff”. But successful competitors build out something inferior by conventional standards and make it superior in other ways, such as smaller size.
  • Innovation is combination: In most cases breakthroughs come by synthesizing ideas from different domains rather than imagining something totally new. Steve Jobs combined a digital music player — already available — with a music store for the iPod’s success.
  • Passion and perseverance are key: The problem with combinations is that finding the right one takes time. “Spending years in the wilderness before becoming a runaway success is not at all uncommon,” he warns. That takes passion and perseverance.
  • You need a 70/20/10 portfolio: Aim to develop 70% of your innovations in existing markets and with existing technology — through enhancements. For the rest, 20% should be in adjacent growth (either in new markets or in new products), and the final 10% should be something totally different. Seek that balanced portfolio.

Those ideas may seem common sense but are often missed.


3. Innovative Spaces Attract Millennials

If you want to attract millennials, realtor Terri Blank thinks choosing innovative office space can help. Here’s her list to consider from the CFO blog:

  • In large cities, connectivity to mass transit and varied amenities.
  • Smaller offices in open, collaborative work environments with shared meeting spaces.
  • Ease of access for walking or biking to work.
  • Standing desks and huddle rooms (small meeting rooms for 3-4 people).
  • Concierge-style services like dry cleaning pickup and delivery.
  • High-tech features like “smart” frosted windows that offer instant privacy at the flick of a switch.
  • Minimal, modern furnishings.


4. Changing The Ethics Quo

Sometimes the most ethical choices are not obvious.

“In this kind of environment, we can’t assume that things are going well even when there are no lawsuits or imminent ethical crises. What we need to do is build an ethical workplace that will discourage ethical problems,” consultant Linda Fisher Thornton writes on Leading In Context Blog.

In a follow-up post, she lists these ways to change the ethics quo in your organization for the better:

  • Make leading with values a non-negotiable standard: You need to insist on respect, care, trust building and full inclusion.
  • Teach how to lead with ethical values: Since it won’t always be clear, talk with staff about how to maintain the non-negotiable values while making good business decisions at the same time.
  • Make leading with values pay off: Reward those leaders who consistently model the preferred values so others get the message that those values are just as important to the organization as profitability and growth.

“These three ways to change the ethics quo will inspire leaders to reach for ethical values and ethical outcomes, fueling long-term organizational success,” she concludes.


5. Zingers

  • As you get close to your goal: Hold a weekly “Red Zone” meeting, advises consultant Josh Linkner — like a football team near the end zone and about to score, focus on deals near fruition and find creative ways to conquer obstacles instead of fumbling on the proverbial one-yard line. (Source: com)
  • Three up, three down: Entrepreneur Andrey Adison recommends asking each evening what your three wins were for the day and what three things you can do to make tomorrow even better. Acknowledging your small wins can build confidence and boost momentum. Over time, your pledges for tomorrow may raise recurring themes for change, such as cutting social media use. (Source: com)
  • Mind your P’s & W’s : You may be familiar with the classic 5 P’s of marketing but marketing consultant John Dodds recently came up with the 4 W’s of messaging: What you say, where you say it, when you say it and to whom you say it. (Source: Make Marketing History)
  • Grit in tough situations: Max Levchin, CEO of Affirm, an online financial services firm, asks job candidates about the longest period of stress they have faced. And with managers, he asks whether they have ever done a layoff, how they did it, and how they felt — he wants to see if they stood by their people, such as helping them pack, an extremely difficult chore but indicator of character. (Source: New York Times)
  • Take a separate path: A simple rule for most endeavours, courtesy of entrepreneur Seth Godin: Don’t try to do things when everyone else is doing them. Systems degrade under stress and joining the crowd is never that worthwhile. (Source: Seth’s Blog)


6.  Q&A With 8020Info:

     The Dangers Of Incentives

Question:  What type of incentive structure should we choose for our team?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

Before deciding, a more basic question is whether incentives work. A lot of the research shows they don’t work that well and at times can be hugely counterproductive.

That seems illogical. Of course people will be motivated by money, right?

But Stanford University Professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton offer a different view in their book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense, which has the best summary of the research I have seen on incentives.

They say that while we assume other people are motivated by money, often we are not. Our best work comes from the way we are as individuals. And it’s actually the same with many other people.

That hits home to me. I worked extremely hard, and productively, in several organizations that didn’t offer me incentives and bonuses, although at the last one the boss would sometimes give a surprise monetary thank you after something special. It was always unexpected and I have seen research suggesting that can work. It certainly made me feel more loyal to him and the organization.

We were bought out by an organization that had a bonus program and were delighted that we would now get more money for the same effort, it appeared. But it was recession time, and bonuses were tied to profits:  We didn’t get to taste the delights of bonuses, but we did see long-time employees in the parent company furious that they had to work harder but bonuses had disappeared.

This points to a critical issue.  The best motivation is intrinsic — we do well because we care. Incentives are extrinsic, telling us to work harder for outside rather than internal rewards. And sometimes that erodes intrinsic motivation. People lose that inner fire, studies have shown.

Professors Pfeffer and Sutton say bonuses could point to what the organization considers important but often it’s a blunt instrument, hard to determine what is truly valued. Sometimes incentives motivate the wrong behaviour. They can attract new talent, but often people interested in money not good work or your organizational purpose.

A lot of the talk these days is about team incentives rather than individual rewards which seems logical — organizations should support team behaviours, which are important. But I have not seen evidence to back that. And it’s worth recognizing that sometimes teams can hobble superstar performers.

We do know people are motivated by praise and recognition, by their boss and colleagues. Sometimes that can be accompanied by small, token rewards. Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, known as The Carrot Guys, have a series of books, such as The Carrot Principle, illuminating the benefits of such an approach. It has always seemed to me a powerful step that too many managers miss.

That doesn’t mean financial incentives won’t work in your organization. Organizations and people are always different. But you may want to think twice before jumping in.


7.  From Our Water Cooler:

     Not Everyone Is A Geek

The integration of work and technology is pivotal today, as we’ve seen again recently on a workforce development project where community partners are developing and implementing strategies.

What may be surprising, however, is news that only a third of the population is able to complete medium-complexity digital tasks, and only 5% have high computer-related abilities.

A large-scale OECD study published last year tested the computer and technical competence of more than 200,000 people in 33 rich, industrialized countries.

And as the Nielsen Norman Group has noted, the results offer a cautionary note for the way we design interactions with anyone online — keep it extremely simple, or two thirds of the population won’t be able to complete their tasks. The study found:

  • 14% of the population cannot perform simple tasks such as deleting an email.
  • 29% can perform only modest tasks such as replying to emails or using a web browser when there’s little to no navigation required.
  • On top of that, a quarter of adults in rich, industrialized countries can’t use a computer.
  • Only 31% show moderate to advanced abilities with computers and technology.

Knowing that almost 7 out of 10 adults have quite basic computer competency means we have to improve the way we send out messages and design our websites. And as technology becomes more and more an integral part of workplace operations, training will be essential to develop those staff with only basic tech skills.  Digital designers, being part of the tech elite, need to consider the abilities of typical end users, not design user experiences for themselves.

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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

“Football incorporates the two worst elements of society: Violence punctuated by committee meetings.”

— George Will