November 11, 2018



The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



This edition of the 8020Info Water Cooler marks issue #300 — a major milestone for us. It represents more than half a million words shared on a tri-weekly schedule since our first edition was published April 30, 2001.

Our goal has always been to bring you actionable insights relevant to your leadership in non-profit, public sector and small business organizations. After going through our library of past articles, we are pleased to share some favourites — our own, and many based on reader feedback.

Thank you for your continuing interest in our newsletter. Enjoy!


1. On Leadership:

    Six Key Leadership Decisions

Consultant Art Petty says six key decisions shape you as a leader. They stand out because they change the trajectory of people, teams, and organizations:

  • “We’ll go” decisions: You may not be Dwight Eisenhower deciding whether to launch or delay the D-Day invasion in threatening weather, but senior managers are accountable for the fortunes of others and face critical strategic and implementation decisions.
  • “Who to grow and how to support them” decisions: Developing others is critical for success. You must understand the skills and capabilities needed; assess the values and character of subordinates; and decide equitably who to coach and who to let go.
  • “When to trust” decisions: Leadership involves letting go and trusting others to solve complex problems that you are accountable for. “There’s no more frightening moment in time for some than the moment when they take their hands off the wheel and let someone else steer,” he writes on his Leadership Caffeine blog.
  • Navigating successfully through gray zones: Making a call on ethics and values can involve issues in a gray fog, but you’ll be challenged repeatedly to cut courageously through the murk and make it black and white for others.
  • Learning to see and accept your own blind spots: Don’t be delusional about your own capabilities. Understand who you are, and what you are missing.
  • Deciding what kind of leader to be and then working at it: You are writing your legacy everyday. Make it something that will give you pride.

For more on leadership, see:

Seven Ways To Frustrate Your Employees — and seven things you want to avoid. How do you rate?

When Collaboration Gets Stuck — Collaboration is vital, but not easy.

Avoid Leading While Distracted — When it is so easy to become distracted these days, pay attention to this advice.


2. On Strategic Planning:

    Four Levels of Culture Change

When discussing strategy development with clients, we find the topic of culture change often comes up. It’s one of those areas where strategies can have a high payoff but often are hard to implement and require sustained effort over time.

A related problem is where to focus and how to start. Perhaps you can use a tool found in This Will Make You Smarter (from John Brockman, Publisher & Editor of Edge). It is called The Cultural Cycle, outlined in a piece by Stanford’s Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner from The Tech Museum.

The cultural cycle is a repeating process of interactions across four levels:

  • Individual selves (one’s thoughts, feelings, and actions).
  • Everyday practices and materials/artifacts that reflect and shape individuals.
  • Institutions (education, law, media) that enable everyday practices.
  • Ideas and values about what is good, right and human.

The model recognizes that no action is caused by either individual psychology or external influences — both are always at work. And a change at one level usually requires change at all four levels to be sustainable. People create cultures to which they later adapt, and in turn cultures shape people in ways that perpetuate those cultures.

If you’re planning to tackle culture change, you might consider how best to focus your efforts on these four nested, interactive levels of culture

For more on strategy, see:

Creating More Strategic Boards — some sound advice if you are on (or might be on) a non-profit board.

Challenge Your Own Thinking — how to avoid falling into mental traps.

Questions To Ask After Setting Your Goals — a guide through the tricky steps involved in preparing for implementation.


3.  On Communications:

     Questions For Marketing Materials

Here’s a question checklist from entrepreneur Seth Godin for reviewing marketing materials for a new project:

  • What’s it for? What is it supposed to do and, when it works, will you be able to tell?
  • Who is it for? What specific group is this material intended for and will it resonate with them?
  • What does this remind you of? If somebody has done something similar before using same vernacular (perhaps even you), is this better?
  • What’s the call to action? Every marketing message needs to clearly ask people to do something?
  • When you show it to 10 strangers, without prompting, what do they say? What do they ask you after seeing it? Probe deeper: Ask what the material is asking them to do?
  • What’s the urgency? Why now?

“Your job is not to answer every question, your job is not to close the sale. The purpose of this work is to amplify interest, generate interaction and spread your idea to the people who need to hear it, at the same time that you build trust,” he writes on Seth’s Blog.

For more on communications, see:

Stimulating Word of Mouth — a powerful marketing tool that can be difficult to manage.

Preparing For Meetings — questions to ask yourself before key meetings.

Five Wrong Ways To Respond To Criticism — It’s easy to go wrong when challenged, so ponder this advice.


4. On Managing Change:

    Strategy’s Companion… Change

Last week a client concluded a planning session with the observation that developing strategy always seems to involve a heavy focus on change.

It’s a thoughtful point:  Strategy development depends on fundamental choices about priorities and direction; successful implementation of strategy typically means managing sustained change and transition.

After all these years, John Kotter’s classic eight-step model for successful change is still highly effective:  Create a sense of urgency, recruit a coalition of powerful change leaders, build a vision and communicate it effectively, remove obstacles, create quick wins, and build on your momentum. Over the longer term, you’ll have to make a continuing effort to anchor those changes in the routines, practices and habits of your organizational culture.

In two separate studies a few years apart, Kotter found that 70% of substantial change efforts did not succeed — some failed and some weren’t fully launched, while others were in fact accomplished, but late, over budget and/or with great frustration.

Our experience suggests you can significantly increase your odds of full success by giving more than cursory attention to the first and last steps of this model.

The early step: create a sense of urgency

When asked about the single biggest error people make when pursuing change, Kotter’s answer was: “They did not create a high enough sense of urgency among enough people to set the stage for making a challenging leap into some new direction”. This step is so important that he later expanded his answer into a full book, A Sense of Urgency.

A true, broadly and deeply felt sense of urgency generates motivation, an essential asset you can use to overcome complacency and/or resistance to the changes essential to your strategy.

The late step:  make the change stick

In Phil Buckley’s Change With Confidence, the author makes a strong case for anchoring change, and having answers to questions such as:  How do I prevent the return of old ways of working? How do I hand over oversight responsibilities from a change group to the normal operating team? Too often, whether from exhaustion or a premature sense of completion, we let up before the transition has really taken root and started to pay its longer-term dividends.

All steps in the cycle for strategic change are important, but there’s a tendency to focus mainly on launching the operational changes. Take time to prepare hearts and minds in advance, and cement the new habits afterwards.

For more on managing change, see:

Four Reasons Your Employees Resist Change — Change breeds resistance. Here’s how to handle it.

Talk About Change with Seven Simple Questions — Ask them of your team before you get going on your change initiative.

Adjusting To Millennial Workplace Dynamics — Understanding the workforce’s new majority.


5. On Personal Productivity:

    For Focus, You Must Dare To Say No

In conversation with leaders and managers these days, we hear a common theme about them feeling overwhelmed — too much to do, too many priorities, too many options crying out for decision.

We’re not immune ourselves, which is why we enjoyed the advice Greg McKeown advances in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

A pivotal idea involves “the power of extreme criteria”. Anything less than a total and utter conviction to do something should get a thumbs down. “If the answer isn’t a definite yes, then it should be a no.”

But, like us, you may find it hard to actually say no. McKeown offers some tips, starting with the importance of being perfectly clear with yourself about what is essential. Focus on what you’d have to trade off, and then if you dare to say no, here are some ways to avoid the social awkwardness and gracefully decline:

  • “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” This gives you time to pause, reflect and ultimately reply with regrets to non-essential requests.
  • The soft “no” (or the “no, but”): “I would love to, but can’t until/because … could we look at this towards the end of the summer?”
  • “Yes, and what should I take off my priority list”.  When you can’t say no to a senior leader making a new request, you can share the trade-offs that would have to be made, such as dropping or postponing another top project.
  • Say it with humour.  A self-deprecating style can put a smile on “no” — e.g.  joking as you point out you’re absolutely terrible at something you’ve been invited to do.
  • Use the words “You are welcome to do X. I am willing to do Y.”  You’re welcome to use my car for your errand. I’ll leave my keys in the mailbox.
  • Refer the request:  “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.”

For more on personal productivity, see:

Using Checklists — an old idea emerging as an important new workplace tool.

Tips For Improving Virtual Meetings — You can stop complaining about virtual meetings and do something about them.

Getting Into Gear — some early advice for the New Year.


6. Ten Favourite Zingers

  • How do you weigh advice? Entrepreneur Ben Casnocha says studies show that we overvalue advice on difficult decisions and undervalue advice on easy ones. (Source: Ben.casnochia.com) Issue 165.
  • Three-way reference checking: Here are three helpful reference-checking questions from Gilt Groups CEO Kevin Ryan: Would you hire this person again, and if so, in what capacity? In what type of culture, environment, and role can you see this person excelling (and in what type of role likely to be unsuccessful)? And, would you describe the candidate as a leader, strategist, executor, collaborator, thinker, or something else? (Source: Eric Jacobson on Management And Leadership) Issue 235.
  • Informed Delegation: You will be more effective in delegating if you explain to the other person what’s in it for them says consultant Ann Gomez. (Source: Clear Concept Inc.) Issue 276.
  • Schedule a prevention day:  Productivity guru David Allen suggests that every once in a while you should schedule a day for the not-so-critical stuff. That prevents them from escalating into emergencies. (Source: Productive Living newsletter). Issue 162.
  • Is it the supervisor?  If there is low morale in a work group, there is a greater than 90% that the supervisor is contributing to this condition says consultant Ken Keis. (Source: Consulting Resource Group) Issue 271.
  • Socrates on the Millennial “problem”:  Much is written about Millennials as narcissistic job hoppers. But David Burkus, a professor of management, says the problem with conventional wisdom about Millennials in the workplace is that it’s not unique to that generation; it’s unique to young people in general. He falls back on Socrates, who centuries ago wrote: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” (Source: Inc.com) Issue 268.
  • “Proposal” signals flexibility: Negotiations expert Michael Sloopka says it’s important to highlight the word “proposal” in all your negotiations. The word proposal implies flexibility. (Source: Negotiatingcoach.com) Issue 133.
  • Is it even worth it? Too many of us decide how to do something before deciding whether or not to do it, observes consultant Alan Weiss. (Source: Contrarian Consulting) Issue 292.
  • Tighten your text:  Want to improve your writing in marketing material? Marketing coach Troy White says slash and burn your first couple of paragraphs. Snip each sentence down by 25%. Break the rules you learned in school: Use clichés, write to a grade 7 level, and use one-sentence, or even one-word, paragraphs. (Source: smallbusinesscopywriter.com) Issue 163
  • Claim your time: If you don’t have a plan for your time, someone else does. The first to claim it wins. (Source: michaelhyatt.com) Issue 173.


7. Around Our Water Cooler: 

   Thanks for the Feedback

In our last edition, we included a survey for reader feedback. Not only did it inform the categories and selection of content featured in this #300 anniversary issue, but it also gave us some insight of how this publication is valued. Here are some comments:

  • “Easy to read because it is well written, well edited, well curated. Always read entire thing.”
  • “Leadership hints for managers at all levels.”
  •  “Every issue seems to have a topic(s) I’m grappling with at the time of reading. It feels personalized.”
  •  “Topics are relevant, crisp.”
  • “As I have come to respect you fellows, I actually scan the entire thing. Many are new ways of looking at things which is, in my mind, very rare.”

Thank you for those kind words. It is our aim to maintain these qualities and standards in the future. See you for #301!

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8020Info helps boards and senior leadership teams develop, clarify and build consensus behind strategic priorities. Our services support research / stakeholder consultations, strategic planning processes, change and marketing communications. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries.


8. Closing Thought 

“I’ve discovered that every time I’ve reached a milestone I think I’m there, but there’s another there waiting for me.”

— Sara Benincasa