April 1, 2019


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we offer two approaches to strategic planning as well as tips from a top stupidity expert, how to deal with liars, and the impact of personality on employee engagement. Enjoy!


1. The Five Ws Of Strategic Planning

The journalistic five Ws for writing a story are also valuable for strategic planning, says Sarah Bowling. She’s the founder of Saving Moses, a global humanitarian organization focused on saving babies and member of the Forbes invitation-only Non-Profit Council of chief executives.

She suggests that you consider:

  • Who: Start with identifying the individuals essential to making progress and achieving critical goals, since you will want them involved. Consider also inviting “outsiders” who can contribute from a more objective point of view.
  • When and Where: Block off a day for strategic planning, preferably outside the office in a conducive environment, and clarify ground rules so everybody’s ideas will be treated well.
  • What: With that familiar but important foundation, you are ready to explore what success looks like for your organization at this time?  What is your current situation related to those success markers? What improvements will take you there? What timeframe is needed to achieve these goals?
  • Why: Take the time to remind everyone why you are in the room. “Non-profit work is so vast — there are so many needs to be met! If you don’t anchor yourself to a specific goal for a specific time, you risk getting lost trying to reach every need,” she writes.

After a few hours discussion, you reach a point where more talk won’t yield much high quality input. Give the team a few weeks for the ideas to marinate before coming back to finalize your concise goal and essential ingredients.

Then it’s time for action!


2. Personality And Employment Engagement

Getting employees engaged in their work is a top managerial issue these days. An important starting point rarely considered is the impact of employee personality on engagement.

A recent study found that 50% of the variability of engagement could be predicted by people’s personality.

“In particular, four traits: Positive affect, proactivity, conscientiousness, and extroversion. In combination, these traits represent some of the core ingredients of emotional intelligence and resilience,” consultants Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Lewis Garrad, and Didier Elzinga write in Harvard Business Review.

“Put another way, those who are positive, optimistic, hard-working, and outgoing tend to show more engagement at work. They are more likely to show up with energy and enthusiasm for what they do.”

That being said, they note that while being more resilient to bad or incompetent management may be helpful for individual employee well-being, those failings can still be damaging for the wider performance of the organization.

Frustrated employees are often a warning sign for managers, particularly as half of disengagement comes from contextual factors about the employees’ work.

As well, the most creative people in your organization are probably more skeptical and harder to please, predisposed to challenging the status quo and having problems with authority, which can turn into disengagement.

“If we can combine what we know about engagement with what we know about personality, then we can help each person more effectively navigate their organizational reality — leading to better, more effective organizations for all,” they conclude.


3. How To Reject A Strong Job Candidate

When a candidate for a job is really good but not the perfect fit, you need to put extra thought into the rejection letter, Fast Company says after interviewing experts.

Indeed, perhaps don’t even write: Korn Ferry’s Samantha Wallace recommends picking up the phone — or in some situations, arranging an in-office meeting — to explain the situation.

She says if the candidate is in the final group considered for the role, you need to reframe the rejection to acknowledge how far they made it in the interview process and explain why another candidate was chosen.

Without giving false hope, Sydney Hayes of Betts Recruiting advises pointing out the individual’s strengths and saying something like: “We’re looking for someone who has more strength in this area, but that being said, we think you can be a valuable asset for the team.”

Tell particularly qualified candidates that you’d like to reconnect when you’re hiring again down the road or might have other opportunities for them — but only if that’s true.


4. Provide Opportunities For Integrity

You may sometimes feel an employee is being dishonest. Instead of going on the attack, offer an opportunity for the individual to set it right.

“In the interrogation world, you never want to call someone out for lying,” Chase Hughes, a behavioural analysis expert and long-time military officer tells LinkedIn contributor Mary Ellen Slater.

So gently try something like: “Hey, I realized there may have been a mistake in the information you gave me. Maybe you might have heard that from somebody and it might not be accurate. Could we go back over that question again?”

That encourages them to be honest. If they resist, now you know.


5. Zingers

  • Conversation Starters:  Start your next staff meeting by asking each person to answer this question: What one strength do you bring to the team that you wish others would truly see and appreciate? Or this: What’s one aspect of your job that really frustrates you and what’s one idea that you have for making that easier? (Source: Let’s Grow Leaders blog)
  • David, Goliath And You:  Beware of the voice of experience. Leadership trainer Dan Rockwell says the voice of experience would have told David to use a sword, shield and armour against Goliath. Past success makes you think you can win using traditional methods but traditional methods achieve traditional results. (Source: Leadership Freak)
  • Face The Facts:  If you reflect on your team and think “why don’t they get it?” consultant Mike Henry says the short answer is “you.” (Source: Lead Change Group)
  • Regular Contact:  If you have an email list for marketing, blogger Lesley Vox says you need to send at least one email or newsletter per month. Otherwise clients forget, and can be annoyed by the unexpected or irregular contact. (Source: OrbitMedia.com)
  • Cushion Risk:  Rather than taking blind risks, they should be calculated, which then motivates you to build a cushion for times when things don’t turn out for the best, advises blogger Donald Latumahina. (Source: Life Optimizer)


6. The List: Tips From A Top Stupidity Researcher  

Psychologist David Dunning from the University of Michigan is well known for a concept called the Dunning-Kruger effect:  that is, while people competent in some type of expertise are often plagued with doubt, the incompetent tend to be blissfully unaware of their shortcomings — they feel they are doing just fine.

This Inc.com article highlights five suggestions from Dunning to help us become a little less oblivious to our own zones of stupidity:

  • Lean on other people: Not knowing the scope of our own ignorance is part of the human condition —tap into the knowledge of the group.
  • Imagine the worst-case scenario:  If a decision is an important one, ask yourself how you could be wrong.
  • Think in probabilities, not certainties: Your forecasts will be better if you give up black-and-white, yes-or-no thinking and consider the odds.
  • Know the difference between fact and opinion:  “This art is beautiful” is an opinion. “Justin Trudeau is Canada’s prime minister” is a fact.
  • Get better at saying “I don’t know”:  It’s easy to look up information these days, but first you have to admit what you don’t know.

You might want to keep this list handy as a daily reminder of the limits of your knowledge.


7. Around Our Water Cooler:
    Presenting Strategic Choices

Those who have been in one of our strategic planning workshops will know that we maintain a strong focus on making choices. Organizations can get stuck when they don’t.

You may be at a fork in the road and have to make a decision (go left or right, over or under?) or face a long list of important things to do — you need to choose a handful of top priorities for your strategic focus and operational planning.

Here’s one efficient format for taking an executive group through a long list of strategic choices. In your agenda for the strategic planning session, set up each choice with a succinct summary of:

  • The Choice:  Clearly define the strategic question to be decided or choice to be made.
  • The Options: Present the relevant options to be considered.
  • Background/Pros & Cons:  Provide the leadership group with all (but just) the pertinent background they need to make an informed decision.
  • Strategic Priority or Not?  Choosing an option from a list of proposed alternatives is one type of decision (for the fork in the road). The other is deciding whether the issue should even be considered “strategic” — in need of special focus, attention, effort, resources or investment. Many proposed strategies are really just highly important, but don’t need any additional effort or special focus at a strategic level (the “carry on” choice).

We used this format recently with a municipal council on the heels of their extensive public and partner consultations. In just three hours they were able to assess more than 15 proposals for strategy and boil them down to a final short list of priorities, in turn setting focus and direction for their term in office.

If you need to work through a long list of strategic decisions in a limited period of time, you might try preparing your agenda package in this format.


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


8. Closing Thought 

“The secret is always running the business like you’re two touchdowns behind. We always do better if we have a little fear and a sense of urgency.”

— John Burke