October 6, 2019


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we share tips on a better way to manage incoming email, recruiting that emphasizes meaningful work, 14 Amazon growth principles, using psychology around deadlines, and building your team’s grit to push through uncertainty and risk. Enjoy!


1.  Try the Stack Method for Managing Email

Email has been with us for 20 years. Along the way, you developed habits for dealing with the onslaught and probably created your all-important folder system many years ago. Is it time to reassess?

Prasanth Nair, CEO of productivity consultancy Double Gemini, did. And the result is a system you may want to try.

While processing emails one day, he realized they are more than messages — they’re actions. And because an inbox tends to organize emails by when they arrive, that hampers attempts to prioritize by importance or actual urgency.

So he developed a system of three to six folders that can help. They function essentially as email holding zones that better fit your working style. Here’s a five-folder framework he suggested in Fast Company:

  • Reply:  Emails that need a direct response.
  • Do:  Tasks that have to be done (he will email himself a reminder for something he needs to do).
  • Meet:  Any event or meeting that needs to be scheduled on your calendar.
  • Forward:  Actions that need to be delegated or offloaded to others.
  • Review:  Newsletters or emails you’re cc’d on that are not immediate or critical.

That list is not definitive but a general guideline; figure out what works for you, according to the nature of your work and day. But as you may have noticed, they are listed with a sense of priority — stacked in order of importance. He handles e-mails in the Reply folder first, then Do, Meet, Forward and Review.

Can you improve your effectiveness with the Stack Method?


2. Recruiting: Meaningful Work vs. Lower Pay

People want to make a difference. And so when recruiting for jobs in the public sector or with non-profits, that’s a good place to start.

Recruiting expert John Sullivan notes that a Harvard study found workers would sacrifice “23 per cent of their lifetime earnings in order to work in a job that is always meaningful.”

Some public sector jobs (and most non-profit roles) pay lower salaries than the private sector. But he notes on his blog you can still succeed if your recruitment marketing clearly reveals to applicants that their work will always be meaningful and that they will make a difference.

How you might approach it:

“If not being able to offer continually rising compensation is a problem, ask each applicant to force-rank a list of job features, and avoid hiring those who rank money first,” he says.

He advises you to survey applicants so you can find out what most attracts people to workplaces like yours. Also ask your employees why they stay. Then boast about those factors on job postings, job descriptions, and your agency’s websites.

Follow that up by making it easy to feel the excitement.

“You and your colleagues clearly love working at your agency and in your community,” he writes. “But you dramatically hurt your recruiting if an outsider doesn’t share that feeling of excitement.”

To stand out in an intense recruiting competition, he recommends testing and retesting your message until it’s extremely easy to find and feel your excitement.


3. Beware Of Success Disease

K. Chesterton wryly (and wisely) said: “There is nothing that fails like success.” So beware of a mindset known as “Success Disease,” a term coined by legendary football coach Bill Walsh.

“According to Walsh, Success Disease makes people forget, to different degrees, the effort, focus, discipline, teaching, teamwork, learning and attention to detail that brought ‘mastery’ and success in the first place,” consultant Robert Glazer notes on his blog.

“With success, especially repeated success, comes heightened confidence, followed quickly by overconfidence, arrogance and a sense that ‘we’ve mastered it; we’ve figured it out; we’re golden.’ In turn, that hunger is diminished and even eliminated.”

It’s not just football. He notes how investment advisor Peter Atwater found it’s during times of high confidence when great castles, college buildings and sports stadiums were built. But for empires, these buildings almost always preceded the beginning of their demise.

Are you successful? If so, beware of Success Disease.


4. Psychology-Based Tips To Meet Deadlines

If your team struggles with deadlines — or perhaps you struggle, while the team ignores deadlines — here are five psychology-based tips to help that writer Kat Boogaard pulled together on Medium:

  • Co-establish the deadlines, rather than setting them unilaterally.
  • Set real deadlines, not fake ones because you expect them to be ignored.
  • Provide context, explaining why the task is important and why the deadline is important.
  • Highlight the negative consequences of delay.
  • Reinforce the importance of deadlines with reminders rather than leaving them to be forgotten. Ask people when the deadline is, or send them notes.
  • Be a role model, meeting your own deadlines.


5. Zingers

  • Just Listen:  Do you know what most people need the most? Consultant Alan Weiss says it is to be heard. “Just hear their story and you will have done a great deal for them.” (Source: AlanWeiss.com).
  • Presentation Pruning: Wanting to provide the most information possible in your presentation can be a trap. Presentations consultant Ashish Arora says your first task is to stop thinking of more as more because less really is more. (Source: Ragan.com).
  • Drill Sergeant Lessons:  Consultant Nathan Magnuson notes one of the big shocks for most new recruits to the military is having a drill sergeant get in your face about something, especially if you don’t think the infraction was your fault. The longer it takes to accept the feedback, the more painful the process and the longer it takes to improve. (Source: Nathan Magnuson.com).
  • What Won’t Work:  Executive coach Dan Rockwell says it takes more skill and intelligence to make positive suggestions than to point out what won’t work. (Source: LeadershipFreak).
  • The Strawberry Rule:  When selecting strawberries at the store or farmer’s market, we look carefully before choosing — but only the surface layer is visible, with the majority hidden from view. Entrepreneur Seth Godin says we do this all the time —in job interviews and selecting trusted advisors, for example— being content to make a pick even if we know our data is suspect. If you look only at the top layer, you’re learning nothing. Maybe less than nothing with a con man. (Source: Seth’s Blog).


6. The List: Amazon’s 14 Growth Principles

Consultant Steve Anderson combed through the letters Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has written to shareholders over the past 21 years. In The Bezos Letters, he delineated 14 success principles that can help any business in any industry:

  • Encourage “successful failure” – failure from which you can learn.
  • Bet (small initially) on big ideas.
  • Practise dynamic invention and innovation, making invention a part of each person’s job description so it can flow at all levels.
  • Obsess over customers.
  • Apply long-term thinking, thinking far, far into the future, as Bezos is doing by installing a 10,000-year clock in one of his homes, designed to tick only once a year and last 10,000 years with minimal maintenance.
  • Understand your flywheel, the strategic momentum that powers your operation [see Water Cooler 305 – March 2019].
  • Generate high-velocity decisions, recognizing that you don’t need to be slow and deliberate in every decision but can and must make many of them very quickly.
  • Make complexity simple.
  • Accelerate time with technology, staying nimble and keeping in mind that not doing something can be a bigger risk than doing something.
  • Promote ownership, motivating your employees.
  • Maintain your culture.
  • Focus on high standards.
  • Measure what matters, question what’s measured, and trust your gut.
  • Believe it’s always Day One, focusing on earning new and repeat business, while resisting the excuses people use to blame others for less-than-ideal actions or decisions.


7. Around Our Water Cooler: Build Grit To Push Through Risk, Uncertainty and Fear

These are times in which organizations need to develop their grit to manage risks and master fears in the face of uncertainties.

Situations vary:  Risks may be rooted in precarious funding for a non-profit or a squeeze on cash-flow for a start-up; the restructuring of systems in the public sector (e.g. health care, social services or education); or the risks involved in uncertain markets for new products and services.

When faced with uncertainty and/or fear, it’s all so human to fall prey to procrastination, avoidance and paralysis; organizations get stuck too.

How do we build the grit it takes to push through a difficult challenge and sustain the energy needed to push through difficult tasks month after month?

When it comes to grit, best-selling author Steve Kotler likes to quote Thomas Carlyle: “No pressure; no diamonds.” There’s a payoff for pushing through.

He also says grit involves more than just perseverance. Researchers have identified three overlapping traits that support day-to-day grit (which, we suggest, could apply at both the individual and team level):

  • Willpower — At a personal level, it’s self-control; for organizations, it’s a habit of team discipline — for example, starting with the hardest task first.
  • Mindset — Having a growth mindset and lean-in attitude towards learning. “If you think you can or you think you can’t, well, you’re right.”
  • From Passion to Purpose — Passion drives your perseverance and is a core focusing mechanism, but it must be transformed into a powerful, motivating and focused sense of purpose. The “why” gets you through.

Here are some more concrete options to reduce your risk anxiety.

  • One is to mentally reframe your arousal from fear as excitement — Kotler notes that, to the brain, they feel the same. Tackle the challenge feeling excitement rather than fear.
  • You can ask yourself a question: Do you have enough information to manage the risk?
  • You might also reflect on whether you can mitigate the risk by doing things differently compared to standard operating procedure.

Emerging risks may be obscured by uncertainties or lack of clarity. Here, from past 8020Info Water Coolers, are previous takes on planning under uncertainty:

  • Planning When You Can’t Predict — In this 8020Info Q&A from Feb. 2014, we explain seven steps you can pursue while an issue is emerging and you’re waiting on sufficient clarity before making a firm strategic decision.
  • Strategic Planning in Uncertain Circumstances — In this Q&A from June 2013, we identify nine types of strategy to consider when you can’t predict the future.
  • The Odds Of An Outcome —Elon Musk recommends thinking of potential outcomes in terms of probabilities, not as pre-determined consequences.


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8.  Closing Thought 

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

— Oscar Wilde