November 17, 2019


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we focus on rules for making better decisions, delivering bad news, interviewing more effectively, reframing your approach to marketing, and ten ways to spot exceptional employees. Enjoy!


1.  Three Rules for Better Decision-making

Decision-making is critical to organizational success so it’s important we proceed wisely. Consultant Mike Shipulski offers three rules on the Innovation Excellence Blog:

  • Make decisions overtly: Often decisions take effect slowly over time without a clear understanding that a decision has actually been made. “A year down the road, we wake up from our daze and realize we’re all aligned with a decision we didn’t know we made,” he writes. “Make them overtly and document them.”
  • Define the decision criteria in advance: This rule counters our biases, particularly if we use “if-then” criteria. He gives this example:
    “If the project demonstrates A, then we’ll allocate $50,000 for the next phase; if the project demonstrates A, B and C, then we’ll allocate $100,000; if the project fails to demonstrate A, B or C, then we’ll scrap the project and start a new one.” If the decision criteria aren’t defined in advance, you’ll create ad hoc rules to justify the decision you already wanted to make.
  • Define who will decide ahead of time: There are many different ways to decide. For example, the decision could be made by anonymous vote or by a show of hands. A simple majority may suffice or a two-thirds majority be required. A lot of decisions are by consensus, but what exactly does that mean?

You should be able to check back on how a decision was made and what criteria were used to understand whether the process was effective or faulty.


2. Avoid These Mistakes When Conveying Bad News

Delivering bad news is stressful, which can lead you to speak in long-winded sentences with idea after idea piling up without a pause, warns consultant Anett Grant.

“Rather than succumb to a long-winded ramble, try speaking in short sentences that are personal and conversational,” she advises in Fast Company.

Keep it bite-sized:  Confine each point to a sentence, presenting them in bite-size pieces the listener can process more easily. You’ll feel more relaxed, particularly if you exhale gently after each sentence.

Manage your energy: Another mistake — as your heart pumps faster and adrenaline spikes— is to project high energy in bad-news situations.

“While this surge of energy may help you feel better, the impact is that you come across as jerky, abrupt—often harsh. You’ll add static that will cloud your message,” she notes.

She urges you to think of how smoothly tennis star Roger Federer hits the ball under pressure. You want a similarly smooth delivery in voice and gestures.

Finally, avoid jargon. Consider this bad example:

“We have to get the company right sized, get the right people in the right seats on the bus, so we can face our headwinds with agility.”

Anyone hearing such bafflegab probably wouldn’t know what you’re saying and would wonder what you’re hiding. Speak as if you were talking to a friend: “Our business is down. We have to cut expenses. We have to shut down your project—immediately.”

Giving bad news is never easy. Don’t aggravate the situation with these mistakes.


3. Improve Your Interviewing With These Questions

“What do you want to do differently in your next role?”

That’s a favourite question Instacart co-founder Max Mullen shared with Firstround.com, which collected interview questions from various leaders. He looks for what candidates for employment are running towards rather than running away from.

Angel investor Jules Walter likes to ask: “Among the people you’ve worked with, who do you admire and why?” He finds this a more effective way to uncover the individual’s values than asking directly.

One more: “What are you really good at but never want to do anymore?”

Bryan Mason, Chief Business Officer at VSCO, says it gets candidates to reflect on what they have learned about themselves, tests their ability to speak with humility about being good at something, and signals you might have been excited by something in their resume they want to abandon.


4. Assume Your Employees Are Afraid Of You

Executive coach Nihar Chhaya says most of us have experienced the misery of working for a boss who intimidates employees while charming superiors and customers. But could you be exhibiting similar negative characteristics to your employees?

In Harvard Business Review, he urges you to assume your employees are afraid of you and to reflect and observe.

“Do you treat your employees with the courtesy you give to customers, or do you take them for granted? Do you go overboard with your tone and mannerisms when expressing dissatisfaction?” he asks.

“In addition to looking at your behaviour, observe your employees [during interactions]. Do people withdraw or fail to make eye contact when around you? Do employees seem reluctant to present an opposing point of view?”

After observing, change your ratio of correction to connection, removing fear from your workplace.


5. Zingers

  • Inside-out Hiring Criteria:  Create a list of seven attributes your top ten employees have and only hire people for those characteristics in future, says career coach Alan Kearns. (Source: Career Joy)
  • Seek Problems for Innovation:  We think innovation is about ideas but it’s really about solving problems, says consultant Greg Satell. That means getting outside your office and asking questions of your customers. (Source: Digital Tonto)
  • Choose Both:  Choose accountability and compassion, not accountability or compassion, says career coach Dan Rockwell. (Source: Leadership Freak)
  • A/J Not A/B Testing:  The problem with comparing alternative courses of action or versions of a product is that people avoid options that might fail, says entrepreneur Seth Godin. They test option A against option B where both are quite similar. Instead, opt for A/J testing, where the alternatives are radically different. (Source: Seth’s Blog)
  • Reading Focus:  In 1982, advertising legend David Ogilvy said of newspapers that “on the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

Advertising consultant Roy H. Williams adapts that to email advertising today: What percentage of your online budget has been spent when you’ve written your subject line? (Source: Monday Morning Memo)


6. The List: Skills of Exceptional Employees

Psychologist Travis Bradberry says many of the skills that set exceptional employees apart from others are not rooted in personality as much as emotional intelligence. Here’s his top ten on LinkedIn:

  • They’re willing to delay gratification.
  • They can tolerate conflict.
  • They focus.
  • They’re judiciously courageous.
  • They’re in control of their egos.
  • They’re never satisfied.
  • They recognize when things are broken and fix them.
  • They’re accountable.
  • They’re marketable – well liked, with integrity and leadership skills, so can be sent out to meet with clients or prospects.
  • They neutralize toxic people.


7. Around Our Water Cooler:  Seth Godin on Marketing

If marketing is central to your leadership, you’ll find it refreshing to read Seth Godin’s book, published last year, called This Is Marketing. It achieved “Instant New York Times Bestseller” status and made #1 on the Wall Street Journal’s list.

Godin repositions the commonplace view of “marketing as advertising”, declaring that the primary purpose of marketing today is to create change in the world — meaningful, positive change. In other words, who can you help?

  • What change are you trying to make? (Change is best made with intent.)
  • Who are you seeking to change? (You can’t change everyone, so focus your effort. Concern yourself less with those who don’t believe in your project.)
  • What promise can you make to your potential customers? (And how does it connect to the change you want to make in the world?).

Some thought-starters:

Drawing from his 100-day seminar series, Godin poses several stimulating ideas — here are just a few of them from the introduction to his book:

  • Marketers shouldn’t use consumers to solve their organization’s problems; they should use marketing to solve other people’s problems.
  • “People like us do things like this” is how each of us understands culture.
  • At the heart of our culture is our belief in status. Social roles and affiliations determine decisions about where to go and how to get there.
  • Persistent, consistent and frequent stories, delivered to an aligned audience, will earn attention, trust and action.
  • Attention is a precious resource. Smart marketers make it easy to connect with positioning in a way that resonates and is memorable.
  • Marketing begins with what we do and how we do it, not in all the work that comes “after the thing is designed and shipped”.

Godin on “Marketing In Five Steps”:

  • Invent a thing worth making, with a story worth telling and a contribution worth talking about.
  • Design and build it in such a way that a few people will particularly benefit from and care about it.
  • Tell a story that matches the built-in narrative and dreams of that tiny group of people, the smallest viable market.
  • Spread the word (this is the step most of us have traditionally focused on).
  • Regularly, consistently and perhaps for years, continue to lead and build confidence in the change you seek to make.

If you enjoy blogs, you’ll find more of Seth Godin’s ideas to spark your water cooler conversations at: https://seths.blog/

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


8. Closing Thought 

“Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.”

— Will Rogers