July 19, 2020


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we focus on learning your way through a crisis, what to say when someone cries, handling hostile audiences, strategic forecasting, and seven great habits that have met the test of time. Enjoy!


1. Learning Your Way Through A Crisis

The best way to address any challenge is to learn your way through it, says Ekpedeme (“Pamay”) Bassey, chief learning officer of the Kraft Heinz Company. In times of adversity, learning can be a leader’s “superpower.”

That means you must be:

  • Relentless About Learning: Pursue any knowledge that can help you. “Make time to reflect regularly on what you are learning,” she writes in Leadership In A Time Of Crisis: The Way Forward In a Changed World, a pandemic-themed collection of essays. “Use what you learn to address the challenge at hand — to make the next right decision, to take the next step, to communicate to your stakeholders,”

Be transparent about what you know and don’t know and make it clear that you are doing everything you can to learn what you need to, so you can make the choices needed to move forward.

  • Selective About Learning:  Rely on trusted sources and ignore the rest. Demands on your time will come from all directions and you may feel overwhelmed. So pull back, finding the experts in your network that you trust. As well, to maintain sanity, think critically about how much information you actually need to consume.
  • Uncompromising About Learning:  Protect the rituals and routines that energize you. Regularly replenish your energy and ability to learn. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can be the leader that you need to be without taking the time to do what it takes to keep from running on fumes,” she concludes. An empty tank helps nobody.

In short, be a voracious everyday learner to navigate your choices in a difficult time.


2. What To Say When Someone Cries At Work

One of our greatest fears at the office is having a colleague cry. It can make us feel uncomfortable, guilty, and anxious.

In Harvard Business Review, communications coach Deborah Grayson Riegel says that’s because we want to fix it, worry we caused it, don’t know why it’s occurring, worry it will lead us to join in, or fear it signals an even bigger personal issue beyond our capacity to respond.

She says what’s needed in most cases is to say something helpful, supportive, and brief.

But be aware of what isn’t needed:  Interpreting, such as saying “you seem sad”; telling them what to do, such as “you should take a break”; or judging, such as “it isn’t worth crying over.”

Here are some better approaches:

  • “Let’s pause for a moment here. I can see you’re crying. Would you like to take a break, or keep going? It’s up to you.”  This is neutral language that gives them the opportunity to choose what they need next.
  • “I’m going to stop our conversation for a second to check in with you. Can you tell me what’s going on for you right now?” This demonstrates compassion and curiosity, without overplaying concern.
  • “You’re crying, so let’s pause. What would be most helpful for you right now? I’ll follow your lead.” This acknowledges the situation but empowers the person to take control.

With the uncertainty and stresses of the pandemic, crying is more likely to occur in your workplace, but you can prepare for it by pondering how to use those responses in your own words.


3. Handling Hostile Audiences

Sometimes leaders find themselves facing an unbelieving, hostile audience.

That’s more common these days, argues presentations coach Nick Morgan on his blog, because there is precious little dialogue and far too much monologue —and sheer distortion— being offered all around us.

He recommends the “residues method,” which traces back to the ancient Greeks.

Set out the issue first, in relatively brief terms but including relevant data.  Next discuss the alternate points of view — seriously, and with respect. Then politely point out what you think are the flaws in that reasoning.

“Once you’ve discussed the several possible points of view, and rejected them for cogent reasons, what’s left is your point of view — the residue of the argument.  Then you can say why that argument is, in your opinion, the best,” he writes.

He says that approach will disarm your opponents because they will feel that at least they’ve been heard.  In these angry times, that’s a plus.


4. How To Test

It’s best to test your ideas and new products or services before committing fully to them. But Ozan Varol, a rocket scientist turned law professor, says it’s important to understand testing.

“In a proper test, the goal isn’t to discover everything that can go right. Rather, the goal is to discover everything that can go wrong and to find the breaking point,” he writes in Think Like A Rocket Scientist.

In his Leadership Now blog, consultant Michael McKinney notes that means trying to break the spacecraft on earth before it breaks in space. As Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield summed up one space flight: “The truth is that nothing went as we’d planned, but everything was within the scope of what we prepared for.”


5. Zingers

  • Automatic Status Updates:  Instead of a daily meeting to find out what everyone is doing (or not meeting, leaving many people clueless), consultant Claire Lew recommends automating the updates. Send an email or message every morning asking, “What are you working on today?” It helps recipients to quickly think through their day and then share any updates with the team.  (Source: KnowYourTeam)
  • Seinfeld On Management:  Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says if you’re efficient, you’re operating in the wrong way. The right way is actually the hard way. “The show was successful because I micromanaged it—every word, every line, every take, every edit, every casting,” he says. (Source: Harvard Business Review)
  • Opportune Times for Hiring:  This is a time of furloughs and layoffs so recruiting specialist John Sullivan says it’s also a good time (for those who can) to target recruitment efforts on suddenly available talent. (Source: DrJohnSullivan.com)
  • Coaching Sales Teams:  Pandemics are difficult for sales teams. The founder of the Kellogg Sales Institute, Craig Wortman, recommends a two-phase coaching approach. First build their confidence by asking what they did well, adding your own observations. Then ask what they should do differently next time, again adding your own thoughts. (Source: Kellogg Insight)
  • Video Relief:  Presentations expert Dave Paradi recommends inserting a short thirty-second (or shorter) video clip in your Zoom meetings, to break up the focus on you when presenting. There are many YouTube videos that can reinforce your point. (Source: ThinkOutsideTheSlide)


6. The List:

    The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People  

A 30th Anniversary edition of Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People has recently been released, updated by his son Sean Covey, after the original sold more than 40 million copies.

The seven habits remain enduring. If you have forgotten some or never read the book, here they are:

  • Be Proactive:  Take the initiative to respond positively to your experiences and improve the situation.
  • Begin With The End In Mind:  Envision what you want in the future so you can work and plan towards it.
  • Put First Things First:  Know what’s important to you, and put that before the merely urgent.
  • Think Win/Win:  This is not a technique but a philosophy of human interaction.
  • Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood:  This is the key to empathetic communication.
  • Synergize: Combine the strengths of people through creative co-operation in all social interactions.
  • Sharpen The Saw:  Renew yourself in four dimensions — physical, mental, social-emotional, and spiritual.


7. Around Our Water Cooler:
    Using Different Management Muscles

From where we sit, one of the more interesting impacts of the pandemic has been managers learning to apply new or different skill sets. And that can be difficult — something like the weekend athlete who says, “I haven’t used those muscles for ages!”

It is stating the obvious to say that COVID-19 has significantly changed the playing field for strategists and decision-makers. Leaders are now seeing what works and what doesn’t. Long-trusted assumptions have been pulled from their moorings. Organizational structures, routines and relationships once considered optimal now seem cockeyed in the current era.

How are we to develop strategy without an understanding of the future?

Pre-pandemic, most leaders enjoyed a dependable grasp of the dynamics in their operating environment and were familiar with how they shaped strategy. But now they must probe alternative futures, not simply project out from past trends.

As Policy Horizons Canada explains in its useful framework, the discipline of  strategic forecasting often looks at five sources of surprise that can emerge:

  • Surprises coming from places we’re not looking. (Scanning becomes the skill that can help.)
  • Cascading impacts as a change rolls across the system. (Diagrams that map a chain of second, third and fourth-order effects can help you see how those impacts might evolve.)
  • Changes interacting with each other. (You might want to brush up on your cross-impact and system analysis skills.)
  • Being unaware of the pathways and networks through which change could flow. (System mapping could help).
  • Failure to anticipate how unexpected patterns of change could emerge. (Here, scenarios incorporating different models of change can help.)

Leaders are starting to draw on new or rarely used skills to respond to the emerging hard-to-see challenges triggered by COVID-19.

How strong, regular and credible are your internal communications?

We’ve never worked with an organization where communication wasn’t important, but elevated staff/customer anxieties and the confusion of change require us to double down. These may be basics, but it’s important to be great at:

  • Communicate in advance to frame upcoming operational changes. This provides your team with context for understanding and time to prepare.
  • Communicate the why and the what. The first thing anyone wants to know when asked to change their ways is “why?” And as we heard staff tell client managers in a recent focus group: “If we understand what you want to achieve, even if we don’t fully agree with the goal, we’ll be better able to help you get there.”
  • Be sure to “close the loop” after a decision. Your team will want to know the reasoning and evidence behind your decisions. Even if that decision were to not proceed with a project, let them know so they don’t assume you’re asleep at the helm or that their input was ignored.
  • Communicate regularly, reliably and authentically (that reduces team anxiety) and do so with empathy — your tone should convey that you know what your team is going through and feeling.
  • Reconsider how you think of your audiences. We often position internal messaging according to unit, functional role or skill set. In the pandemic, it might be important to orient communications to audiences in new ways (such as whether they have underlying health conditions or kids at home).

The pandemic requires us to reflect on comfortable habits of the past and look at exercising new “mental muscles” involved in strategy-making and communications.


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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 

“All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

— George Box