November 1, 2020


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we focus on reconciling tough decisions with ethics, the value of heart in your leadership, things to know when delivering bad news, amplifying your level of influence, and pressures on governance during the pandemic.  Enjoy!


1. A Framework for Tough Decisions

Decision-making frameworks generally focus on using objective information to mitigate bias and deal with time pressure. But most decisions require sifting through subjective information to handle conflicting courses of action.

Consultant Eric Pliner says in Harvard Business Review you must balance three elements in such situations:

  • Ethical Principles:  What is acceptable in your organization or society on the matter at stake.
  • Morals: Your internal sense of what is right and wrong, shaped by factors such as your upbringing, family, community, and faith.
  • Responsibilities: Your understanding of the responsibilities associated with your role in the organization.

Consider a CEO who must decide whether to lay off employees in a recession:

Taking away her employees’ livelihood in hard times may be morally offensive to her personally. But ethically, she must weigh the trade-off between the well-being of some individuals compared to the potential risk to the entire organization.

As a third factor, her role as CEO may obligate her to protect the interests of as many of the organization’s key stakeholders as possible.

In this example, the requirements of her role align with ethical principles but conflict with her personal morality, he notes. This simplifies the decision down to a choice between:

  • Attempting to persuade key stakeholders to realign their role-related expectations with her personal morality; or
  • Sacrificing her individual views for the greater good.

For practice in using this framework, clarify your world view and then review a recent decision. See how it fits with your point of view and the three dimensions Pliner offers for decision-making.


2. Heart and Humanity: The Pandemic Superpower

The pandemic has barreled across the globe, leaving social, economic, financial and even political devastation in its wake.

But change management consultant Alison Lazenby says something else has emerged that was quite positive:  Displaying humanity and heart is now a highly visible part of successful leadership.

“In fact, leading with heart and humanity has emerged as something of a leadership superpower,” she writes on the Root blog.

Managers have struggled for years with low engagement of staff, yet oddly in this Twilight Zone we have been experiencing, she feels the default setting for leadership has changed and many have started to lead intuitively.

“They have found a superpower,” she says.

“They’ve dispensed with the notion that a leader ‘directs,’ has all the answers, and has to be buttoned up at all times (all of which alienates rather than engages) and have recognized that their people need empathy more than anything else right now.”

She also points to three other complementary skills or attributes:

  • Vulnerability and transparency:  Managers are levelling the playing field, showing up in crumpled T-shirts and admitting they are struggling to find solutions.
  • Ambiguity: Increasingly she sees managers becoming comfortable with ambiguity — “that curious gray area that often accompanies significant change”.
  • Motivating for short-term goals:  Managers have successfully rallied their teams very quickly around new and sometimes very short-term goals.

These unusual times have pushed managers to become more wide-ranging in their approaches to remain effective.


3.  Website Redesign: Getting it Right

The average lifespan of a website is two years and seven months, according to Orbit Media’s director of digital strategy, Laurel Miltner. When your next redesign comes, she says on the company’s blog, you must ensure the site:

  • Ranks well in search and nudges your visitors toward desired actions.
  • Allows for seamless functionality and processing data across platforms.
  • Permits editing and adding pages with the ease and flexibility you expect.
  • Is responsive to mobile users so they find it easy to navigate.

Additional Tips:

Beyond that, she advises you to think through how information will be laid out effectively in various blocks so that website visitors can easily interact with elements on the same page and across different pages.

A common mistake is not checking current page rankings in search engines and preserving those rankings — especially if URLs are changing.

As well, eliminate under-performing content. Don’t work on design and copy separately; they must be cohesive. And don’t let images take a back seat. “You need a lot of them, sized appropriately, in multiple formats,” she says.


4. Four Things to Avoid When Delivering Bad News

You probably know not to wing it when delivering bad news — you need to be prepared — and not to sugar coat the bad news, dancing around the issue rather than being direct.

But, on her website, consultant Suzie McAlpine points to two other mistakes that are less obvious:

  • Don’t omit an explanation of why the decision has been made. That seems obvious, but it’s a step that can be forgotten. Describe the process followed, people consulted, and reason for taking the course you have.
  • Also, don’t forget to manage your own emotions. Tone, body language and facial expressions convey a lot. And with too much control, you can come across as cold and impersonal.

Keep those four factors in mind: be prepared, direct, explain the why, and manage your own emotions.


5.  Zingers

  • Just Quit:  Romy Newman, founder of an online career community for women, says it’s time to quit if your manager doesn’t support your judgment, support your career trajectory, and support you even when you make a mistake. Managers will find those measures worth pondering — to check how they stack up with their followers and vice versa. (Source: FairyGodboss)
  • Just Ask:  We underestimate other people’s willingness to help us, says consultant Wayne Bake. Instead we over-rely on ourselves. (Source: LeadershipNow).
  • Just Start:  Start small, start now. Entrepreneur Seth Godin says that’s much better than “start big, start later.” You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to start. (Source: Seth’s Blog).
  • Just Pause:  Taking 10-second breaks will consolidate memories better than simply repeating what you’re trying to teach an audience, research shows. Encourage your audience to use those breaks to remember specific points they’ve learned. (Source: Public Words).
  • Just Coach:  Connect and collaborate is the new command and control, says Agata Nowakowska, a vice-president with Skillsoft. She says organizations with a strong coaching culture typically enjoy higher levels of employee engagement and business results. (Source: Training Journal)


6.  The List: Amplifying Your Level of Influence

In navigating the churn of this pandemic, leaders often need to sharpen their skills of persuasion to encourage teams or communities to pursue new directions.

Here’s a quick list to help you review your own level of professional influence. It comes from personal branding expert Sally Hogshead, at Fascinate:

  • Do people make a real effort to connect with you? Do others seek you out for interactions at in-person events, on social media or via email.
  • Are people talking about your ideas and opinions? Do they show interest in what you’re thinking and doing? Do people comment on and share your ideas?
  • When you give direction, do people normally take action? Do your recommendations and advice consistently spark them to act?
  • Do you know how to influence the decisions of others? Can you shape how people think and act? How persuasive would you say you are?
  • Do people imitate your behaviour, ideas, or technique? That signals you’re setting a standard of some sort. Are you doing anything worth copying?

No doubt you have more strength in some of these areas than in others — they are all worth reviewing if you need to amplify your personal influence as a leader.


7.  Around Our Water Cooler:

Pandemic Pressure Points on Governance:

The pandemic has created many pressure points — on operations, workforces and workplaces, client relationships, revenue sources, communications and culture.

Another area now getting close scrutiny in many organizations is governance — that mix of oversight, organizational structure, delegation practices and lines of authority that govern how things get done.

You’re not alone these days if you’re struggling with situations like these:

  • Learning at the board level:  So many familiar parameters have changed during the pandemic that board members often discover they don’t know as much about their organization as they thought. And facing significant risks, they are scrambling to learn fast enough to be effective decision-makers.
  • Need for new structures:  Some boards and CEOs are finding their old committee systems aren’t nimble enough for today’s environment — and perhaps they weren’t all that effective in the past, but no one noticed. Some are moving to ad hoc teams struck for specific purposes. Others are moving to broader forums, having “everyone in the room” to explore uncharted territory and/or build consensus behind new directions.
  • Sharper focus on trust, delegation, reporting and accountability: Until an operating landscape is turned upside down, we often overlook how much we rely on the ambiguous “how we always do things around here”. Now we need crisp direction on expected outcomes, assignment of responsibilities, reporting and timelines. And where trust is shaky, dysfunction seeps into those cracks.
  • Learning at the senior management level:  Some CEOs, through no fault of their own, are struggling in the new operating climate. Meanwhile, board members are ineffective as mentors because that role contradicts their oversight mandate. They can assist indirectly, however, by establishing a healthy environment to help the CEO learn — through the questions they ask, the demands they make, and the expectations they set. (For more on that, see INSEAD professor Philip Anderson’s article Stop CEO Failure and our own piece here.)

Some teams fear they’re floundering, others are learning fast, some are adapting at warp speed, and others have been pleasantly surprised to see how well they’re weathering these new storms. These are four pressure points to watch closely.

What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick:  The Strategy Manual by Scottish trawlerman turned business consultant Mike Baxter is a clear, practical and thorough guide to developing and implementing strategy in your organization, bringing together many different models and concepts for those new to the area or eager for a refresh.
  • Rob’s Pick:  Strategy Bites Back by Henry Mintzberg, Bruce Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel.  I keep going back to this great collection of short thought-provoking pieces that challenge our assumptions when it comes to strategy making. This 2005 classic features dozens of authors — from Mintzberg and Michael Porter to Richard Branson and Gary Hamel, Mao Tse Tung and Mozart, the Economist and our own Harvey Schachter.


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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 

“The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.”

— Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.


Past issues of the 8020Info Water Cooler newsletters can be found at https://8020info.com/newsletters-blog/