April 26, 2020


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we focus on managing fears and issues without a playbook, practices that build resiliency, motivation when working from home, and figuring out what’s next. Don’t miss our checklist of mental biases that can warp your planning as you adapt to the pandemic. Enjoy!


1. The Two Fronts of Every Crisis

Leadership consultant Michael McKinney says that, in every crisis, a leader faces challenges on two fronts: issues and fears. “Understanding the difference and managing both is key to dealing with a crisis successfully,” he writes on his Leadership Now blog.

A key factor on the issues front is that a true crisis has many moving parts that lack connection; it’s novel, and there is no playbook to guide you.

Harvard Business School Professor Herman Leonard says crisis management therefore focuses not on answers but on establishing an effective process, as captured in the phrase “learning our way forward.”

You probably won’t get it right the first time and certainly won’t know in advance how it might play out. You are operating blind, which provokes uncertainty and fear.

“A crisis calls for agile leadership,” McKinney adds. “Select options, try them, get feedback, and try again — a problem-solving experimental approach.”

With respect to fear, he says the critical skill a leader needs is the ability to separate the signal from the noise. It is the noise — the confusion and overload of irrelevant information — that generates the most fear.

“Fear reduces clarity and trust in the process,” he says. “We become gullible and self-centred. Fear cripples us.”

Concentrate on the big picture. Most of the information you receive during a crisis will be noise. Educate others to offer them clarity. Otherwise, in the absence of credible information, people will gravitate to the worst-case scenario.

“Blame has no place in leadership,” he says. Remain steady and look for positive events in the crisis.


2. Motivating A Remote Team

As many are finding in this pandemic, moving to a remote workplace is only a first step. Now the team must become as effective as possible, which means tackling the thorny issue of motivation.

Working from home is less motivating, according to consultant Lindsay McGregor’s study of more than 20,000 workers around the world.

“Even worse, when people had no choice in where they worked, the differences were enormous. Total motivation dropped 17 points [by roughly half], the equivalent of moving from one of the best to one of the most miserable cultures in their industries,” she writes in Harvard Business Review.

She identified three negative motivators that often led to reduced work performance:

  • Emotional pressure
  • Economic pressure
  • Inertia

She assumes those have spiked in the pandemic as emotional and economic pressures intensify and inertia grows as people might wonder what the point of working is.

Countering that are three positive motivators:

  • Play
  • Purpose
  • Potential (learning and personal growth).

But those motivations are likely decreasing in remote/home workplaces. We don’t sit around chatting with colleagues and solving problems – part of the play element.

“Purpose could also decline with a team’s decreasing visibility into their impact on clients or colleagues, especially if no one is there to remind them,” she explains.

”Lastly, potential could decline if people can’t gain access to colleagues that teach and develop them.”

She urges you to make work engaging by letting people devote half of their week to what she calls “adaptive performance”, where there is no plan to follow, but instead they experiment and problem solve.


3. Three Resiliency Practices

Resilience — maintaining equilibrium under pressure — is among the most important skills for leaders at all levels to master, the Centre for Creative Leadership notes on its web site.

It says building resilience boils down to three practices:

  • Personal energy management: Manage the resistance you may be feeling in the situation. Show up, give your best, and relinquish attachment to the outcome. Stay in the present.
  • Shift your lens: Take charge of how you think of adversity. Understand your thinking about the situation and choose an effective response. Be compassionate to yourself and others.
  • Sense of purpose: Give your life meaning by developing a “personal why”. That can help you handle setbacks and even find opportunities in the crisis.

The Centre advises you to get enough sleep and exercise, and carve out time for brain games. “Learn anything new. Solve a challenging puzzle. Find positive distractions such as hobbies or meditation,” it notes.

Control your emotions, watching for emotional triggers – figure out who or what sets off your triggers.

And enhance social connections, creating more meaningful and productive relationships. “Ask a colleague for advice, give positive feedback, or share something you recently learned about yourself,” it suggests.


4. The COVID 3T Playbook

In these uncertain times, organizations should orient their response around these three Ts, the NOBL consultancy recommends on its web site:

  • Triage:  Review your options with a sense of urgency. Ask: To sustain organizational continuity, how can we create a level of stability and reduce unnecessary uncertainty?
  • Train:  Develop proficiencies across your organization — for now and for the future. Ask: To shore up current vulnerabilities or future-proof against later challenges, what skills must become better distributed across the organization?
  • Transform: Decide who you must become. Ask: How must we change to be better positioned in a post-COVID world?


5. Zingers

  • More Meetings?  Consultant Andy Bounds recently wrote something he never thought he’d recommend:  Have more update meetings. Past experience often leads you to believe they are a waste of time. In a crisis, with people working remotely, they are vital. (Source: AndyBounds.com)
  • Be Brave:  In this pandemic, “remind yourself daily that you are trained to deal with this situation, even if that means lying to yourself a little bit,” says Brent Wolfrom, a family physician who worked with the Canadian armed forces in Afghanistan. (Source: CMAJ Blog)
  • What Employees Need:  Gallup has studied past crises and determined what employees need most right now is for leaders to provide a path forward. This creates a “rally effect”. They want trust, compassion, stability, and hope. (Source: Gallup.com)
  • Reduce Close Management:  Consultant Art Petty says this is a good time to stop micro-managing: “People don’t need more meetings or more managing. They need quality, actionable information faster, and feedback on actions and outcomes. And, they need managers who are coaches, enablers, and servants.” (Source: ArtPetty.com).
  • Zoom to the Right Size:  What type size should you use for presentations on Zoom and other virtual platforms? Presentations expert Dave Paradi recommends a font size of 18 to 20 points, similar to normal. You might think that, with people being so much closer to the screen compared to regular presentations, a smaller font could be used, but that effect is offset since the screen itself is smaller. (Source: ThinkOutsideTheSlide.com).


6. The List: What’s Next? 

Everyone has a list – or is compiling one – of what will come next for their organization. Here are some items you may want to add, from CEO coach Todd Ordal on his Applied Strategy site:

  • What have you learned during this crisis about how you should operate your organization?
  • Will your business model need to change?
  • Will anything change about your relationships with your customers, employees, partners and vendors?
  • Is your supply chain still reliable?
  • Are there new opportunities to effectively satisfy new needs?
  • What kinds of assets — physical, intellectual, people, and financial — will you need?
  • Can you shake off understandably negative emotions and think logically about your business?
  • How can you help your team be excited and committed after coming through the storm?
  • As a leader, how should you adjust your message, tone and behaviours?


7.  Around Our Water Cooler:
    Thinking Straight in a Topsy-Turvy World

As human beings we are predictably prone to various types of inherent mental biases. Our planning and thinking processes can veer towards the dysfunctional — particularly as we struggle to design “COVID exit strategies” under the influence of pandemic pressures, uncertainties, and disruptions.

Here’s a short checklist of influences that warp our thinking that we’ve culled from the 99 examples Rolf Dobelli sets out in The Art of Thinking Clearly. They may help you double-check your cognitive biases:

  • Availability Bias: Do our proposed strategies reflect a bias towards “availability” — favouring options that are easy to think of, recall or do? Sometimes we prefer having a map, even if it’s wrong, to having no map at all.
  • Loss Aversion: Do our goals reflect an exaggerated fear of loss? Are we missing new opportunities to make gains?
  • Ambiguity Aversion: If you have a low tolerance for uncertainty, you may misinterpret ambiguity as risk (with risk, the probability of an outcome is known). Avoid hasty choices if uncertainties may clear up in time.
  • Confirmation Bias: Have we ignored signals or evidence contrary to our conventional way of thinking? This bias is similar to cherry-picking the evidence. A related bias is the “clustering illusion” when we imagine we see patterns where actually there is only random noise.
  • Bias Towards the Present: Are we valuing immediate rewards at the expense of long-term gains? (An exception might be just surviving the month!)
  • Endowment or “Sunk Cost” Effects: Has our thinking placed too much value on what we “own”, our past investments and commitments? Don’t cling to things of little value.
  • Groupthink Bias: Have we settled for easy consensus over hard discussions of other options? The times may call for more than taking the easy way out.
  • Perspective Bias: Are we over-valuing our own past experience and ways of operating? Does that blind us to better ways of doing things in the future?

Dobelli offers dozens of other typical biases like these —the false-consensus effect, having an illusion of control, missing what’s missing from your plan, the misleading effects of hindsight, or survivorship bias (when you overestimate your chances of success by focusing too much on the winners, overlooking all those who failed).

These questions can be challenging, but they will help you reduce potential thinking errors and poor decisions as you adapt to pandemic conditions.

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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

Be patient and tough; one day this pain will be useful to you.”

— Ovid