September 19, 2021


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we look at factors causing failure in forming and implementing strategy, along with tips on productively handling pressure, modes of delivering value, and recruiting for decision-making skills. Enjoy!


1. Five Fundamental Factors for Strategy Execution

Effective strategy execution can rally people around a new approach. But Brad Haudan, a senior vice president of Root consultancy, says that execution falters more often than not. The strategy is unable to get off the ground because the organization flubs one or more of these five factors of strategy execution:

  • Stopping old behaviours is equally as important as starting new ones: “It’s just as important to decide what you will not do or stop doing as what you will start doing. People must be ready to make some changes and must be supported throughout the discomfort and fear that will likely accompany this time,” he writes on their website.
  • Not everyone will be in alignment with the new strategy initially: While alignment is critical, it’s not automatic. By definition, he argues, strategy should be controversial. Allow sufficient time for questions and answers, and give everyone a chance to come to their own opinion on the change’s validity.
  • Strategy is difficult because it’s looks forward, not back: Strategy is a look forward to uncertainty while your existing metrics evaluate your operation by looking backward at the past strategy’s impact.
  • The time spent building your plan should not exceed time spent on execution: Continually communicate the strategy and make sure you provide training so people can adapt.
  • The people creating the strategy need to have a real-world knowledge of the marketplace: Make sure your top team is still spending time on the front lines.

2. The Three Flavours of Value

Whatever product or service you sell, there are many competitors. Consultant Donald Cooper warns your market is undoubtedly over-served and under-differentiated.

That means you must create, deliver and communicate compelling value that grabs your target customers, setting you above those competitors.

Value is delivered in three flavours, he says:

  • Functional: This involves selling extraordinary products, services and experiences that actually work for your target customers. You must be open or available when your target customers need you, providing the information, coaching and encouragement that they require to wisely choose and effectively use what you sell. That means creating policies, systems and processes that make you easy, efficient and consistent to do business with.
  • Emotional: Most businesses struggle with this one, he says, feeling it’s airy-fairy and can’t be defined. “Quite simply, you deliver Emotional Value when your customers feel better about themselves and the world every time they do business with you, and every time they use what they bought from you,” he writes in his newsletter. How could you deliver emotional value – joy – at every touchpoint?
  • Financial: This comes when your clients believe they paid a fair and competitive price for all the functional and emotional value they got from you. Financial impact is often thought to be the prime value but it’s actually in third position, after functional and emotional value.

With those guidelines, evaluate how you are faring in delivering value and how you can improve.

3. Flip the Script

Next time you have a hot idea, ask your team why it won’t work.

On her blog, consultant Jennifer V. Miller says asking everyone for negatives will lead to a better outcome – better process, and ultimately a better decision.

Get them to list every single reason it won’t work. Then flip the script and ask them to list all the benefits of the proposed approach. Compare and contrast the two lists, looking for the most feasible way ahead. That happens through the process of looking honestly at both sides of the issue.

It seems dumb if not dangerous to start with negatives. That’s not how we normally operate. It goes against the “can do” spirit of most organizations. But it allows the skeptics to get their concerns on the table and then they will be more open to alternatives, not feeling they have been silenced for their pragmatism.

It also signals the leader is open to all input. It enhances engagement. It’s worth adding to your leadership toolbox.

4. Hiring for Decision-making Ability

Good decision-making is needed in every job. But recruiting specialist John Sullivan argues this ability is declining in the population, if social media arguments on current issues are any indication.

That means you have to identify and assess job candidates’ decision-making abilities. Some suggestions from his blog.

  • Ask the candidate what criteria they use to assess information sources.
  • Assess their knowledge of common decision-making errors. Start by inviting the candidate to educate you about a few decision-making steps where most problems occur.
  • Give the candidate a real business problem and ask them to walk you through how they would come to a decision.
  • Ask the candidate how they learned from a weak decision in the past.

5. Zingers

  • Reaching Niche Markets: Mass media fail miserably for products or services with narrow appeal, says advertising guru Roy H. Williams. For niche markets, online media is the answer. One tip:  Make your website interesting. The seller who gets more of the customer’s time is the one most likely to get their money. (Source: Monday Morning Memo).
  • Bold Presentation Tip: Use bold and heavy fonts for headlines in your presentation slides, advises content marketer Ryan McCready. Lighter fonts can then be used for other material as contrast, since too many heavy fonts can be hard to decipher. (Source: PresentationGuru)
  • Patience Please: Somebody was patient with you when you were learning — “who needs your patience today?” asks executive coach Dan Rockwell. (Source: LeadershipFreak)
  • End with Thanks: Close each day by sending someone a thank-you email, suggests consultant Mike Kerr. (Source: Inspiring Workplaces Newsletter)
  • Who’s the Poor Performer? Before blaming a poor performer, consultant David Burkus suggests considering a rule of thumb from quality expert W. Edwards Deming:  There is an 85% chance the poor performance is a result of the system and only a 15% chance it’s the fault of the employee. Bad systems beat good people. (Source: DavidBurkus.com).


6. The Model:  Handling Pressure

The formula for handling pressure, according to Dane Jensen, a consultant and instructor at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business, is:  Pressure = Importance x Uncertainty x Volume.

That highlights the importance of the issues you are facing, the uncertainty that comes with them, and the number of issues pressing upon you.

In his book The Power of Pressure, he says pressure can hit us in two forms: Peak pressure moments — those short, violent bursts of extreme importance and uncertainty — and, secondly, ongoing pressures with many important and uncertain challenges over the long haul.

In each case, you must grapple with the three elements in his formula.

For long haul situations:

  • Connect with why it matters: Create a clear line of sight from the day-to-day grind to what matters to you most.
  • Embrace inevitable uncertainty: High performers embrace the uncertainty they face. They accept there are things they can’t control but have a sense of optimism about the future and focus on their own actions, figuring everything will turn out as it should.
  • Intentionally fuel and recover: Support your energy and emotional balance through proper sleep, food, and movement.

For peak pressure moments, the three approaches are:

  • Consider what’s not at stake: In moments of peak pressure, there’s a tendency to lose sight of what won’t change regardless of the outcome. That gives too much weight to what’s at stake, enhancing pressure.
  • Take direct action: To tame uncertainty, identify what you can control and then focus on making progress, even if it’s just slight, in those areas.
  • Simplify: Distractions can derail our performance. So, try to eliminate what’s on your plate and focus completely on what’s directly related to performance.

Side Note:  Dane Jensen will be leading a free webinar (1pm, Sept. 23rd) on how to use pressure to your advantage.  You can register through Smith Business Insight and Queen’s Executive Education.


7.  Around Our Water Cooler

Strategies Are Built on Choices

This past week we were pleased to present a pair of masterclasses on Strategy Development in Challenging Times — part of our local United Way’s Leadership Development Series.

We talked a lot with these agency leaders about choices, which are at the heart of strategy-making. If you aren’t making choices — setting priorities, choosing your path forward and defining boundaries — you aren’t creating strategies.

Desired outcomes are not strategies:

As Freek Vermeulen notes in Many Strategies Fail Because They’re Not Actually Strategies, many so-called strategies merely describe what you hope the desired outcome will be, not your strategy to achieve it.

On the need to explain your logic, he quotes Sly Bailey, CEO of the UK’s Trinity Mirror: “We always focus on what the choices are. I now realize you have to spend at least as much time on explaining the logic behind the choices.”

We also firmly agree with Vermeulen that strategies often fail because they are implemented in a two-step, top-down process. In other words, leaders imagine two stages: “the strategy is made; now we implement it.”

Top-down strategy needs to be married with bottom-up internal experimentation and initiatives that still work within the boundaries of the strategic intent.

In our workshops last week, we noted that strategy’s constant companion is change. Vermeulen advises that you make change your default. Many strategy implementation efforts fail because people don’t change their habits, and habits in organizations are notoriously sticky and persistent.

We often resist change unless the alternative is substantially better. He says we should consider asking: “Why do we do it this way?” Or flip your default the other way round — that is, to continually pursue change unless it’s crystal clear the old way is substantially better.

If your “strategies” are little more than the hope of desired outcomes, take a sharper look at your choices, engage your whole team, and bank on change.


What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: If we live to be 80 we’ll have 4,000 weeks in our lifetime and Oliver Burkeman argues in his philosophical but practical book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals that means we need to jettison traditional productivity tips from gurus, which only dig us deeper into the mire, and figure out how to accomplish the big, wondrous stuff.
  • Rob’s Pick: Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire by Brad Stone.  What I found most interesting in this readable account were the methods Bezos uses to spur innovation, make decisions and move fast — e.g., banning PowerPoint in favour of succinct briefings read silently together before a discussion, or imagining a future media release (a “PR-FAQ”) as a way to sharpen designs for a proposed product by envisioning its impact and ideal benefits for the customer.


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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

“Talent sets the floor; character sets the ceiling.”

Coach Bill Belichick