January 10, 2021


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we share insights on decision-making, myths about strategy, HR trends, questions for reflection on 2021 goals, building resilience and audience-calibrated communications. Enjoy!


1. Barack Obama on Decision Making

This year will bring with it tough decisions, as we grapple with the continuing impact of the coronavirus and prepare for the post-pandemic future. It may be helpful therefore to consider the decision-making process Barack Obama shared in his recent memoir (and a Medium excerpt).

“One of the first things I discovered as president of the United States was that no decision that landed on my desk had an easy, tidy answer,” he writes. “And while few decisions in life are as complex as the ones you face in the Oval Office, I did walk away from my eight years as president with some thoughts on how to approach tough questions.”

Because every tough decision came down to a probability, certainty was impossible. Rather than let himself get paralyzed in the quest for a perfect solution, or succumb to the temptation to just go with his gut, he created a sound decision-making process that involved these four crucial elements:

  • Really listen to the experts.
  • Follow the facts.
  • Consider your goals.
  • Weigh all of that against your principles.

“Then, no matter how things turned out, I would at least know I had done my level best with the information in front of me,” he says.

Listening meant asking everybody —including the junior staffers in the back row— what they thought, and welcoming contrary comments.

“When you have a tough, almost unsolvable decision to make, you don’t just want people to tell you what you want to hear,” he advises.


2. Five Myths about Strategy

Also helpful in arming you for 2021 are five myths about strategy that Stephen Bungay, a director of the Ashridge Strategic Management Centre in London, offered in Harvard Business Review:

  • Myth 1 – Strategy is about the long term: In fact, it’s not about the short or long term but about the fundamentals of how the business works — sources of value creation, drivers of the cost to deliver it, and the basis of competition.
  • Myth 2 – Disruptors change strategy all the time: In the case of Amazon and the rest of Big Tech, from which that misconception derives, most of their innovative new products and services reflect a single, consistent strategy — doubling volume so that costs come down dramatically.
  • Myth 3 – Competitive advantage is dead: In fact, it isn’t but you need to rely on multiple advantages rather than just the one.
  • Myth 4 – You don’t need to rely on a strategy; you just need to be agile: Agility is a valuable capability with immediate operational benefits. But that won’t permanently affect your competitive position without taking the right strategic decisions about where to direct that capability.
  • Myth 4 – You need a digital strategy: A company is an organism, and if you try to optimise the parts you will sub-optimise the whole.  “You don’t want a strategy for digital, IT, finance, HR or anything else – just a strategy for the business,” he says.

In life we encounter lies, big lies, and myths. He warns myths are the worst of all.


3. Building Focus and Resilience in 2021

At the turn of the year, we usually ponder priorities for the coming months. But productivity writer Jory MacKay flips the coin and instead highlights giving up priorities, which can help build productivity, focus and resilience.

He notes that once you call something a priority, it can hold that exalted status for longer than necessary.

“Our brains hate to ‘throw away’ the work we’ve put into things that felt like a priority at one point,” he writes on the Rescue Time blog. So you need to become adept at deprioritizing — putting once prized goals on the not-to-do list.

He advises you to set limits on how long you will work on projects and tasks, creating some friction at specific intervals that pushes you to reassess priorities. And keep in mind that with a task or project it need not be all or nothing; perhaps some of it needs to be deprioritized while other parts can continue.

“Working on the right things is empowering and can help us stay motivated through even the hardest of times,” he says.


4. Top HR Trends for 2021

Working from home during the pandemic has opened up the personal lives of employees to employers. Brian Kopp, chief of research in the Gartner HR practice, says that will continue as organizations shift to managing the life experiences of employees.

“2021 will be the year where employer support for mental health, financial health and sleep will become table stakes of the benefits offer given to employees,” he notes in HR Executive.

His 11 trends also includes the shift in focus on flexibility, from location to time of work, and tensions (including lawsuits) over organizational requirements for a COVID vaccine.


5. Zingers

  • Strategically De-stress:  Work consciously this year at de-stressing, advises management guru Tom Peters. In the course of the day, week and year, figure out how to take a pause that refreshes. “This idea is absolutely positively ‘strategic’; in no way is it merely a ‘nice to do,’” he insists.  (Source: Tom Peters Weekly Quote)
  • New Skill:  Choose one skill to improve or learn this year, suggests career advisor Wendi Weiner. (Source: Fast Company)
  • Remote Insight:  Gallup research found remote workers can have higher engagement than in-office workers, but only when they receive frequent feedback from their manager — that means a few times per month, although a few times per week draws even greater benefits.  (Source: Gallup.com)
  • Action Learning:  We often avoid taking action until we learn more about the issue at hand. But author James Clear points out the best way to learn is often by taking action. (Source: JamesClear.com)
  • No Excuses:  Blogger Michael Dinich urges you to read more in 2021 — and no excuses. “Speaking of excuses, stop using them,” he adds, since ignoring excuses often has fuelled other people’s success. (Source: The Ladders)


6. The List:

    David Allen’s Questions for the New Year

Here, from David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter, the “Getting Things Done” guru shares his list of questions for creating the best year possible:

  • What would you like to be your biggest triumph in 2021?
  • What advice would you like to give yourself in 2021?
  • What is the major effort you are planning to improve your financial results in 2021?
  • What would you be most happy about completing in 2021?
  • What major indulgence are you willing to experience in 2021?
  • What would you most like to change about yourself in 2021?
  • What are you looking forward to learning in 2021?
  • What do you think your biggest risk will be in 2021?
  • What aspect of your work are you most committed to changing and improving in 2021?
  • What is one as yet undeveloped talent you are willing to explore in 2021?
  • What brings you the most joy and how are you going to do or have more of that in 2021?
  • Who or what, other than yourself, are you most committed to loving and serving in 2021?
  • What one word would you like to have as your theme in 2021?


7.  Around Our Water Cooler:

Audience-Centred More Than Ever

Since the pandemic arrived, many leaders have discovered their old communications approaches are not working so well — and often the issue involves a mismatch between content and the mindset of the audiences receiving the message.

A general staff memo is not as strong as one tailored specifically to front-line workers concerned about exposure to the coronavirus or trying to manage the  stresses of working at home in a makeshift office alongside children trying to take classes virtually. They have different concerns and focus.

A communication to a client or prospect who has been able to carry on pretty much as usual over the past year may play as tone-deaf for one on the verge of bankruptcy or mental health meltdown.

It takes more effort and discipline, but it’s a good idea to take another look at how you are segmenting your audiences for communications purposes. A segment that once was a single flavour of customer or staff or supplier may have fractured into sub-groups.

Segment Audiences by Their Awareness Levels:

Last year Bryan Harris at Go Viral (Growth Tools) highlighted a helpful framework for breaking down audiences, taken from Great Leads: The Six Easiest Ways to Start Any Sales Message, by Michael Masterson and John Forde.

It is based on five levels of audience/customer awareness:

  • Most Aware: This might be a client or customer who has already bought something or had other interactions with you and loves your brand. They are going to fall on the “most aware” end of the scale.
  • Product/Service Aware: The potential client knows what you offer or sell but isn’t sure yet whether it’s right for them.
  • Solution Aware: Your prospect knows the result they want to achieve, but not that your service or product can help deliver it.
  • Problem Aware: Prospects in this audience category sense they have a problem but don’t know there is a solution.
  • Unaware: Prospects who have no knowledge of anything related to the problem, solution or what you have to offer (except, perhaps, being able to react with an opinion or having a sense of his or her own identity).

In an era of information overload, it’s never been more important to get the relevance of your content right — especially when your email headline and first 100 words are critical to grabbing their attention. Try adjusting the details of your content to match the level of your audience’s awareness and understanding.


What we’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick:  In The Art of Impossible, journalist Steven Kotler offers an incisive, wide-ranging guide to achieve what is considered impossible, with an in-depth look at research and personal stories that illuminate the four main elements of his formula: motivation, learning, creativity, and flow.
  • Rob’s Pick:  Entrepreneur Ray Dalio, one of the world’s most successful investors, shares unconventional but practical advice in Principles: Life and Work. He offers a distinct and frank point of view, bounding through well-organized and concrete detail at a lively pace.  For me it was like using a microscope to study the realities of organizational culture, dynamics and leadership.


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


8.  Closing Thought

What you say matters less than what you do. New goals won’t get you different results. Different actions can. Change what you’re doing to change where you’re going.”

— Shane Parrish