January 31, 2021


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we focus on anticipating behaviours in a post-pandemic world, matching leadership styles to organizational cultures, adding science to start-up methods, managing change in low-trust circumstances, and the Law of Triviality. Enjoy!


1. Clues to Your Post-Pandemic Future

To plan for a post-pandemic world, organizations must understand what their stakeholders’ behaviours will look like after the pandemic.

In Harvard Business Review, consultants Dev Patnaik, Michelle Loret de Mola and Brandy Bates suggest separating stakeholder behaviours into three categories:

  • Sustained behaviours are activities that are likely to return to their pre-crisis state virtually unchanged. They point out that people stopped staying in hotels after 9/11 but then returned.
  • Transformed behaviours are activities that are likely to return after the crisis, albeit with fundamental changes. People stopped flying in that era and required enhanced security to return.
  • Collapsed behaviours are activities likely to cease altogether or be replaced by alternatives. After 9/11, travelers could no longer take beverages past check points in the U.S. so coffee shops outside that perimeter became extinct.

To figure out how behaviours fit into that pattern, consider these four elements of behavioural change:

  • Mechanics: Is the behaviour still a habit or has it been somehow disrupted? Routine is critical – the critical factor is how often the behaviour is repeated.
  • Motivators: Does continuing this behaviour provide significant benefit? For example, staying at home has reminded us how much we miss other people.
  • Pressures: People are herd animals, following the pack, so study who might be influencing people to adopt or continue a behaviour.
  • Available Alternatives: “People will abandon a behaviour if there’s a better way to do it, but shifting to the new behaviour needs to be relatively painless,” they observe.

Within that topography are clues to your post-pandemic future.


2. Matching Leadership Styles to Organizations

Bob Swan’s recent ouster as Intel’s CEO after just two years in the job holds a lesson for all leaders. He had a stellar career in financial roles, but consultant George Bradt says that didn’t qualify him to lead a technical, design-focused company like Intel.

Bradt defines four types of organizations, each requiring different leadership based on the staff’s need for flexibility or stability and independence or interdependence.

The concept applies not just to CEOs and corporations but leaders of individual units, depending on their functions:

  • Design-focused companies need chief enablers, providing principle-based support to relatively independent designers. Their messages should be on the power of design and designers.
  • Production-focused organizations need chief enforcers, who lead with policies and a hierarchical command and control approach. Messages are about the power of discipline and consistency.
  • Delivery-focused organizations need chief enrollers, pulling in people from different roles to work interdependently with shared responsibilities. Leaders want to encourage others to join the crusade.
  • Service-focused organizations need chief experience officers, leading flexible, decentralized organizations with guided accountability. Leaders talk about customers — all the time.

He stresses that all organizations have elements of all four attributes. But they must excel in one criterion (and be very strong in another).

“If you’re looking at a new leadership role, make sure you’re the right person for the job and that your talent, knowledge, skills and experience will give you the ability and credibility to get people to follow you,” he writes in Forbes.


3. Is there a Formula for Start-Up Success?

The odds are against you when you start a business. Chiara Spina, a professor of entrepreneurship at INSEAD, argues on its website that you can boost your chances by adding scientific rigour to the popular lean start-up method.

The lean method involves finding out customers’ problems and needs, obtaining feedback and building a minimum viable product to test demand. The idea is to learn quickly and iteratively through experimentation and feedback.

But a study she carried out found those experiments were more likely to be successful when entrepreneurs were trained in the scientific method. That included understanding “first-principle” thinking, which involves understanding a subject’s fundamental principles.

Focusing on the relationships among components was also important.

Test subjects were also trained to collect evidence through carefully designed experiments and rigorous data analysis, as well as to commit to decision rules at the start of their experiments.

Entrepreneurs trained in the lean start-up method but also given that extra dose of scientific training outperformed a control group just trained in lean start-up thinking.

So if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, become a scientist as well.


4. The Truth About Why People Buy

Consultant Donald Cooper says many books published on consumer behaviour complicate the subject.

“The simple truth is that people buy ‘stuff’ (including whatever you sell), in every part of their business and their personal lives for one reason only … to make some of their stress go away,” he writes in his newsletter.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the physical and emotional stresses in our target customers’ lives that attract them to buy what we sell?
  • What physical or emotional stresses might be preventing them from buying — or buying specifically from us?
  • What stresses do we create that could prevent them from doing business with us again?

5. Zingers

  • Virtual Recruiting: COVID-19 has changed the workplace and talent recruitment, opening up opportunities. A team of Gallup consultants ask:  how has your talent acquisition strategy changed with the switch to virtual recruiting? How can you capitalize on its efficiencies — now and in the future?  (Source: com)
  • Bounce rates: The average bounce rate in a study of 500 web sites was 61% — that’s the tally of people who landed on a page and weren’t inclined to dig deeper on the site. The bounce rate for people coming from an email link was about the same as the overall average, but results varied widely, indicating some landing pages are far more engaging than others. (Source: Orbit Media)
  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T:  Leaders should never expect an employee to care as much about the department, function, organization, or job as they do, says HR consultant Tim Sackett. But if an employee does, show respect.  (Source: com)
  • High Leverage: Usually it takes no more effort to work on high leverage tasks than it does to work on low leverage ones, notes author James Clear. It’s just a matter of directing your energy to your highest and best thing. (Source: com)
  • Fatigue vs. Depletion: Many people feel weary these days. Leadership coach David Lapin distinguishes between fatigue and where it can lead — depletion. While the antidote for fatigue is relaxation (in effect non-doing), overcoming depletion requires restoration, like reading, a walk in nature or immersing yourself in music or art. (Source: Eblin Group)


6. The Model:  Coping with the Law of Triviality

Why do we spend so much time on trivial matters? No doubt you’ve experienced this phenomenon at a meeting: the simpler or more familiar the topic, the more people will have an opinion on it and the more they’ll have to say about it.

We might also feel an impulse to speak up when it’s a subject we are expected to comprehend, even if we don’t — to avoid looking stupid. On more complex matters, we remain quiet.

That’s why we spend just three minutes discussing a complex communications plan but 33 minutes discussing what colour to paint a bike shed.

How Can We Stop Talking About the Trivial?

Writing on the FS.Blog, Shane Parrish offers these strategies to manage the Law of Triviality, a term coined by historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson in the 1950s:

  • First is agenda management — ensure your meeting has a clear, focused and particular purpose. Being specific is a crucial ingredient.
  • Use that purpose as the lens to filter all other decisions about your meeting, including who should attend.
  • Choose your list of invited participants Everyone wants to participate, but not everyone has anything meaningful to contribute.
  • Those with the most informed opinions are the most relevant. And if the purpose is to make a decision, consider having fewer people in the room.
  • Decide in advance how to frame the issue in terms of importance to the organization and set a time limit for discussion to create urgency.

“Avoid descending into unproductive triviality by having clear goals for your meeting and getting the best people to the table to have a productive, constructive discussion.”


7.  Around Our Water Cooler: 


When Trust Is Low, Take Simple Concrete Actions

Lack of trust can sandbag a change project. Staff may have lost trust in their leadership. Partners may be grumpy or uneasy. Management may want to delay and seek “buy-in” before launching some proposed policy or course of action.

Often trust has been lost over time with a history of weak management decisions, poor communications, past crises, or a new anxiety-producing environment (like a pandemic).

Moving Forward in a Low-Trust Environment

If you don’t have time for a long process of building “buy-in” for your plan, design your proposed change to be simple and concrete. Promise to do “exactly what it says on the tin” — then do it.

As Matthew Yglesias advises on his Slow Boring blog:

  • Clarity: Make it easy for people to understand exactly what it is you are going to do, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with you.  To reduce confusion, don’t make your program too complicated by trying to accommodate all the different perspectives of individual stakeholders.
  • Accountability: Doing something simple and concrete means it will be easy for everyone to see whether or not you are, in fact, doing what you said you would do. That supports transparency.
  • Success: Clear and uncomplicated approaches make it easier for you and your team to actually achieve the thing you said you would do.

With success at each step —when it’s clear you did “exactly what it says on the tin”— you then build the trust you need for future, more complex challenges.

So in low-trust circumstances, commit to doing what you say you will do, avoid making it too complicated for people to grasp easily, and develop more trust over time with successful results.


What We’re Reading:

  • Rob’s Pick:  In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown challenges the assumption we ‘have to do everything’ — particularly appropriate in pandemic times when people are feeling overwhelmed.  Essentialism is a discipline and mindset focused on regaining control of our own choices about where to spend our time and energies. He shares steps to help us sort out “the trivial many from the vital few”.
  • Harvey’s Pick:  English economist Tim Harford is a lovely storyteller and that makes reading his new book The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics a joy, even if statistics is not your bag. The lessons sometimes get lost in the many stories illustrating them, but you will come away from the book smarter in approaching statistics, for your business and on broad social issues.


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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 

“This is a fundamental irony of most people’s lives. They don’t quite know what they want to do with their lives. Yet they are very active.”

Ryan Holiday