April 4, 2021


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we rethink work schedules, customer service molehills, leadership responsibilities, really listening, developing others, and coaching when behaviours are bad. Enjoy!


1. Rethinking Work Schedules

The pandemic has tossed out many traditional workplace schedules. Returning to work might mean rethinking schedules to support changes in work-life balance, minimizing social contact, or adjusting to new client demands.

“The traditional nine-to-five workday is no longer the gold standard,” management professors Mark Bolino, Thomas Kelemen, and Samuel Matthews write in Harvard Business Review.

They share questions you should consider, prompted from their review of 153 academic articles examining how working a non-standard schedule affects employee attitudes, behavior, health, and personal and family life:

  • How does my organization’s scheduling practices affect employee effectiveness and well-being? Working the night shift is associated with higher absenteeism and lower productivity, while flex-time schedules are associated with reduced absenteeism and turnover. Flex-time and compressed work schedules increase job satisfaction.
  • Can we better align work schedules with the needs, desires, and personalities of employees? Research suggests some employees are better suited to working non-standard schedules because of their circadian rhythms or family situation. Do your best to match them up, and consider how they align when recruiting.
  • What are the implications of giving up standard schedules vs. giving employees more control to customize their schedules? The desire for organizational justice pushes us toward equity (if not one-size-fits-all), but the pandemic allowed people more control over their schedules — a welcome part of job crafting.

“The key will be finding a balance between short-term business needs and the long-term benefits that new scheduling strategies bring to both employees and the organization,” they conclude.

2. How to Become a Great Leader

Great leaders are committed to developing other people as leaders, which often means putting those individuals in positions where they might fail.

“This also involves encouraging people to step outside their comfort zone and helping them learn from setbacks and mistakes as opposed to punishing them for setbacks and mistakes immediately,” executive coach Ed Battista writes on his blog.

Becoming a great leader involves understanding the symbolism of leadership.

Usually, we think of leaders as decision-makers, determining the course of the organization. But beyond that cognitive role, he suggests, lies an important emotional role.

People join organizations and feel committed to a certain extent because of the feeling of community with their colleagues and because of the leader’s commitment to invest in the health, development, and growth of that community.

“It’s important to recognize that a leader bears a unique responsibility to help the community feel a sense of collective identity and growth,” he says.

Great leaders embody the culture and walk the talk. They also understand the difference between leading and doing.

Often Battista helps leaders through the difficult transition from being the most technically adept person in a given discipline to a phase in which they’re adding value — not because of their own technical expertise but because they’re hiring people with deeper expertise in that field. The great leader also knits those technical experts into a team.

3. Beware of Customer Service Molehills

If an airline loses a passenger’s luggage, the passenger will probably complain, allowing management to apologize or issue a refund. But for lesser errors such as a seat not reclining or an electrical outlet not working, the passenger may not bother to summon a flight attendant.

The organization doesn’t know about those micro-failures. Yet in strategy + business, journalist Matt Palmquist advises dissatisfaction can build up over time and have severe consequences.

“Consumers can switch providers of services and products without giving the company a chance to redress their grievances, and management is left none the wiser,” he warns.

The impact of unidentified service failures:

A survey by a team of five academics found 56% of respondents were more likely to shop elsewhere because of a series of small failures than because of one large mistake. Repeated micro-failures imply the organization simply doesn’t care about the customer.

And micro-failures are common:  Study participants experienced them twice as often as large macro-failures but were far less likely to complain about them.

As others have suggested, you need a system of outreach to solicit those unvoiced complaints and grumbles. How will you learn about them in your operation?

4. Should you Leave Your Superstars Alone?

Many managers figure they should devote more time supporting their low performers and leave their superstars to take care of themselves.

But management consultant Bruce Tulgan argues that any superstar performer worth keeping will want a highly engaged leader.

“They know that having quality face time with their managers is indicative of improvement and career success. Being ignored by your manager? That means you’re going nowhere fast,” he writes on his blog.

If you don’t feel you can offer anything more to that employee —if he or she has outgrown you, for example — they need another manager.

5. Zingers

  • The Power of Three: Keep in mind the timeless wisdom of the rule of three, advises Fred Hassan, former CEO of Schering-Plough and Pharmacia. The human brain is wired to process information in patterns, and the smallest, most easily memorized and most easily repeated pattern has three elements. Frame your strategy and even impromptu conversational statements by the rule of three. (Source: Chief Executive)
  • Tough HR Question: Who is the primary customer of your organization’s HR function, asks HR consultant John Sullivan? And where is that documented so everyone knows? (Source: com)
  • Clarity Motivates:  Most people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity, says Atomic Habits author James Clear. (Source: com)
  • Bad News Language: We usually obsess about our words when delivering bad news. But the chair of the communications department at the University of Buffalo in New York points to the importance of body language. Mark Frank says to relax your stance. Maintain a soft smile. Don’t stare. Try mirroring the other person’s mannerisms.  (Source: Thrive Global)
  • Positive Focus: A useful question to ask before the workday begins: How am I going to succeed at every encounter I have today? (Source: Leadership Caffeine).


6. The List:  Coaching Questions for Bad Behaviour

When you need to coach an employee after an episode of bad behaviour, it helps to explore how their behavior is having an impact on them and their performance. Executive coach Beth Miller offers this list of questions to discuss with them.

The Questions:

  • How do you think people react when you are ____ to them?
  • How can their reactions to you potentially have a negative impact on you?
  • How does this this behavior show up outside of work?
  • How does this behavior help you?
  • What triggers this behavior — a person, a task, a situation?
  • What do you think will happen if you continue to behave this way?

Once they agree that their behavior isn’t benefitting them or others around them, then it’s time for them to put a plan together to change.

Here’s the list of questions to help build that plan:

  • What steps can you take to decrease this behavior?
  • How would you know these steps are working?
  • When do you plan on resolving the situation?
  • How committed are you to changing on a scale of one to 10?
  • What would it take to increase your commitment by one point?

(Source: Great Leadership by Dan)



7.  Around Our Water Cooler:

Leadership That Really Listens

When facilitating strategic planning sessions, we are critically dependent on listening well. Senior leaders need the same superpower.

As Adam Bryant and Kevin Sharer put it in the Harvard Business Review, executives are flooded with information, but what flows to them “is suspect and compromised. Warning signals are tamped down. Key facts are omitted. Data sets are given a positive spin. All of it isolates leaders in a dangerous information bubble.”

Thankfully, they offer a helpful checklist of seven points we can use to assess whether we are really listening:

  • Protect against blind spots. Build trust with your team so they will bring forward issues you tend not to notice or cannot see.
  • De-emphasize hierarchy. Welcome emails, messages or personal contact regardless of rank or title from people who want to point something out.
  • Give permission to share bad news. Warn your team members not to keep problems to themselves. Encourage them to tell you what you don’t want to hear.
  • Create an early-warning system. One tip is “text me bad news; share good news in person”. If you get bad news early, you can react faster when time is precious.
  • Encourage problem-solving by acknowledging progress. Reflect on proud achievements of the past before discussing future changes and problems.
  • Listen without judgment or an agenda. Be really present when listening rather than waiting to push your own agenda. WAIT: Why Am I Talking?
  • Actively seek input. Do more than just encourage people to speak up — make it easy. Walk the halls, hold Q&A forums and meet in small groups.

For senior leaders, listening is a multi-dimensional practice. You need to build your listening ecosystem.


What We’re Reading:

  • Rob’s Pick: With so many organizations take a close hard look at loose seams in their governance processes, this book may provide you with a great framework for review:  Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Non-Profit Boards by Chait, Ryan and Taylor. It came to our attention through the United Way and has become one of our handbooks. It’s a tad academic, but especially strong on fiduciary, strategic and generative/learning roles for boards.
  • Harvey’s Pick:  The HBR Family Business Handbook by Josh Baron and Rob Lachenauer is clear, thorough, and wise, with some helpful ideas and strategies you have probably not considered.

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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

“A year from now you will wish you had started today.”

Karen Lamb