May 16, 2021


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we explore categories for performance evaluation, metrics for remote work, tips on improving diversity practices, structuring FAQ pages and countering the pandemic mood of languishing. Enjoy!


1. Measuring Remote Work Performance

A year into the pandemic, an issue has crystallized about how to measure performance in an era of remote work. Gallup content manager Adam Hickman and research associate Ellyn Maese say it starts with metrics in three categories:

  • My work: The individual’s goal setting and performance in meeting them.
  • My team: How the individual partners for effectiveness.
  • My customer: How the work translates into consequences for those served.

Before assessing performance, managers have to be adept at their own role — establishing clear expectations and setting clear goals. Often, unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

Gallup research found that, in the U.S., close to half of employees start their day with an unclear definition of what they’re expected to achieve. They are left to define productivity on their own.

What managers can do:

“To remedy this problem, managers should prioritize ongoing performance conversations more than ever, as employees may either be [working remotely] permanently or a mixture of both in-office and remote,” they write on the Gallup site.

“During these frequent conversations, managers should emphasize what success looks like — giving employees a well-defined target for excellence.”

They also remind us to be collaborative so employees can feel tied to the goals. Connect goals with tangible outputs that make it clear what progress looks like.

“Everyone likes to have something to show for their hard work, but it can be especially helpful for remote or hybrid workers when you can’t see the tasks they complete each day in person,” they note.

In an era of remote work, these tips can help boost  your team’s productivity.


2. The Blah you’re Feeling is Languishing

Are you having trouble concentrating these days? Not excited about anything? Wishing you could remain under the covers when the alarm goes off?

Psychologist Adam Grant says that’s happening to many people these days — including him. And it’s not burnout or depression. It’s languishing — a sense of stagnation and emptiness.

“Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being,” he writes in The New York Times.

“You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work.”

He says it appears to be more common than major depression and, in some ways, it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

So what can we do about it?

Being in “flow” may be an antidote to languishing. It comes when you get fully absorbed in a meaningful challenge or bonding in the moment, and your sense of time, place and self melts away.

“People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their pre-pandemic happiness,” he says.

“An early-morning word game catapults me into flow. A late-night Netflix binge sometimes does the trick too — it transports you into a story where you feel attached to the characters and concerned for their welfare.”

Identifying small goals and finding uninterrupted time to make progress on them can also counter the sense of languishing.


3. Tips to Better Structure Your FAQ Page

One important function for a website is to offer answers to questions visitors may have. They often look for an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page.

“The FAQ page is a safety net,” digital marketer Andy Crestodina writes on the Orbit Media blog. “As long as the visitor thinks their question is common, they click and look there.”

But you need to make sure the structure allows them to quickly find their answer. He suggests:

  • If you have fewer than 20 questions, just make a list. Prioritize the items by importance.
  • If you have between 20 and 50 questions, put similar ones in groups so people don’t have to scan through long lists. Ideally, no group should have more than seven questions. Subheads also assist scanning.
  • If you have between 50 and 100 questions, add jump links or content areas that expand — commonly called “accordions” since they open up when the visitor clicks on a question, pushing other items down the page.
  • If you have more than 100 questions, in addition to grouping and accordions, you may need to add a search tool for this section.


4. Two Simple Changes to Improve Diversity

Performance evaluations can reflect racial and gender bias, leading to unfair evaluation of talent and hindering efforts to promote diversity.

In Harvard Business Review, University of California professor Joan C. Williams and her team identified two “simple and inexpensive” tweaks:

  • Break jobs down into competencies, rather than leaving the assessment open-ended, and require that ratings be backed by at least three pieces of evidence. (That’s because white men tend to be advantaged in such ratings, with one strength magnified into an overall high rating.)
  • Institute one-hour workshops to teach people how to use the new format.


5. Zingers

  • The Joy of Interruptions: Workplace interruptions are not entirely bad. Research found they are associated with higher feelings of belongingness, which itself is linked to greater job satisfaction. (Source: The British Psychological Society Research Digest)
  • Embed Prioritization: Leaders should create a team mindset that encourages focus on priorities, says consultant Mike Figliuolo. Routinely (at least once a week) ask people what they’re working on and nudge them to explain how that work ties to the overall strategy.  (Source: thoughtLEADERS, LLC)
  • Relate to Colleagues: To connect a team working remotely, former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recommends a practice he started well before the pandemic:  At each weekly all-hands meeting, give one individual five minutes to show and talk about a few photos related to their life. People can then see their other personal dimensions. (Source: ConnectionCultureGroup).
  • Feed Your Brain: Find 15 minutes a day to feed your brain, says consultant Steve Keating. If you can find 15 minutes to feed your stomach, you can find 15 minutes to read a blog or part of a book, or listen to a podcast — and learn.  (Source: Lead Today)
  • Follow Your Own Beat: Beethoven became more original and brilliant as a composer as he lost his ability to hear music, says Harvard Kennedy School Professor David Brooks. Deafness freed him because he no longer had society’s soundtrack playing in his ears. How can you define yourself in new ways, freeing yourself from boundaries based on the expectations of others?  (Source: Washington Post)


6. The List: Categories for Employee Evaluation

Consultant Donald Cooper offers a provocative and insightful list of seven categories you can consider when evaluating your employees and planning how best to coach and develop them.

The Categories:

  • Potential superstars. Spot and nurture them.
  • Superstars who can and want to move up the ladder. Create a career path for these folks and compensate them well.
  • Superstars who are incredible at doing what they’re doing but want to keep doing just that, rather than take on new responsibilities. Make sure they are regularly thanked, rewarded and celebrated.
  • Competent team players, steady and dependable. They must continue to receive training, coaching and encouragement to do their jobs better, especially when technology or systems are changing, and be given recognition.
  • Underperformers who can be rescued. Get on with turning them around.
  • Underperformers who can’t be rescued. Stop wasting your time and theirs. Help them find suitable employment elsewhere.
  • Toxic employees, including toxic superstars who believe they’re so special they don’t have to follow the rules or the business culture. Get rid of them immediately.

(Source: The Donald Cooper Corporation Newsletter)


7. Around Our Water Cooler: 


Poker Tips for Playing Your Pandemic Hand

Poker, like decision-making in life, is a game presented as an incomplete picture. Valuable information remains hidden. There is also an element of luck in any outcome. You could make the best possible decision at every point and still lose.

For many, that’s the way decision-making feels in a pandemic.

“Life is poker, not chess,” says Annie Duke, a former professional poker player and the author of Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. It involves uncertainty and luck.

Thinking in bets starts with recognizing that there are exactly two things that determine how our lives turn out: the quality of our decisions and luck.

We’re uncomfortable with the idea that luck plays a significant role in our lives. Our brains evolved to create certainty and order. Despite our best efforts, things might not work out the way we want. As in poker, you can lose a strong hand through bad luck (or win by accident despite holding a hand of losing cards).

Duke relates the story of a much-ridiculed Super Bowl decision. Four points behind, only one yard away from a winning touchdown and with mere seconds left, the Seattle Seahawks coach called for a pass play. It was intercepted; they lost.

Out of 66 passes attempted from an opponent’s one-yard line that season, zero had been intercepted. It was a good decision that didn’t work out.

Over time, we learn to use approaches that are biased by results from plain bad luck, not bad decision-making. We need to distinguish between luck-influenced outcomes compared to the quality of the decision-making.

Duke advises us to:

  • Get comfortable with saying “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” — acknowledging the role of luck is a vital step to becoming a better decision-maker. We have to make peace with not knowing.
  • When you must make in-the-moment decisions, it helps to deliberate in advance to find ways to execute your intentions, so you can make decisions reflexively when time is short.
  • She also recommends mapping out potential scenarios, improving decision-making processes, making fewer emotional decisions and becoming less reactive.


What We’re Reading:

  • Rob’s Pick:   We often draw insight from the Farnam Street blog, which has now published the second volume in its The Great Mental Models series. The first book covers nine general thinking concepts taken from diverse disciplines, starting with “The Map is not the Territory”. It moves through thought experiments, first-principles thinking, use of inversion, circles of competence, and other thinking tools. They will help you approach problems, opportunities and difficult decisions with more clarity and confidence.
  • Harvey’s Pick:   Better, Simpler Strategy by Felix Oberholzer-Gee is not really all that simple to implement but it does offer a conceptual model for value-based competition with two key elements:  Increasing the willingness of your customers to pay and/or the willingness of employees and suppliers to accept minimum compensation.


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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 

“If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win.”

Carl Lewis