May 8, 2022


The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs



In this 8020Info Water Cooler we look at promoting change, encouraging staff, better check-in conversations, T-shape skill sets and knowing when it’s time to pull the plug. Enjoy!


1.  Two Techniques for Promoting Change

Most people don’t want to change. In order to push past the tendency for  organizations and people to seek comfort in the old ways of doing things, journalist Bill Taylor draws from social science research to recommend two techniques:

“Foot in the Door” (Start Small)

The best way to get people to change something big, or do something hard, is to first ask them to change something small or do something easy. People develop a sense of commitment and confidence that makes them more enthusiastic about agreeing to the next, bigger request.

“In other words, the path to big change is paved by lots of small steps and little bets — each of which builds on what’s come before,”

“In other words, the path to big change is paved by lots of small steps and little bets — each of which builds on what’s come before,” he writes in Harvard Business Review For example, Megabus didn’t set out to dramatically remake bus transportation but took a series of steps such as using a new type of bus, opting for express routes, and trying paperless ticketing.

“Door in the Face” (Aim Big)

You insist people do something even bigger and more dramatic than what you actually have in mind, and then when they resist, your real objectives seem tame by comparison.

He’s not recommending chicanery but, instead, setting aspirations for change and  performance that seem extreme or unreasonable, as Vince Lombardi did when he went to coach the Green Bay Packers football team. “Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence,” he later explained.

How can you apply those ideas to changes you are contemplating?

2. Focus Your Check-In Conversations

With staff retention under siege, it’s more important than ever that managers devote themselves to holding top-flight one-on-one meetings with staff members.

On his Leadership Caffeine  blog, consultant Art Petty says busy managers need a simple device to remember how to frame those discussions, and so he boils it down to four C’s wrapped with a D:

  • Context: Remind your team member why their work matters. Spend time showing how their priorities fit into the wider goals of the group, department or organization. “We do our best work when we have context for it, and your reinforcement here is essential,” he writes.
  • Connection: While context breathes life into daily work, now you want to tie the specifics of their role and work to the bigger picture. Review key goals, individually and organizationally, and share updates on the strategy.
  • Coaching: One-on-one conversations allow you to slow down and identify what’s working for the individual and where additional support or training is needed. Feedback should be given close to events, not saved for these sessions, but now you can review progress on that feedback.
  • Career: Explore their career ambitions — for example, after success with a project, discuss whether they might want to do more of that activity.
  • Dialogue: Successful one-on-ones are always a dialogue. “Learn to use questions as your primary toolset and show your genuine curiosity about the experiences and challenges of your team members,” he advises.

Before every one-on-one, think about how to cover those five elements.

3. The One-Minute Manager’s Top Takeaway

A few years ago consultant Jennifer V. Miller asked One-Minute Manager author Ken Blanchard if he could retain only one piece of advice from that book, what it would be.

“I would hold onto ‘catch people doing something right,’” he replied. Miller notes the book was written before research came out on positive psychology but fits that ethos.

Similarly, she offers seven phrases to encourage subordinates even in situations where you have not caught them doing something right:

  • I can see you are giving this your best effort. How can I help support you?
  • You seem disappointed in the outcome. Want to talk about it?
  • I know you will succeed.
  • What would you do if you had to do it again? What would you change?
  • It was exciting to watch you reach beyond your comfort zone. How did you feel about it?
  • I have faith in you.
  • You’ve got this.

“Remember that people are trying to do the best that they can, given their current circumstances. (Well most of them are, anyways.) Even if what you see falls short of your expectations, find a positive element,” she concludes on her blog.

4. Scratch the Degree Requirement

Recruiting specialist John Sullivan finds the fixation on hiring university graduates misguided. University degrees do not predict workplace success. And requiring a degree excludes many workers who could do the job, limiting diversity in your recruiting.

Instead, clarify the job-related skills you need. Learn not to be concerned about where and how the skills were developed.

“Finally, directly assess the required skills of each candidate whether they have a degree or not,” he writes on his blog.

5. Zingers

  • Focus on a Partial Picture: When you feel stuck, stop trying to see the full picture.  Barbara Nixon, who advises entrepreneurs, says you’ll never know what is coming around the corner, so just focus on the next step. Also, give yourself permission to want what you want, rather than thinking of reasons why the goal is inappropriate or unlikely to be achieved. (Source: BarbaraNixon.com).
  • Map Out the Deciders: In selling, you need to know who the decision makers are, says Ottawa sales consultant Colleen Francis. There will be buyers, who actually make the yes or no decision; stakeholders, who are affected by the decision and thus have influence; and advisors, from inside or outside the organization, who will be consulted. Map them out. (Source: Engage Selling).
  • Greet Ideas with Enthusiasm: When someone shares a new idea, or makes a pitch, or describes a dream, what would happen if you were enthusiastic, asks entrepreneur Seth Godin? (Source: Seth’s Blog).
  • Find Spring-Cleaning Targets: What spring cleaning needs to be done in your organization? Toxic employees? Systems and processes? Falling margins that need improvement? Accounts receivables? The website? Consultant Donald Cooper urges you to find three things to clean up over the next three months. (Source: DonaldCooper.com).
  • Value Sells Long Term: Good marketing can sell once, but only a good product can sell twice, says Atomic Habits author James Clear. In the long run, your performance reverts to the value you provide.  (Source: JamesClear.com).

6. The List:  When To Pull the Plug

There comes a time when it becomes clear a project, new service or product offering is unlikely to be successful — it is time to reconsider.

Here are 12 moments when you may need to pull the plug, from Columbia Business School Professor Rita McGrath:

  • You have learned it is going to be much more difficult or expensive to achieve your original project goals.
  • You have learned it is going to take much more time than expected to achieve your original project goals.
  • The scope of the project has become much more substantial than was originally envisioned, but the resources dedicated to it have not changed.
  • Despite the misgivings of people with expertise in the organization, the champion for this project is determined to move it forward.
  • New competitors have emerged since the project began, which is negatively changing the marketplace dynamics.
  • The ecosystem of necessary partnerships has not evolved as expected.
  • A new competitive offering has unexpectedly been introduced into the market that solves the same problem you do.
  • Customers are reporting a cheaper or lower quality product is “good enough”, so improvements you’ve planned probably won’t be widely embraced.
  • A major potential customer has chosen a standard of technology that you can’t support.
  • You’ve learned you have no way to protect the intellectual property developed in the project.
  • Your strategy has shifted in such a way that the project is no longer a good fit.
  • You have essentially run out of funding to continue this project.

You can read her in full here and here.

7.  Around Our Water Cooler


Consider Hiring “T-Shaped” Leaders

Sometimes an idea or model (and not necessarily a new one) keeps pinging at your window. At 8020Info last week, that concept was hiring and training people for “T-Shaped” skill profiles.

As Lisa Bodell explains it in a Forbes article (Why T-Shaped Teams Are the Future of Work), a T-shaped person is expert in at least one discipline and fairly knowledgeable or skilled in several others. They go really deep in one or two functional areas but can contribute to a broad range of other work.

For a nice explanation of the T-shaped skills profile from McKinsey, who developed the first models some decades ago, see this blog. The approach might help in the current crunch of high talent turnover.

Pressure Point:  Turnover at the Top

We see plenty of organizations recruiting these days for new CEOs, executive directors and senior managers. Dr. Andy Kelly from The Leadership Factory notes such leaders need a mindset back by skills beyond a single type of technical expertise.

While their specialist role has value, they must also grasp the bigger picture and how various parts of the operation fit together. Senior leaders also need to be oriented to external forces, the longer term, and delivery of overall strategy.

Trend:  Managing in a Matrix Across Silos

Crystal Schaffer writes in a Harvard Business post that more organizations are ditching functional silos in favour of matrix structures for getting work done. This up-down-and-sideways model flattens traditional hierarchies and breaks down departments — teams often captained by leaders with deep functional expertise in their area but lacking the skills or incentives to collaborate with others.

Change:  The Need for Adaptability

Jason Yip has described how a specialist with generalist skills (a T-shaped person) allows an organization to adapt more easily to peaks, valleys and changes in client or customer demands.

Not every task requires an expert. Think of a finance specialist who can also help with non-expert tech tasks, or the marketer who can assist with donor relations. When non-experts pitch in with some general skills and experience beyond their core niche, those with deep expertise can focus on clearing bottlenecks.

In the search for resilient solutions to such pressure points, you may want to consider hiring and training for hybrid “T-shaped” roles combining a range of generalist skills to complement core specialist expertise.

What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: In A New Way To Think former Rotman School of Management Dean Roger Martin looks at 14 common business approaches, or models, that we subscribe to and for each presents an alternative that he argues is more sensible to follow. As always, he is enlightening and provocative — and might save you from a big mistake.
  • Rob’s Pick: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. What’s the most effective pathway to success? For your learning, being and career, is it better to be a hyper-specialist from a tender age, like golf phenom Tiger Woods, or a generalist who finds your path later, like tennis star Roger Federer? As Bill Gates says: “ If you’re a generalist who has ever felt overshadowed by your specialist colleagues, this book is for you.”  Data mixed with storytelling makes it an easy read.


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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

“You have been told that real life is not like college, and you have been correctly informed. Real life is more like high school.”

—  Meryl Streep, Actress