Vol-22_No-09_June 20-2022

June 19, 2022




In this 8020Info Water Cooler we look at inclusive strategic planning, handling employees you can’t fire, appealing to three intelligences, decision trees, focusing on smallest viable audiences, and 20 questions for leaders. Enjoy!

1. The Power of Inclusive Strategic Planning

Leadership consultant Sarah Canaday found herself frustrated recently when working with a non-profit on strategic planning.

They were having excellent discussions and using sound methodology. But as the team progressed through each planning milestone, the leaders would “hit pause” and spend time getting employee feedback.

To her surprise, they were determined to get input and reactions from their near-200-person team before moving to the next phase of the process.

She didn’t remember during her days as a corporate executive testing plans with the people on their teams, she writes on LinkedIn.

“Shouldn’t the management team be setting the agenda? Did we really need opinions from employees who weren’t directly in the loop in terms of planning? How would we ever reach consensus with so many different people weighing in?”

But when they finished the plan, she had an epiphany: Thinking about strategic planning as a leaders-only task is outdated.

“Getting employee feedback on the new directions and initiatives wasn’t just a time-consuming courtesy; it was the key to the plan’s success. Today’s employees want an opportunity to provide their input and feel like they are participating in an organization’s evolution. That’s what drives their engagement and their connection to bigger-picture results,” she says.

Incorporating their input improved management’s ability to get buy-in from people at every level once they moved forward. Achieving that after the fact, she feels, would have been difficult, if not impossible.

She urges you to make your strategic planning inclusive.

2. Firing the “Indispensable” One

It can be the toughest managerial challenge: How to handle a problem employee you seemingly can’t fire.

The person may be key to holding on to an important customer. Perhaps he or she has special technical knowledge or seems to be in a special category (e.g. protected by seniority or connections).

CEO coach Todd Ordeal says when this happens you have more options than you think:

  • Reset expectations: Explain that regardless of what has happened up to now, things must change going forward. Describe what success will look like, and put it in writing. Tell them you’ll offer support, but make it clear that change is required.
  • Ask them for a plan: Give them a week and then tell them you want a written plan to resolve the situation. “This isn’t just delaying the tough call; it’s giving your team member a chance to figure it out,” he observes on his blog. “You can then either accept or reject the plan and use it as a measuring stick to evaluate their progress.”

There’s some chance they’ll quit at this point, he notes. “That’s not the worst outcome.”

If they provide their plan but fail to follow it, you could fire them. If they were hit by the proverbial bus, you would find a replacement. So do it.

Or, Ordeal says, you could nudge them towards quitting by warning the changes you wanted haven’t occurred and a termination of employment seems likely.

Keep in mind this is short term pain for a better ultimate situation. And also keep in mind that if you have a seemingly indispensable employee, you should prepare for the risk they could leave you.

3. The Smallest Viable Audience

One of the best restaurants in New York City seats just 14 people. Yes, in a city of more than eight million people, where so much is extravagantly big, the restaurant chooses to be tiny.

“With the right fan base and technology, that’s enough to allow the chef to build an experience he can be proud of,” entrepreneur Seth Godin notes on his blog.

The media and our culture push us to build something for everyone, whether we’re in business or running a social services agency. But he feels that just means sanding off the edges and investing in an infrastructure allowing large scale.

“But it turns out that quality, magic and satisfaction can lie in the other direction. Not because we can’t get bigger, but because we’d rather be better,” he insists.

He stresses the strategy of the smallest viable audience doesn’t let you off the hook. You have to choose your customers, and then once you have identified them, create so much delight and connection they choose to spread the word to like-minded peers.

4. Speak to Three Intelligences

When preparing your talks, presentations coach Nick Morgan recommends thinking of three intelligences or mental networks:

  • Limited short-term or working memory: Keep your teachings or takeaways to three sets of rules, ideas, and insights – a number considered easy to remember. “In this context, three is almost always better than four,” he states on his blog.
  • Reasoning processes: Use various forms of logical argument, from “if-then” statements to inductive and deductive reasoning, analogy, logic, and extrapolation.
  • Tapping into verbal networks: Create elegant strings of words, plays on words, and rhyming phrases, such as the slogan used in the O. J. Simpson trial, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

5. Zingers

  • Make Learning Your Mantra: In this time of uncertainty, consultants Mollie West Duffy and Liz Fosslien recommend adopting the mantra “I am a person learning to ______” instead of “I can’t do this” or “I need to have this all figured out already.” (Source: Harvard Business Review).
  • Change has Ebb and Flow: Don’t overlook this step to drive successful change. HR consultant Charlene Li says we need times when we’re not changing — to recover. To avoid burnout you must pace yourself, ensuring an ebb and flow. Even the most disruptive organizations go through change cycles much faster and better than others because they build in recovery time, even though it may be very brief. (Source: LinkedIn).
  • Brainstorming — On Site or On Screen? In-person meetings generate more ideas – and more creative ones – compared to videoconferencing, recent research suggests. But the next stage in the process, choosing which idea to then pursue, may be done even more effectively in virtual sessions. (Source: Axios).
  • Is Planning Just Procrastination? Planning and preparation are useful until they become a form of procrastination, warns Atomic Habits author James Clear. (Source: JamesClear.com).
  • More Tuning into Podcasts: More than half of people who listen to podcasts daily say they’ve been listening to more of them and more frequently over the past two years, according to recent research from Nielsen. Audiences now have nearly 92 million episodes to choose from, up 173%. (Source:  MarketingProfs.com).

6. The List:  20 Questions for Leaders

Executive coach Ed Battista shares these 20 questions on his blog to help answer this critical question: “What kind of leadership is called for at this moment — and am I capable of summoning it?”


  • What are the most important issues I face as a leader?
  • What are the most important issues we face as an organization?
  • What do I think should be done?
  • How well do my colleagues understand my point of view?
  • When I’ve been misunderstood, how have I contributed to the misunderstanding?


  • How do I learn what people around me are thinking and feeling?
  • How often do I update this data?
  • How often am I surprised by what I learn?
  • Do people volunteer their views to me, or do I have to solicit them?
  • If I have to solicit someone’s views, how might I be making them reluctant to volunteer?


  • How often do I hear points of view that differ from my own?
  • How direct and candid are people when they disagree with me?
  • How do I respond to them when that happens?
  • How would the people who disagree with me characterize these interactions?
  • When did someone last disagree with me in public?


  • How do I know when a change is needed?
  • How do I know when a change is overdue?
  • When I’ve resisted an overdue change, how did I justify the delay?
  • When did I last change my mind in public?
  • When did I last admit in public that I was wrong?

7.  Around Our Water Cooler


Whose To-Do List Is It Anyway?

Here’s a model to help clarify roles and who should make what decisions. On The Observer Effect, Mike Cannon-Brookes from the software company Atlassian explains his Decision Tree Mental Model:

  • The basics of the decision tree are root, trunk, branch, and leaf.
  • A leaf decision is “a decision where you’re working for me, you make the decision, you don’t tell me, and I don’t need to know.”
  • A branch decision is “one that you make and then you tell me.”
  • A root decision is “mine to make. As such, I will tell you what the answer is.”
  • And the trunk sits in the middle of these three. “It is my decision to make. You need not tell me the outcome [but] you come to me with options.”

Cannon-Brookes says people get all of these decision roles mixed up. “As you grow with a job, more of the decisions should move from root-trunk to trunk-branch or branch-leaf.”

What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: Navigate the Swirl by consultant Richard Hawkes starts from the premise that organizations are social systems, not machines. He then outlines methods to avoid the swirl of inertia and failure through seven crucial conversations for activating purpose, shifting mindsets, and implementing initiatives.
  • Rob’s Pick: In Simple Rules: How to Thrive In A Complex World, Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt note that frontline medics performing triage on the battlefield rely on a handful of simple rules to quickly sort the injured for treatment (typically spending less than a minute with each patient). Simple rules can also guide strategy development:  Figure out what will move the needle. Choose a bottleneck. Craft the rules. Developing a playbook of simple rules seems perfect for wicked problems and situations calling for flexibility, easy coordination and fast action.


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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

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin, Diarist