August 1, 2022




In this 8020Info Water Cooler we look at getting out of survival and burnout zones, how to lead through a no-win scenario, tips for interviewing customers, start-up systems, whose interest your board serves, and signs of non-inclusive hiring. Enjoy!

1. Getting Out of Survival and Burnout Zones

Many people these days are stuck in the survival zone or burnout zone, says Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project consultancy.

The survival zone is when your energy is high but negative, leading you to be anxious, irritable, fearful and self-critical. The burnout zone is worse: Energy is low and feelings negative, leading you to feel helpless, empty and exhausted.

Ideally, you want to be in the performance zone, with energy high and positive, or at least the renewal zone, with energy low but positive. To get there, he suggests these approaches:

  • Become a sprinter, not a marathoner: That goes counter to much of the resiliency advice these days. But a marathoner needs a measured pace while a sprinter can invest 100% of themselves in every race because there’s a finish line in sight — a stopping point to rest and refuel. “Human beings operate best when they move between spending and renewing energy,” he advises in Harvard Business Review.
  • Substitute self-observation for judgment: It’s easy to be critical of ourselves or judge others negatively to make ourselves feel better. When you notice those feelings arising, simply observe them without judging yourself.
  • When you feel bad, remember that’s not the whole story: If something has triggered physical tension within you, turn your attention to a place in your body where you feel calmer and more relaxed, staying in touch with this part of yourself.

He also recommends taking up something you enjoy doing just for its own sake (he recently returned to ballroom dancing) as well as  making someone else’s life better.

2. How to Lead Through a No-Win Scenario

Sometimes leaders find themselves faced with situations where none of the alternatives have any appeal.

Consultants David Dye and Karin Hurt offer these examples from their own career:  decreasing insurance benefits vs. eliminating positions; taking a promotion with the explicit task of laying off people; or overworking staff to keep someone else’s misguided promise.

“The key to successfully leading through no-win scenarios is to understand that these moments switch us into a victim mode. To lead well, you need to re-empower yourself and your team,” they write on their blog.

That starts with reframing the problem to see it differently. Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, a reframing expert, recommends asking:

  • Is there a better problem to solve than the one you identified at first?
  • Are you looking at the real problem or is there a root cause?
  • What does success really look like? Clarify outcomes that would feel good.
  • Is there an alternative path to achieve success?

The two consultants have their own formula for reformulation, which they call Own the UGLY. U is for what are we underestimating, G for what has to go, L for where are we losing, and Y for where are we missing the yes – are there opportunities in plain sight?

“One of the most overlooked ways to lead through no-win scenarios is to collaborate,” they add. If you have a short-term loss in demand, for example, is there a short-term labour need elsewhere in your organization?

3. The Wrong Way to Interview Customers

Here are five tips for better market research interviews with prospects and customers, from Nova Scotia consultant Katelyn Bourgoin on Twitter:

  • Asking people what they want: Since they won’t have the expertise to be able to invent a new product for you, ask instead about the pain points they are experiencing with existing products and services. Dig deep to understand their frustrations and workarounds.
  • Asking people about future behaviour: Customers often can’t or don’t accurately predict their future actions, so focus on what they are doing currently.
  • Relying too much on opinions: Again, focus on actual behaviours rather than viewpoints.
  • Talking to the wrong people: Don’t give too much weight to what is said by people you hope may use your product or service in the future. Current paying consumers are more reliable as informants.
  • Talking to people at the wrong time: People who purchased your product several years ago may have faulty memories. Focus on those with recent experience.

“Remember: whoever gets closer to the customers wins,” she sums up.

4. Start-up Systems Matter Too, Not Just People

Start-up businesses and new social agencies know they need to make every initial hire count. The first 10 employees are considered crucial to culture and success.

But Kevin Fischner, chief of staff at HashiCorp, says you also need to care about your first 10 foundational systems (i.e. operational processes, not just tech systems) as much as you care about your first 10 hires.

“Building systems early in a company’s lifecycle sets explicit norms. How do decisions get made? How are meetings structured? How are goals set?” he says on First Round Review.

“These systems are much easier to build when the company is small, and very challenging to put into place as the company grows.”

So yes, take care in hiring. But also take care in the core systems you develop with those people.

5. Zingers

  • Wisdom vs. Knowledge: Author James Clear says knowledge is making the right choice with all the information, while wisdom is making the right choice without all the information. (Source: com).
  • Not So Ordinary Giving: Research shows that people are more generous in charitable giving when they believe they are doing something out of the ordinary as opposed to something routine. Behavioural economist Dan Ariely points to more clicks on an online banner to support a charity walk held “once a year” than “every year.” If you have a 10th anniversary fundraising gala, advertise it as a once-in-a-decade event. (Source: Ask Ariely).
  • Vacation Tip: The easiest way to separate work from play is to leave your work phone and work computer at the office when vacation time comes, says journalist Alexandra Samuel. That can be accomplished without new tech hardware: Buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card for your mobile and set up a separate user account and profile on your computer to unplug from work. (Source: Harvard Business Review).
  • A Boss Must Gamble: If you’re looking for guarantees, warns consultant Wally Bock, being a boss is the wrong job. The best you can do is play the odds and choose behaviours that have the best chance of making things come out right. (Source: Three Star Leadership).
  • Another Coaching Angle: One myth about coaching is that its focus is all about helping others. In fact, consultant Suzi McAlpine notes, adopting a coaching style of leadership empowers your team members to step up and take on more. In turn, that allows you to delegate and have more time to spend on your own challenges. (Source: com).

6. The List:  Five Red Flags for Non-Inclusive Hiring

Diversity consultant Ruchika Tulshyan identifies five signs that your hiring process is not inclusive:

  • Requiring college degrees for jobs that don’t need them, which is exclusionary because often the job can be done by people without the degree and disproportionately affects people of colour.
  • Using words with a negative impact on women because they are associated with conventional male traits, such as rockstar, ninja, hacker, guru, build, aggressive, analytical, and assertive.
  • Talking about “culture fit”, which is an expression that excludes others and can be seen as code words for “white” or “male.”
  • A hiring team that is homogeneous, which candidates can interpret as wanting them to fit in, thus turning off people of other backgrounds.
  • No transparency on salaries – nothing specific in the job posting means negotiations could leave the door open for exclusion or devaluing of diverse hires.

— From RuchikaTulshyan.com.


7.  Around Our Water Cooler


Whose Interest Does Your Board Serve?

As boards lead their organizations out of the pandemic, many are revisiting or clarifying their approaches to governance and oversight. One good starting point is this question:  “Who are your “owners?”

John and Miriam Carver’s policy governance model pointed out long ago that it’s much easier to see that a board of directors in the business sector is the voice of the owners of the corporation. It is not always apparent that non-profit organizations also have “owners”.

Representing the interests of the “owners” comes into play when a board must deal with a situation where “push comes to shove” among competing interests — whose interests come first?

  • Does community interest carry the day when determining tradeoffs?
  • Or the interests of persons served (clients/patients/users/customers)?
  • Do your employees come first whenever you must make a tough choice?
  • What about the priority of funders, government and strategic partners?
  • For some associations, your first allegiance may be to your members.
  • Or perhaps your board will always settle issues in ways remaining true to a cause, creed, philosophy or conviction.

Clearly all of these stakeholders should be taken into account when making choices. But it helps to be clear on the “owners” you represent as you take decisions as board members.

What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: Stage (Not Age) by Susan Golden, of the Stanford Center on Longevity, shows how healthy aging means marketing can no longer categorize people at age 65 as “old” or “retired”. In an age when many will live to 100, marketing has to see them (and younger people as well) as going through a variety of different stages that must be understood. It’s also a useful book for contemplating your own career, those of your children, and the diversity of choices later in life.
  • Rob’s Pick: This is Marketing. Regular readers will know we often pass along nuggets from marketing authority Seth Godin. I found myself highlighting passage after passage in this refreshing read, a book based on his online workshop The Marketing Seminar. His view is that the primary purpose of marketing is to create change in the world that solves other people’s problems. Forgo old, stale approaches in favour of tactics that rely on empathy, connection, and emotional labour instead of attention-stealing ads and spammy email funnels. For more, see https://seths.blog/tim/.


●  §  ●

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

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”

Sydney J. Harris, American journalist, 1917-1986