August 21, 2022




In this 8020Info Water Cooler we look at “voice cultivation” to keep ideas alive in your organization, a way to focus on what matters most, policy expiration dates, conversations to pursue after onboarding, framing initiatives as experiments, and balancing three board roles. Enjoy!

1. Keeping Ideas Alive

Many good ideas die in your organization. To understand how good ideas come to fruition or wither on the vine, a team of academics spent two years in a healthcare organization and learned that “voice cultivation” is critical.

Many good ideas die in your organization. To understand how good ideas come to fruition or wither on the vine, a team of academics spent two years in a healthcare organization and learned that “voice cultivation” is critical.

That’s the collective process through which employees help advance ideas from team members with less power or influence, so those ideas can reach implementation.

They observed five specific tactics that help keep ideas alive:

  • Amplifying: Publicly repeating someone else’s good idea, especially at later times and in multiple communication channels. This is particularly true for trying to influence authority figures.
  • Developing: Asking clarifying questions that help everyone better understand the idea, keeping it alive. This works well in interdisciplinary teams, where the researchers found people from different professions and genders often speak past each other.
  • Legitimizing: Vouching for ideas you support. They saw team members share examples of a similar personal experience or how a similar idea worked at a competitor, or how it might be workable in their organization.
  • Exemplifying: Finding a way to show preliminary evidence that a previously rejected idea is feasible and important, which can revive it. Allies can do this, but so can the person initiating the idea.
  • Issue-raising: Publicly calling out suspected weaknesses associated with an idea, which provides allies the chance to openly generate solutions and address concerns directly.

Writing in Harvard Business Review, Patricia Satterstrom, Michaela J. Kerrissey and Julia DiBenigno sum up their findings:  “To make sure their employees’ good ideas get a better chance at implementation, leaders should train their teams to engage in voice cultivation.”

2. How to Keep Focused on What Matters Most

Consultant Scott Eblin’s clients repeatedly tell him how challenging it is to keep themselves and their teams focused on what matters most.

“The long and ever-changing list of things competing for their time and attention can cause a sense of swirl and churn that leaves everyone frustrated and exhausted,” he writes on his blog.

His solution uses a simple grid with three time periods: 30, 60, and 90 days. Decide on the most important actions your team needs to start, stop, and continue doing over each time frame.

As well, looking beyond your own team, consider where you need to intervene in the broader organization to start something that would help, stop something that’s not helping, or make sure something important continues.

Harvard Kennedy School Professors Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky have long argued that leaders need to regularly shift their perspective from “the dance floor” where they are usually active to “the balcony” where they can get a bigger-picture perspective on what they’re doing.

“An hour a month to get up on the balcony with your team and get clear about how you’re going to operate on the dance floor over the next 30, 60 and 90 days can go a long way to reducing the swirl and churn and the frustration that comes with it,” says Eblin.

– Click here for a free copy of his Balcony to Dance Floor Planning Template.

3. Give your Policies Expiration Dates

Food items usually come with a “best before” date. So should your policies.

“However well devised and thought through, policies often have unintended consequences,”  consultant Kevin Eikenberry writes on his blog.

“People find loopholes to circumvent the policy – either for personal preference or to skirt the intended improvement. The policy rewards the wrong result, prompting ineffective behaviour. Or sometimes the policy creates a new problem, perhaps more detrimental than the one that the policy aimed at solving.”

As well, times change and a policy may become outdated. Your organizational culture can also change —or you want to change that culture— and a policy no longer fits. At some point, you can also have too many policies, stifling innovation.

He recommends limiting the overall number of policies, focusing on guidelines and philosophies more than edicts. Involve more people in the creation of policies, which builds understanding and commitment.

Also, start each policy with a test period to be sure it’s effective, set an expiration date, and regularly review policies to ensure you still need them.

4. Conversations to Pursue after Onboarding

Onboarding focuses on helping a new employee to meet people and understand policies and culture. But when you manage a new employee, consultant Suzi McAlpine says on her blog, you need to hold four conversations:

  • How do you like to receive feedback?
  • What aspects of the job are you feeling most confident about and least confident?
  • Can we have a discussion on what “good” looks like and what’s expected?
  • Can we have a conversation about your strengths and how we can move you towards working from them even more?

5. Zingers

  • Meeting Tonic: One way to increase engagement at a meeting is to ask everyone to bring an untapped opportunity forward for discussion, says executive coach Dan Rockwell. (Source: Leadership Freak).
  • Protect Your Valuables: The two most valuable things you have in your organization are your team and your clients’ trust. Anything or anyone who threatens either of those must be fixed or eliminated immediately, says consultant Donald Cooper. (Source: Donald Cooper.com).
  • Time, Focus, Energy: The way we allocate our time and emotional energy determines what gets done, according to entrepreneur Seth Godin. He says it’s more important to consider how you are allocating your focus and emotional drive than to just look at how you spend your time. (Source: Seth’s Blog).
  • Incisive Question: Consultant and former New York Times columnist Adam Bryant recommends asking this unusual question of job candidates: “What are the qualities you like least and most in your parents?” It will be unexpected but revelatory if they choose to open up. (Source: strategy + business).
  • Don’t Ruminate: Author James Clear warns a sure-fire way to make a bad situation worse is to continue replaying it in your mind: “The damage is done. The only thing that matters now is making the best choice given your current position.”  (Source: JamesClear.com).

6. The Model:  Framing Initiatives as Experiments

Michael Hyatt says that whether you are trying to sell an idea, a new initiative, or a program, it’s best to treat it as an experiment.

“Don’t ask people to commit to something forever. Instead, invite them to commit for a week, or the next 21 days, or some other defined period of time. If it doesn’t work, you can discard it and go back to what you were doing before.”

Benefits of an Experimental Mindset:

  • You sidestep perfectionism. An experimental mindset keeps you from thinking you have to get it perfect before you commit.
  • You tap into experiential data. You can argue theories and concepts, but the most valuable data may come from actually doing the thing you are proposing — data you might otherwise never get.
  • You can give it a try before fully committing. Risk aversion among team members sets up resistance that can doom a worthwhile change project. Treating it as an experiment reduces the risk and lets them convince themselves.
  • You will find it easier to change your mind. When you know a project is just a trial, it’s easier to change your own mind if you should encounter unexpected or unfavorable results.

When To Use an Experimental Mindset:

  • When you find yourself procrastinating. (Instead, think: “I’m not committing to this for life; it’s just an experiment.”)
  • When you’re trying to sell a reluctant audience.
  • When you need experiential input to get it right. Sometimes when you’ve taken it as far as you can without customer input, it’s time to test it.

Signs that Reframing Might Help:

  • Be alert to resistance. Whenever you encounter this (risk aversion), see it as an indicator you might have an opportunity for an experiment. Make it easier for you or the people you’re trying to sell to say yes.
  • Emphasize the low risk. One of the main reasons we resist change is because we are either not convinced the change will work or we’re not convinced the change is worth the investment required.
  • Set a specific timeframe. You want the experiment to last long enough to be an honest try but not so long that others will continue resisting the idea. Shoot for the shortest time you can without compromising the validity of the experiment.

As Ray Bradbury reportedly said, “Life is trying things to see if they work.”


7.  Around Our Water Cooler


Finding Balance Among Three Board Roles

In our last Water Cooler, we posed a governance question for making hard decisions involving trade-offs: “Whose interest does your board serve?”  It’s a way for boards to look at the impact of their decision-making on various stakeholder groups — the community, clients/customers, staff, funders, members or a cause.

The pressures of these times are also leading boards to review their three primary leadership roles and how much time and emphasis they place on them:

  • The Fiduciary Role — this includes stewardship of tangible assets and trusteeship (ensuring the organization is faithful to its mission, accountable for performance, and compliant with laws/regulations). The main question for boards focused on this role is: “What is the problem?”
  • The Strategic Role — setting direction and priorities plus determining effective deployment of resources. The core question here is: “What is the plan?” Board and management connect as partners to find the answers.
  • A Generative Role — this is leadership that asks questions, learns and reframes issues with a new sense of future problems and opportunities.

Once you have clarity on the balance among your roles, you may wish to adjust how you manage board meetings since different formats may be needed for each type of work. You may want a retreat format for generative learning discussions while a fiduciary focus often follows a more traditional approval agenda.

For more, see Governance as Leadership by Chait, Ryan and Taylor.

What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte shows how to create a digital information storehouse for the information bombarding you, a second brain as he calls it, so that the various ideas and supporting data will be readily available when you need them. We all do this to some extent now; the book shares ideas on how to do it more effectively.
  • Rob’s Pick: I’m just nicely started on this book — The Anticipatory Organization: Turn Disruption and Change into Opportunity and Advantage. I’m intrigued by the strategic value of separating hard trends that will happen from the soft trends that might happen. There’s also the startling idea that it might be good strategy to simply “skip” problems and barriers to succeed faster. Burris offers his model as a way to identify game-changing opportunities in a disruptive environment of accelerating change.


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8020Info helps senior leadership teams and boards develop, clarify and explore 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

“Most successful people are just an anxiety disorder harnessed for productivity.”

Andrew Wilkinson, entrepreneur