March 5, 2023




In this 8020Info Water Cooler, we look at discovering fresh ideas for strategy-making, interviewing for values, getting to the point, trimming presentations, using storytelling to develop shared meaning in your organization, and 10 things to remember about people. Enjoy!


1. Discover Fresh Ideas for Your Strategy

The conventional language around strategy is that it needs to be “developed”. But Australian consultant Graham Kenny says that’s dangerous because it leads executive teams to look inwards.

“Rather than searching for fresh ideas, they go back to industry conventions to develop a strategy out of what’s been done in the past,” he writes in Harvard Business Review. That means your strategic plan looks a lot like your old one.

Instead, he suggests changing your thinking and language from “develop” to “discover”. The answers are out there —with stakeholders— if you choose to hunt for them.

“This simple change has a profound effect on managers’ thinking and behaviour. No longer do managers think that they must have all the answers. Nor do they think if they don’t, they’ll lose face. Instead, a new inquiring frame of mind takes over. The message is ‘it’s okay to say, we don’t know,’” he says.

In another article, he writes that the challenge is to aim for insights that take you beyond the crowd and set you up for success. Too often, strategy discovery ends before that “Aha” moment.

“At your next strategy retreat, I suggest that you push and push and push until that spark appears. Then you’ve ‘got it.’ You’ve found that difference that matters to your key stakeholders, be they customers, employees, or suppliers.”

Your strategic plan will change as it develops — few plans ever turn out exactly as drafted because the world doesn’t stand still. Be prepared to discover more ideas.

2. Crafting an Interview Question on Values

In hiring, it’s important to pick people who align with the values that underpin your organization. Software developer Jacob Kaplan-Moss found himself in that position when he was looking for recruits who fit with the key value of “bias for action”.

To develop a behavioural interview question (“tell me about a time when…”), he went through three steps you might want you follow:

  • Describe how the value influences action: Be very specific about what the value means in action. What does it look like when people at your organization show this value? A value like transparency or bias for action can mean different things in different organizations. Describe it in yours.
  • Figure out what behaviours flow from the value: You have to break down those team behaviours into individual actions. “What are people saying and doing that lead to these outcomes?” he asks on his blog.

With bias for action, it included moving quickly towards a decision — once someone felt they had enough information to make a reasonable hypothesis, they would make it. Another example: Instead of calling a meeting or writing up a decision document, a person would usually experiment first.

  • Find situations where this value would influence behaviour: Start thinking about situations where candidates might have demonstrated some of these behaviours. With bias towards action, key attributes to get at in an interview question were speed and decisiveness. That leads to: “Tell me about a time you needed to make a decision with incomplete information.”

3. Do Your Presentations Make Eyes Glaze Over?

If you routinely provide too much information in a presentation —even an informal one with your boss— communications consultant Jezra Kaye says you need to pare back to the three-step instant speech format:

  • Start with a high-level overview statement. It should identify the topic and gives your opinion about it.
  • Then present up to three short statements supporting your main idea.
  • Repeat your most important point to make sure the listener has taken it in.

The structure is designed so you can stop at any point whenever you sense (or are told) the listener has enough information.

“Watch your listener for telltale signs like a definitive nod (‘OK, I’ve got that’) or a shift in their attention (wandering eyes, fidgeting, an impatient expression, etc.),” she notes on her blog.

Finish the point you are making and leave the rest unsaid. They may take the conversation further with a question or reaction.

If your listener isn’t expressive, with cues hard to read, or you’re on the telephone, ask your listeners if they’ve heard enough.

4. The Importance of Sharing the Narrative

What’s the most important skill of a leader? Management scholar Warren Bennis said it was the ability to engage others in ways that develop shared meaning across the organization.

Reality is socially constructed, and the vehicle for that process is narrative, executive coach Ed Battista notes on his blog.

Through the act of storytelling the leader provides the group with an explanatory narrative tailored to the audience at hand. It also allows you to share more or less information as needed and convey the appropriate emotions to evoke the desired response.

5. Zingers

  • Practise, Practise: We expect athletes and musicians to practise, but not managers. Executive coach Todd Ordal says you should carve out time to prepare for issues and events, even your weekly staff meeting: “What issues can you foresee as generating resistance? From whom? How will you handle this? Who will support it? How long will you allocate for the conversation?” (Source: Applied Strategy).
  • Find Your “Big Yes”: Executive coach Dan Rockwell says he is tired of people saying they need to learn to say no. Instead, you need to find your “Big Yes” — what you want to fight for. A single Big Yes enables a thousand nos. On the other hand, just saying no without acting on that bigger goal leads nowhere. (Source: Leadership Freak).
  • A Caution about Testimonials: Online reviews are powerful because they share people’s impressions and reactions, and are more interesting than facts or logic. When it comes to customer testimonials in your ads, however, advertising consultant Roy Williams says you will not be able to resist editing them — that will ruin them, making them as lifeless as a ventriloquist’s dummy. (Source: Monday Morning Memo).
  • Change Can Be Quiet: When we think of altering a policy, we imagine everyone is going to notice. But entrepreneur Seth Godin says normally almost no one will. When the change is generous and useful, it’ll likely just happen without any commotion other than the noise in your head. (Source: Seth’s Blog).
  • Edit Your Identity: The more an idea is tied to your identity, the more likely you will ignore evidence it is false, says Atomic Habits author James Clear. To continue to grow and learn, you must be willing to update, expand, and edit your identity. (Source: JamesClear.com).

6. The List: 10 Things to Remember About People   

Every situation and every person are unique, but on his blog consultant Wally Bock suggests these 10 guidelines are worth keeping top of mind:

  • People have emotions and a life outside work.
  • People are not machines or interchangeable parts.
  • People want to be safe.
  • People want control.
  • People want to do work that matters.
  • People want to work with people they like.
  • People want to be treated fairly.
  • People make mistakes.
  • People are creative.
  • People want to make progress..


7.  Around Our Water Cooler

Getting Straight to the Point

Some people have developed the fine art of communicating in ways that are succinct yet avoid coming across as cold, abrupt or too formal. Unfortunately we find that to be an elusive skill — we might be requesting a decision, sharing a report or seeking advice, and soon find our presentation or email running long.

Although we favour some warmth in our style, in these days of overstuffed inboxes and wandering prose, people appreciate it if you can get to the point.

Recently we have been  experimenting with the AI tool ChatGPT, using it to shorten our emails when we ramble. But here are three tips that help you get straight to the point from James Stanier, writing on The Engineering Manager:

  • First, make it crystal-clear what you want from the other person, and do it up front — within the opening seconds of an interaction (whether they are reading or listening). You want them to understand your focus and get oriented to the issue immediately.
  • Make their next step(s) obvious. It’s not enough to simply state what you want. They need to understand what exactly you want them to do, whether that is to answer yes or no, make a decision, read a long document or give you advice. That makes it so much easier for them to respond.
  • If you already have a recommendation, say it. Don’t waste the time of others you work with. And if you don’t have a recommendation, just say so up front.

Stanier says this approach is especially important in decision meetings.

“Don’t spend 45 minutes building up the narrative, and then finally get to the decision point that requires discussion with no time to spare … instead, you have to flip this on its head,” he says. Get straight to the point.

What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: In Intentional Leadership Rose Patten, chancellor of the University of Toronto and a longtime senior executive at BMO Financial Group, warns that thinking you can rely on instinct to be a leader can be dangerous. Instead, you must be deliberate, reflecting on your instincts, and shaping a connect-and-collaborate style through the use of “The Big 8 Capabilities” she outlines.
  • Rob’s Pick: We’ve pre-ordered our copy of Magic Words by Jonah Berger (release date is March 7th). His cutting-edge research identifies six types of words that amplify how you connect, communicate and persuade. His tips promise to help us convey more confidence, ask the right questions, employ emotion more effectively, and activate creativity, agency and identity. If those topics intrigue you, this latest readable work from the author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On and Invisible Influence may be well worth your


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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 opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

Milton Berle, actor and comedian