April 16, 2023




This 8020Info Water Cooler marks issue #375 in our tri-weekly string of newsletters since 2001, which we consider a bit of a milestone. Thank you for reading — that’s what keeps us going!

In this edition we look at eight elements of strategic success, getting feedback, things you can’t teach people, standing up for what’s right, benchmarking, board recruitment and what we’re reading. Enjoy!


1. Eight Elements of Strategic Success

Strategy cannot fully succeed without proper implementation. To help, Root Inc., a division of Accenture, has compiled a series of questions to ask yourself, and answer honestly, before you begin implementation:

  • Is the leadership team aligned? Too often they aren’t. Pay attention to hesitation and concerns, and seek true accord.
  • Have next-level leaders been prepped to become advocates? These folks are crucial for translating, interpreting and championing the strategy. Invite them into the strategy dialogue so they know the “how” and “why”.
  • Does your organizational culture support the strategy? Strategy and culture must be aligned or people will inevitably resist the change. Some cultures, for example, thwart innovation.
  • Do you have champions for taking risks? Change is scary and uncomfortable. You must back those willing to take those risks and reward them.
  • Are you ready to adapt to the unexpected and unplanned? You need the right measures and metrics in place to catch bumps in the road and track shifts in conditions, so you can adapt.
  • Have you prioritized and invested resources in the critical elements? Each main strategy will need adequate resources, which in turn requires tough allocation choices. But limited resources can doom your efforts.
  • Have you given people the opportunity and time to learn about the strategy? Your people need to have the same “aha” realizations as you had in preparing the strategy. They act on their own conclusions, not yours.
  • Are you ready to celebrate early wins? Accolades and acknowledgement can motivate and excite people about strategy implementation.

2. How Leaders Can Encourage Feedback

Feedback can help people grow. Leaders give feedback, but they also need to receive feedback. More than that, they have to make it comfortable for others to give them honest advice.

Since it can be awkward to solicit feedback point-blank, it helps to have a “go-to” question that makes it easy.

In Harvard Business Review, consultants Kim Scott, Liz Fosslien, and Mollie West Duffy stress the go-to question should be framed so it cannot be answered with a yes or a no. It must ignite a conversation.

It also should not be answerable with an “Oh, no, everything is fine,” which is what you’ll often hear if you ask, “Do you have any feedback for me?”

They suggest: “What one thing can I do to support you?” By asking for “one thing”, it’s more likely you’ll get a specific, actionable response.

The question should also sound like you. Kim Scott likes to ask, “What could I do, or stop doing, that would make it easier to work with me?” But if those words don’t fall easily off your tongue, don’t copy it.

Consider making your go-to question a regular part of one-to-one meetings with direct reports. “If your team knows what you’ll be asking ahead of time, they’ll have more time to prepare a useful answer,” the consultants note.

And once you receive feedback, they urge you to listen to understand, not to respond. Later, communicate the actions you’ve taken based on what you heard, which encourages them to share more feedback in future.


3. Two Things You Can’t Teach People

American broadcaster Soledad O’Brien believes there are two things you can’t teach people. The first is to be curious. The second is to pay attention to details.

“I’m obsessed with attention to detail,” she told New York Times Corner Office columnist Adam Bryant in an interview. “I don’t know that you can teach that — either that triggers you to stay for the next two hours to fix something, or you’re the kind of person who will just let it slide.”

Bryant, now a consultant, warns you also need to understand whether you have that obsession for details.

“It is about being professional. Whether it’s the work produced by you individually, your team, or your company more broadly, those little things all contribute in small ways to your reputation,” he writes in strategy + business.

He believes, however, that people can learn to pay more attention to the details. You must give them enough context about why they should care about the little things and, as a leader, set a tone that indicates meticulous professionalism matters.

4. The Power of Benchmarking

The easiest way to improve your organization is to learn from the best, says Toronto-based consultant Donald Cooper. That means benchmarking to find out who does it best and then applying lessons learned.

“Do you know who does it better than you, anywhere in the world?  Better design, better service, a more amazing customer experience, better packaging, more effective management, more efficient systems and processes, better machinery, quicker response time, better policies, more effective marketing or promotion?  What are they famous for and how do they do it?  Have you studied them?  Have you even checked out their website?” he asks on his blog.

5. Zingers

  • Simple, Easy, Right Now: If prone to procrastination, try a “Right Now List” — those first two or three things you need to do at the beginning of the task you’re putting off. Entrepreneur David Cain says they must be so simple that you can’t not do them, such as (a) open Microsoft Word, (b) find the document I was working on yesterday; and (c) scroll down to where I left off.  (Source: Raptitude).
  • Avoid Grandiose Missions: Keep your mission specific and measurable, says entrepreneur Seth Godin. A non-profit that seeks to create “fairness and equity” is being grandiose. Google claims they want to organize the world’s information but began by building a great search engine, he notes.  (Source: Seth’s Blog).
  • Painstorming: Innovation consultant Braden Kelly recommends painstorming sessions — brainstorming on the pain points customers experience and then how to fix them.  (Source: BradenKelley.com).
  • Reward the Pacers: Talented runner Erik Sowinski has become a professional pacer, paid to lead the pack at the perfect pace in running 800 metres so others can then turn in record performances. Consultant Rohit Bhargava says our world could use more people rewarded financially and emotionally for helping others turn in their best performances.  (Source: The Non-Obvious Insights Newsletter).
  • Beware Algorithms: Change expert Greg Satell says we need to stop worshiping algorithms since they encode rather than avoid human biases. These rules for problem-solving or calculations fool us into thinking we’ve taken human error out of the system and can stop paying attention. But they allow us to escape accountability, at least for a while, as we pass the buck to systems that spit out answers affecting real people.  (Source: Digital Tonto).

6. The List: 10 Ways to Stand Up for What’s Right

It can be lonely to stand up for what’s right. Here are 10 ways to stay true to your values, from consultant Frank Sonnenberg, which can be used as a scorecard to track how you are doing:

  • Tell it like it is rather than what folks want to hear.
  • Disclose wrongdoings rather than overlook impropriety.
  • Remain true to your values when others lower their standards.
  • Do what’s right, regardless of the repercussions.
  • Speak up for injustice when others are silent.
  • Discipline bad behavior rather than looking the other way.
  • Be the bearer of bad news even when your message may be poorly received.
  • Seek the truth rather than follow the crowd.
  • Push for change when others are set in their ways.
  • Keep hope alive when others lose faith.


7.  Around Our Water Cooler

Cultivating and Recruiting a Great Board

As we roll into the season of annual general meetings, we can’t remember a year when so many of our clients (mainly in the non-profit or public sectors) have been scrambling to find new board members.

Could it be rooted in a post-pandemic change in attitude, generational differences, an emphasis on diversity, or lack of attention to cultivating prospective board members? The problem seems to be causing some despair.

Or perhaps the problem is not so new: BoardSource, a go-to resource for board leadership, notes a 2015 study found more than half of non-profit leaders (58%)  reported difficulty in recruiting new board members.

They recommend these steps to build a strong board:

  • Lay the foundation. Clarify your policies, your plan for an effective recruitment process and what is expected of board members.
  • Envision your ideal board. This means identifying the best mix of skills, expertise, experience, community connections, diversity and other qualities needed for your board to be effective in its role.
  • Find candidates. BoardSource suggests posting board positions, working up lists of potential candidates to be approached, and also making it easy for candidates to find you. (It often helps to engage them first as volunteers in some easier role so they can learn about your organization.)
  • Evaluate candidates: You might find it useful to adapt their rating form for your purposes. Also, beware of any red flags in the vetting process.
  • Nominate and elect new board members: Ensure you’ve reviewed your bylaws and followed any specific nomination procedures required.
  • Orient and develop members: The election of a director is not the end.  Every board has special characteristics, requirements, dynamics and structure that need clarification. Put effective board orientation and ongoing development processes in place.

What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: David Noble and Carol Kauffman are two of the top-rated executive coaches in the world and in Real-Time Leadership they share the practical frameworks they use for helping executives in pressure posts to improve.  Their stories are fascinating, illuminating the wise (and do-able) approach the coaches share.
  • Rob’s Pick: We’re looking forward to the release of Ozan Varol’s Awaken Your Genius: Escape Conformity, Ignite Creativity & Become Extraordinary. The author of How to Think Like a Rocket Scientist notes some people march to the beat of a different drummer — which implies the rest of us all march to the same beat. Varol’s aim is to help us wake up our independent genius, escape our intellectual prisons and pave our own path.


●  §  ●

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

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

Maria Robinson, author