May 7, 2023




In this 8020Info Water Cooler  we look at ways to develop leaders, team communications, asking questions during change projects, funding frameworks, safety for workplace productivity and pitfalls for implementation. Enjoy!


1. Leadership Development that Works

Leadership development is complicated and often ineffective. To improve your efforts, try these research-backed strategies, shared in Harvard Business Review by academics Ayse Yemiscigil, Dana Born, and Horace Ling:

  • Focus on whole-person growth: Developing leaders is less about learning specific skills than about cultivating broad capabilities, such as self-awareness or resilience. They help leaders adapt to dynamic, evolving challenges and should transform how they lead but also how they live.
  • Provide opportunities for self-reflection and meaning-making: A key way leadership development creates value is by offering individuals the chance to take a pause from the daily grind and reorient themselves, their work and lives.
  • Offer targeted programs to support leaders with acute, chronic stress: Leadership development can be seen as an extra burden, adding to stress, but the evidence suggests these initiatives can help de-stress employees and bolster their psychological resources as they find more purpose.
  • Don’t underestimate short, intensive programs: An interesting finding was that shorter programs often yielded surprisingly large improvements.

“In some cases, we found that a two- or four-day intensive had the same or even greater impact than an equivalent four-week program,” they note. “And some even led to increases in well-being on par with those observed after therapeutic mental health interventions.”

People often harbour psychological barriers to growth. The academics advise spending time cultivating the mindset necessary for effective learning and development before launching a new program, perhaps by fostering vulnerability and comfort with ambiguity.


2. How Great Teams Communicate

Teamwork is impossible without communication. Consultant and former management professor David Burkus highlights four ways great teams communicate:

  • Equally: In mediocre teams, one or two extroverted, extra loud people usually dominate the conversation. “But great teams take care to ensure that everyone on the team speaks equally during meetings, and that everyone’s perspective is sought out in email or other text-based discussions,” he writes on his blog.
  • Informally: They’re not always communicating strictly through the organizational chart nor keeping their conversations solely to work-related topics. They get to know each other as people, not just as collaborators on a project. This can often look like wasted time — for example, the start of a meeting being delayed as people chat about personal topics — but it helps them co-ordinate better and stay motivated when the work is tough.
  • Externally: “They’re not siloed. They’re not engaging in turf wars. They’re not just talking to themselves all the time about how they get the real work done in the organization. Instead, they regularly send their members out to communicate with other teams,” he notes.
  • In Bursts: They’re not in constant communication, in meetings or by email. They know they need to balance time spent talking about the work with time spent actually doing the work.

How does your team fare on those four criteria? Do you communicate equally? Informally, to build connection? Externally, beyond your own silo? And do you know when to put your head down and work?


3. Initiate Change through Questions

Questions can be powerful. One way we don’t think to use them is after a big change project has been announced. Usually managers believe they should have all the answers. But implementation raises its own questions.

In strategy + business, executive advisor Pia Lauritzen tells how Grundfos, a Danish manufacturer of water pumps, launched a big reorganization. The implementation team didn’t interview key leaders about their plans to make the transformation a success; instead these leaders were invited to ask each other questions about their first-100-day plans.

Questions arose like “how do we keep experienced employees engaged during the transition period?” and “what is the best way to move customer accounts between different sales teams?”

Teija Saari, head of organizational development at Grundfos, believes asking and receiving questions encouraged a deeper understanding of the issues.

“I reflect on how to reply, and the topic takes root inside me,” he says. The results were quicker implementation, with record-high employee engagement and customer satisfaction.

Lauritzen adds: “Democratizing the power of questions — by making room for everyone to ask their own — helps ensure impact.”

4. Practical Steps to Improve Workplace Safety

The first step to improving workplace safety is to carefully look around you. Consultant Tanveer Naseer says you should notice obvious signs of floor damage, poor lighting, and any other health hazards. Ask others for their observations as well.

On his blog, he notes one of the most common concerns employees have is the temperature of their office and where their seats are in relation to the cooling vents. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. So is making sure filtration systems are regularly cleaned.

These practical steps, which you might not otherwise think of when the issue of safety arises, can be powerful when it comes to employee health and productivity.

5. Zingers

  • Decision Factories: Roger Martin, the former Dean of Rotman School of Management, argues white-collar employees need to understand they are factory workers — toiling in decision factories. Taking that perspective, they would organize around decisions; measure output in terms of decisions; and measure and work on enhancing the productivity of producing decisions.  (Source: Medium).
  • Be Clear About Constraints: Innovation consultant Robyn Bolton says you will get more ideas from your team if you are specific about the subject of interest and clarify the constraints involved. For example, “How can we earn more money from existing customers without raising prices?” or “What can we stop doing so we can focus on high-priority work and avoid burnout?”  (Source:  BradenKelley.com).
  • Harness Powers of Belief: People will follow you if you believe in them, advises executive coach Dan Rockwell. (Source: LeadershipFreak).
  • The Say-Do Trust Ratio: Andre Durand, CEO of software company Ping Identity, says trust is a one-to-one ratio between say and do. (Source: strategy + business).
  • Beyond Hype: Entrepreneur Seth Godin says marketing isn’t paying for ads, changing the logo, or building a social media presence. Marketing is product design, customer service, pricing, customer delight, and creating and living a remarkable story for the enterprise. But most top marketing officials are seen as chief hype officers and aren’t in charge of any of those key areas. (Source: Seth’s Blog).

6. The List:  10 Funding Models

With service demands increasing but funding tightly constrained, many non-profit and public-sector organizations are taking a close look at their revenue options.

Here are 10 funding frameworks from William Landes Foster, Peter Kim and Barbara Christiansen writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review:

  • Heartfelt Connector: Focusing on causes that resonate with the existing concerns of large numbers of people at all income levels.
  • Beneficiary Builder: Relying on people who have benefited in the past from their services (like hospitals or universities) for additional donations.
  • Member Motivator: Attracting donations from the members of a non-profit (like a church) because they value the collective benefit provided.
  • Big Bettor: Relying on major grants or funding from a few individuals, founders or foundations to tackle issues deeply personal to them.
  • Public Provider: Working with government funders to provide essential social services, such as housing, human services, and education.
  • Policy Innovator: Convincing funders to bankroll alternatives that are more effective and less expensive than funding existing programs.
  • Resource Recycler: Collecting in-kind donations of goods (e.g. food, clothing) from individuals or businesses and distributing them to needy recipients.
  • Market Maker: Straddling altruism and market forces, their revenues come mainly from fees or donations directly linked to their service activities.
  • Local Nationalizer: Creating a national network of community-based operations that respond to local concerns government alone can’t solve.


7.  Around Our Water Cooler


Barriers to Strategy Implementation

Recent conversations with clients in the health care system reminded us there are so many ways in which great strategies can fall flat during implementation. For example:

  • System-level strategies stall easily when responsibilities for taking action are diffuse — when everyone is responsible, no one is. Make tactical accountabilities specific and concrete.
  • Often we focus on positive action while overlooking show-stoppers. Make it easy to get started. Counter negativity. Remove or minimize whatever barriers may slow or completely block your action plans.
  • Two-way communication is always critical before and during strategy implementation. But as Queen’s University marketing professor Ken Wong recently said, we are always selling to “a market of one”, not mass marketing. Each individual involved in implementation works from a different context with different understandings, commitments and personal motivations.
  • It almost always helps to break down broad action plans into a series of concrete micro-steps that are easy to start and finish in a limited period of time. Many tools are available to help nudge us through baby steps and sequences, using behavioural approaches similar to Atomic Habits (James Clear) or Tiny Habits (BJ Fogg).

If strategy implementation is where you need to excel, focus on these problem areas noted by the research and advisory firm Gartner:

#1 – Strategy Formulation:  Test whether your strategies can be executed. Gartner says 83% of strategies can fail due to faulty planning assumptions.

#2 – Planning:  They found two thirds of key business functions are not aligned with corporate strategies. Align and clarify their objectives before execution.

#3 – Performance Management:  A majority of organizations feel their systems are insufficient for monitoring performance and situational changes during implementation.

#4 – Strategy Communication:  Two-thirds of employees do not understand their role when a new initiative is launched — they need to understand and support it.

#5 – Organizational Capacity:  Strategists must unlock their organization’s capacity and allocate sufficient resources (time, people, money) to successfully execute the plan.

What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: Many achievers carry with them anxiety that they wish they could jettison. But is anxiety what fuels their achievements? In The Anxious Achiever, mental health advisor Morra Aarons-Mele explores the anxiety-achievement dynamic and how to make it work for you.
  • Rob’s Pick: If you find fulfillment in discovery, deep knowledge and a command of expert skills, take a look at Mastery by Robert Greene. Stories from the lives of Einstein, Darwin, Da Vinci and more contemporary masters nicely illustrate how to find your passion, learn from mentors, and develop your own unique touch. He prescribes a precise method for pursuing intellectual and creative excellence.


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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

“Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

Oscar Wilde