August 20, 2023




In this 8020Info Water Cooler we consider unique aspects of thinking strategically, what the worst bosses do, marketing with email signatures, advance interview questions, ethical boundaries, and a communications checklist for pre-testing your message. Enjoy!



1. What’s Different About Thinking Strategically?

Leaders endlessly think about their organization. But former Rotman School of Management Dean Roger Martin says there are four characteristics about strategic thinking that make it special:

  • You seek to influence what is not in your control:  Strategic thinking recognizes the fundamental task is to influence a variable that the strategist does not control – customers – and in the direction the strategist desires. “The customer does whatever it wants, whenever it wants, however it wants. Great strategic thinking produces choices that compel the customer to do what the strategist hopes and wishes,” he writes on Medium.
  • You consume information omnivorously: Since strategy influences actions in the future and there is no data on the future, strategic thinkers must expose themselves to a wide variety of information that may not be statistically significant, and often not quantifiable, but may one day become relevant.
  • You leverage abductive reasoning: In school, we were taught deductive logic (reasoning from general principles to a specific conclusion) and inductive logic (reasoning from specific data to a general principle). Strategic thinkers, however, must adopt abductive logic, using inference to find their way to the most likely explanation: What is the most probable and best conclusion we can reach based on the information at hand?
  • You consider multiple variables simultaneously: Strategic thinking considers many variables — customers, competitors, various aspects of the organization and the outside world — not sequentially, but all at the same time.

All four of those approaches may go against our natural instincts and training. “That is one of the reasons that strategy is becoming the lost art,” he says.


2. Dealing with Ethics in the Workplace

Sales consultant Steve Keating says people who struggle with ethical choices are usually only trying to convince themselves that something clearly unethical is actually ethical.

Here are two rules he says he does his very best to live by:

  • First, always remember that if something isn’t ethical, then it’s unethical. There is no in-between.
  • Two, you’re either ethical all the time, or you’re not ethical. Period. He says there is no such thing as ‘business ethics’ or ‘personal ethics’ — “ethics are ethics all the time,” he writes on his blog.

If you find yourself working with a colleague who is not always ethical, he advises you to establish your personal and professional boundaries from the beginning. Make it clear to that individual you won’t tolerate unethical behaviour.

Keep a record of any unethical behavior or actions you witness. That can be useful in case you need to address the issue with higher authorities or the human resources department down the road.

If you address that behaviour with the individual, choose a private setting and approach the topic calmly and objectively.

“Avoid being confrontational, as it may lead to a defensive reaction,” he warns. In general, be careful with your communication with the other person and avoid sharing sensitive information.

“Working with unethical people can be mentally draining,” he says. “Focus on your personal and professional growth, and try not to let their behaviour negatively impact your career or well-being.”


3. Three Things the Worst Bosses Do

The biggest complaint about bosses used to be that they were taskmasters.

“Now employees have expectations, and it is table stakes for a business to have people managers,” Emily Killham, Perceptyx’s director of research and insights, told Fast Company.

Her research identified three characteristics of a bad boss today:

  • They’re incompetent: Survey respondents said they want their bosses to know what their job is and what they’re facing — and to empathize, not give uninformed or impractical directions.
  • They’re disrespectful: If the subordinate reaches out for an opinion, they should receive one with dispatch. Disrespect can also occur after an employee tells their manager they’re struggling in some area of the job and the boss doesn’t seem to care.
  • They’re unfair: This complaint has increased in the hybrid era, as people present in the office seem to be favoured for opportunities. Emailing an employee after hours is also seen as unfair.

If you’re a boss, think about how you fare against those expectations.


4. Email Signature Essentials

If you haven’t thought much recently about your email signature, a recent survey cited by Hubspot may provide some helpful input.

Branding and awareness are often the prime benefit of your signature block, followed closely by the goal of signature consistency across the organization. The top three marketing uses relate to generating leads, promoting social media, and building a newsletter email list.

The survey found most users have only one email signature but around 9% of respondents use many — up to 10 different signatures. Almost half of respondents said they update their email signatures two to four times a year to make them look fresh or fit better with their goals.


5. Zingers

  • Define what you’re not: Consultant Donald Cooper points to Viking Cruise Lines as an exemplar of defining your business by what you’re not. In a recent brochure it declared “we do not try to be all things to all people” and cites a dozen things Viking is not, including no children under 18, no casinos, no “nickel and diming,” no charge for wi-fi, no photography sales, no auction sales, and no charge for beer and wine at lunch or dinner. (Source: DonaldCooper.com).
  • AI may undercut motivation: In a future with AI, it will be important to move beyond looking at it just to cut costs, warns Harvard Business School Professor Brian Hall —  consider the motivational aspects. “Are you taking away the part of the job that people really enjoy?” he asks.  (Source: Harvard Business School Working Knowledge).
  • Tamping down social anxiety: Curiosity is the cure for social anxiety, argues author Mark Manson. When you’re focused on discovering who they are, you will stop worrying about what they think of you. (Source: MarkManson.net).
  • Tweak your rehearsal practices: Communications coach JD Schramm recommends rehearsing a presentation from the mid-point on. If your flow gets interrupted on the big day, the practice helps you avoid restarting from the beginning. Also, in your prep, alter the order of presentation sections and see what you learn.  (Source: JD Schramm).
  • Try differently, not harder: Author James Clear observes that you’re more likely to unlock a big leap in performance by trying differently than by trying harder: “You might be able to work 10% harder, but a different approach might work 10 times better. Remain focused on the core problem, but explore a new line of attack.” (Source: James Clear).


6. The List: Use Interview Questions in Advance

Serial entrepreneur David Dodson says personal interviews favour the quick-witted over the more thoughtful person who may not be as fast on their feet. To counter that bias, he recommends giving them some questions in advance.

He shares this list of examples in his book The Manager’s Handbook:

  • What did you do over the past year that made you the proudest?
  • If you could, what would you change about your current position?
  • Describe a time when you were totally committed to a task.
  • We’d like to accomplish [name an objective] during the next year. Tell me about your most significant related accomplishments.
  • Tell me something you would like me to know about yourself that is not on your resume.
  • Describe a situation where you disagreed with a decision made at work.
  • Please bring in an example of a presentation or a writing sample that you are particularly proud of — something you accomplished in the past six months. Be sure to block out any confidential information.
  • Describe a professional situation you have faced that you would never want to face again.
  • What could your current organization do to be more successful?
  • Who has been your favourite boss so far, and why did you choose them as your favourite?


7.  Around Our Water Cooler


A Communications Checklist for Your Message

Perhaps prompted by re-reading The Checklist Manifesto (How To Get Things Right), this week we were reminded how often pitfalls in communications could be avoided if we would only do a careful pre-launch review.

Here’s a great checklist (infographic) from Crystal Clear Communications you can use. To ensure your message is audience-ready, look through their eyes and challenge your content with these four questions:

Is the message clear?

  • Answer the question every audience asks — what’s in it for me?
  • Stick to one main message. People can’t absorb multiple messages.
  • Use simple language familiar to your audience. Cut jargon and acronyms.
  • Work from the audience’s perspective on their problems — not the problems that you might think they have.

Is the message compelling?

  • Add emotion. People make decisions emotionally.
  • Make your purpose clear. Answer the question why?
  • Give people three reasons to believe your main message.
  • Offer third-party proof to back up your claims. Be truthful. Check facts.

Is the message consistent?

  • Human brains equate consistency with credibility.
  • Tell one consistent message to all audiences and interested parties.
  • Tell one consistent message across all media: digital, live and printed.
  • Prepare managers, staff and spokespersons to share the same message.

Is the message concise?

  • Short messages are easier to remember. Tailor them to fit your audience’s attention span.
  • Hook people quickly with a 7-second message of 23 words or less (length of an average sound bite).
  • A 7-second message gives you an elevator pitch, headline, social media post, email subject line and quotable sound bite.
  • Convey the meaning in the fewest words. Use the magic of analogies, comparisons and quotes.

Despite the hurry to get material out, it is always a wise use of time to check your message before you share. Those four questions will help.


What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: In The Experience Mindset, Salesforce’s Tiffani Bova says that the current focus on customer experience misses an essential factor: You must first improve the experience for employees so they can properly take care of those customers.
  • Rob’s Pick: In Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant examines how people can champion new ideas that go against the grain, battling conformity and groupthink. His stories explain how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, use allies, find the right time to act, manage fear and doubt, and build cultures that welcome dissent.


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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 you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

Lao Tzu