September 10, 2023




In this 8020Info Water Cooler we look at helping others to achieve their potential, some enduring and recycled management tools, tips on delivering negative feedback, goofing off, principles of continual improvement (Kaizen), and crisis communications. Enjoy!


1. When an Employee Doesn’t Meet Potential

When an employee isn’t meeting their full potential, our first step in response is to determine the reason. Usually, it comes down to personal challenges, interpersonal issues, or your own leadership, according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, and consultant Dorrie Clark suggest we should look at:

  • Personal Challenges: One reason people fail to reach their full potential is they aren’t aware of that potential. In fact, in any area of expertise, talent, or performance, people typically underestimate how good they are by more than 10%. “You can give a powerful gift to the team members you lead and manage: Seeing what they’re capable of, sometimes even before they do, and holding up a mirror,” Chamorro-Premuzic and Clark write.
  • Interpersonal Issues: Sometimes underperformance comes from the circumstances surrounding them — other people. They may be hitting a plateau as a result of altered roles or responsibilities, a perceived lack of recognition, or new team dynamics after somebody left. The employee’s talents may be unchanged but their ability to execute on them has. Discuss those dynamics with them honestly.
  • Your Leadership: At least 30% of employee performance depends on how they’re managed. Test different methods of communicating, managing and empowering them to see what can help them reach full potential.

Each employee is unique but, in general, spending more time with employees and giving effective feedback will counter underperformance.


2. Management Tools: Recycled and Enduring

In 1993, Bain & Company started surveying executives on the management tools they employ. During those 30 years, four have remained highly ranked — mission and vision statements, customer satisfaction, total quality management and benchmarking.

“Others proved far less durable – I mean, who talks much about quality circles these days?” Columbia Business School Professor Rita McGrath notes on her blog.

Two decades before those rankings began, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman popularized management tools in their best seller In Search of Excellence. The top companies they studied had eight characteristics:

  • A bias for action;
  • Staying close to the customer;
  • Autonomy and entrepreneurship;
  • Productivity through people;
  • Being hands-on and value-driven;
  • Sticking to “their knitting” rather than rushing off in different directions;
  • Maintaining simple form and lean staff; and
  • Control notable for simultaneous loose-tight properties.

“So here we are, more than 40 years later, and we are still having these ideas presented to us as though they were completely novel!” she says.

Tools and concepts get recycled to make them seem more modern. Or they become so widely embedded in how we manage that we forget they were once new ideas.

Darrell Rigby, who for many years co-authored the Bain surveys, found that innovation tools flourish during boom times but during downturns, cost reduction tools are prized.

She also shares some other ideas with currency these days: ecosystems and two-sided markets, focus on purpose, sales funnels and flywheels, growth mindset, the importance of diversity, the value of learning, and distinguishing intelligent failures from other kinds.

Which do you use? Which should you investigate?


3. How Best to Deliver Negative Feedback

Brooke Vuckovic, a professor of leadership at the Kellogg School of Management, advises us to keep three things in mind when delivering negative feedback:

  • Clarify the purpose of your conversation: There will be a big-P Purpose —what you want the conversation to accomplish for you, your employee, your relationship or the broader organization. The small-p purpose would be the specifics of the behaviour under consideration, and what you can control. “Make sure your expectations here aren’t very high,” she tells KelloggInsight.
  • Prepare to receive conflicting datapoints: Leaders commonly fail to prepare for the high likelihood that some new piece of information will emerge that will challenge their understanding of the issue. “If you assume that, then you are less likely to be surprised and thrown on your heels,” she says.
  • Commit to listening well and staying attuned: Don’t rush to a conclusion. A productive conversation requires rigour and patience and presence. Your wrap-up should make everything feel complete.


4. Make Room for Skylarking

Conventional wisdom says we should use time efficiently, getting the most done in the least amount of time. But executive coach Dan Rockwell says when efficiency excludes skylarking — goofing off, or outbursts of playfulness — it’s foolish.

“A sage knows wasting time is a virtue, not a sin,” he writes on his blog.

The best use of time includes space for inspiration, creativity, and recreation. And playfulness increases productivity. He suggests:

  • Put goofing off on your calendar.
  • Do something playful every day.
  • Develop an unhurried attitude.
  • Express a ridiculous thought, and when others offer a wacky idea ask, “what if?”
  • Be the first to try something new.


5. Zingers

  • Advice and Belonging: To create a greater sense of belonging at work, leaders should ask for advice. Consultant David Burkus says it is a powerful way to show team members their knowledge and perspective are valued. (Source: DavidBurkus.com).
  • Customer Service Tips: The three most important things for customer service, according to the 2023 State of CX Report, are employees who are helpful; being able to reach the right person in customer service; and knowledgeable employees. The top three reasons a customer will leave you: Rudeness, inconsistent information, and the inability to connect with somebody from customer support.  (Source: BradenKelley.com).
  • Appreciating Authenticity: There’s an alternative to telling women and people of colour who have never felt fully comfortable at work to be more authentic. Diversity consultant Ruchika Tulshyan says we need leaders who say, “Don’t feel pressured to conform. I appreciate this part of you that is clearly a very deep core part of you, your leadership, and the frameworks that you bring to the workplace.” (Source: LinkedIn).
  • Encouragement Beats Criticism: Consultant Roy H. Williams says criticism is destructive while encouragement is instructive. Criticism often causes people to see themselves worse than they are. Encouragement causes people to see themselves differently. (Source: MondayMorningMemo).
  • Times to Show Up: Entrepreneur Seth Godin urges you to show up in The Lonely Zone — at those times when it is doubtful something will work; when the originator really needs your support; when speaking up, donating or simply showing up feels like a risk or a waste. (Source: Seth’s Blog).


6. The List: 10 Principles of Kaizen

Kaizen, a step-by-step method and culture of continuing process improvement, has been widely emulated since it first become popular in post-war Japan. Although there are many versions and summaries, this 10 Principles of Kaizen infographic from DevelopGoodHabits.com offers a nice collection of tips:

  • Never Stop. There’s always room for improvement.
  • Eliminate Old Practices. Let go of old habits that have lost their value.
  • Be Proactive. Don’t let potential hurdles lead you to hesitate.
  • Don’t Assume a New Method Will Work. It may have worked elsewhere, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you.
  • Make Corrections. Identify areas for improvement and work on them.
  • Empower All Employees to Speak Up. Encourage suggestions for improvement from anyone, including family and friends.
  • Learn from other people and apply their ideas to improve your routines.
  • Practice the “Five Why” Method. By asking yourself “why?” as you dig into successive layers, you’ll find the real reason behind a problem.
  • Be Economical. Consider specific things to stop buying each week.
  • Don’t Stop. Improvement has no limits; you’re never finished.

Say no to status quo. Try to do something just a little bit better each day to make a large impact in the long run.


7.  Around Our Water Cooler


Seven Assessments for Communications in a Conflict

Most of us dread handling nasty conflicts that play out in a spotlight. Recently a CEO called about a communications crisis — a rogue board member attacking the organization on social media. But others often must deal with an aggrieved employee, angry activist or disgruntled volunteer.

Here are seven assessments that may be helpful in those situations as you start to formulate your response:

  • Does the issue have “legs”? Can they keep building controversy with repeated attacks or will the issue die slowly after their first shot. Will a direct response “feed” the fire or will it fade from attention if you sit tight?
  • Is there some way you can respond indirectly to legitimate issues in some other forum? Replying to them directly gives your opponent credibility, makes it personal and adds tension to the drama.
  • Is the fight really about the issue or defending identity? A person may define their identity as a disruptor of the status quo, for example, and resolution of an issue may paradoxically lead them to escalate with the next challenge — to preserve their role as a rebel.
  • Is there an acceptable way out for all parties to save face?
  • How will key audiences judge the fight? Which ones matter most to you and how do they perceive your opponent? Who has more credibility? Will an opponent’s unfair tactics and unreasonable claims fall flat?
  • Can they amplify the conflict? Does your opponent have high-impact channels of communication and engagement? Even loud, emotional or angry voices need a platform or channel to rally other audiences to their cause.
  • If it comes to extremes, what’s your playbook? Will you suffer a shot or two if it’s possible to achieve reconciliation? Do you have the stomach to play “hard ball”, if it comes to that, to protect your position?

Most of us would prefer to avoid a difficult public spat entirely. Once begun, however, these assessments can help you work up your best strategic response.

What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: The Manager’s Handbook by serial entrepreneur and Stanford Graduate School of Business faculty member David Dodson is jam-packed with useful tips around the five basic steps for building a team, staying focused, making better decisions, and overcoming the competition. It’s aimed towards CEOs, but useful for all.
  • Rob’s Pick: How to Change by Wharton professor Katy Milkman is an easy read about overcoming barriers to behavioural change. The host of the Choiceology podcast provides research-backed strategies to overcome obstacles like laziness, impulsivity, and procrastination that hinder goal achievement. She also emphasizes the power of fresh starts and the importance of choosing acquaintances wisely.


●  §  ●

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

“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.”

F.M. Alexander, Australian Actor