Vol.13 No.10 July-29-2013

The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. How To Improve Your Hiring

Hiring strategy can be the Achilles heel of small organizations (and often not-so-small organizations). Small business owner Vanessa Merit Nornberg, on Inc.com, offers these tips for improving your hiring:

  • Allow yourself six months for the recruitment process: Sure, you want somebody today. But when you’re in a rush you accept candidates you would have otherwise passed over.
  • Write a job posting that accurately describes your organization: Instead of focusing solely on what you want from the new hire, emphasize the benefits of working for your organization to attract a larger candidate pool.
  • Make the interview process several steps: This deters people who want any job, not necessarily the one you are offering.
  • Identify the five most important qualities for the position: Create interview questions that screen for the five most important attributes you want.
  • Be involved early, but involve others: If you lead the organization, get involved early in the recruiting process, since you know better than anyone what’s needed. At the same time, bring others into the process – at least two individuals besides you. “Instincts are important in picking the right candidate, but sometimes you end up on the fence. Having someone to talk about the candidate with can help you get clarity when it matters,” she writes.
  • Create a training program: Make sure your training program properly reflects the tasks a hire will be called upon to do and provides adequate feedback to the individuals.

2. Are You Asking Enough Questions?

How many questions did you ask today? If you don’t ask many questions, because you are intelligent and in command, with all the answers, you may actually be falling short.

LifeLabs, a professional development and research organization, has found that top managers ask more questions. “Instead of simply giving an answer, they help their direct reports clarify and deepen their own thinking,” Lee-Ann Renninger, the consultancy’s director told writer Nadia Goodman for Entrepreneur. “It quickly increases the performance of their team.”

They propose these exercises to sharpen your skills:

  • Track how many questions you ask: Ask a colleague at your next meeting to keep track of your questions and your statements. Consider the resulting ratio of questions to statements, and try in subsequent meetings to increase the questions. Renninger advises: “The best managers spend time building their questioning muscles. They practise and learn which questions make the biggest impact, and when and how to ask them.”
  • Have a questions-only conversation: In an upcoming conversation when an employee comes for advice, experiment with only asking questions. Guide your employee with those questions, and learn to phrase any statements as questions.
  • Keep a list of questions during meetings: Jot down questions that come to mind during a meeting on a sheet of paper and ask them instead of making statements. Use the questions to illuminate confusion, shift focus to other topics, and compare the situation to others in the past.

3. Getting Replies To Your Messages

A study by Carnegie-Mellon University researchers found very important but complex messages that require a lot of work to answer often don’t get a response. So if you want your messages to be better understood —and hence responded to— journalist Drake Baer on Fast Company suggests:

  • Start by writing what you think you are trying to say.
  • You’ll probably learn that the first few lines aren’t helpful — or in his words, “wholehearted hogwash.”
  • Keep plugging away, writing, and wait until what appears to be the conclusion – your central message – appears.
  • Now move that conclusion to the top of the message, to frame the missive clearly for recipients.

4. Steps For Successful Partnerships

The world of work operates on partnerships these days. Entrepreneur Seth Godin calls it “the connection economy,” and says it is built on interconnected ecosystems that depend on those partnerships.

To be successful, he suggests:

  • Don’t change the rules that your partners expect and depend upon.
  • If you have to change the rules, tell the partners in advance.
  • If for some reason you can’t tell the partners in advance, at least tell them the rules.

“Trust is precious and easily wasted, and guessing is a lousy foundation for future progress,” he writes on Seth’s Blog.

5. Zingers

  • How do you figure out what matters for your organization and your job? Just ask, advises consultant Wally Bock. Ask your boss. Ask your teammates. They’ll have plenty of ideas to get you started. (Source: Three Star Leadership Blog)
  • When giving feedback, three words regularly trigger negative reactions: Never (as in “you’re never on time for meetings”; always, as in “you’re always sending emails with typos in them; and you, as in “you must stop doing X”). (Source: Leadership IQ)
  • To show appreciation for your employees, write a message to them with a dry erase marker on the window at the entrance to your building or office, suggests consultant Sean Glaze. Other ideas: Begin meetings by recognizing accomplishments and highlighting employee success, or create a travelling trophy that represents excellence in your organization that an employee gets to display for a week. (Source: Linked 2 Leadership)
  • When you hit the afternoon slump, counter sleepiness with a chat with a co-worker, suggests blogger Helena Pilih. (Source: Lifehack.org)
  • If you’re a first time manager, put the spotlight on others, says Bill Gentry, a research scientist with the Center For Creative Leadership. The tendency when entering management is to think, “it’s all about me.” Instead, remember, “it’s not about me, it’s about you.” (Source: Center For Creative Leadership)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:  Seeking Focus

Question:  When we talk about plans and strategy, we seem to skip all over the place with so many ideas. Any tips on how to get more focus?

8020Info CEO and President Rob Wood replies:

Assuming you’re clear on your organization’s purpose, there are many ways to further enhance your focus. Here are a few to consider:

Sharpen focus on your destination:  As the philosopher Aristotle says in this issue’s Closing Thought, it is impossible even to think without a mental picture. So you might begin by crisply defining your “destination postcard”, not leaving it as a vaguely intuitive sense of what you want. Then focus your attention on those key issues and decisions that will have the greatest impact on achieving that goal.

What exactly would count as a successful effort?  Teams may share a common goal, but in fact are working from different assumptions about the look of success, or may (tacitly) have different audiences as their priority. We often ask planning teams to answer a question posed by the Carver governance model: What is to be achieved, for whom, and at what cost/investment? Another good question is: What, at the minimum, would count as a success?

What’s your “theory of how things work”?  In many areas of effort, outcomes are determined by only a few key drivers. For example, to achieve success:

  • Service businesses may depend mainly on great performance from front-line staff.
  • A downtown may thrive only with strong events, hospitality or population density.
  • A non-profit may live or die according to how it recruits and manages volunteers.
  • A tech start-up may grow or die by how it allocates scarce time and resources.
  • An agency with mostly fixed costs might stay in the black only with a strong focus on increasing revenues.

See if you can identify no more than three key drivers embedded in the dynamics of your environment. In The Three Rules, Michael Raynor and Mumtaz Ahmed of Deloitte Consulting found that extraordinarily successful companies put “better before cheaper” and “revenue before cost”, reinforcing those two points with “there are no other rules”.

Can you say it in a single word?  Recently several clients have found it useful to consider seven “deep metaphors”, developed by Gerald Zaltman, that tend to underlie or unconsciously frame topics. Often used in marketing/branding strategy, they might provide a unifying theme for your planning.

The seven core metaphors are: connection, resource, control, balance, journey, transformation and “container” (in the sense that your role might involve being a trustee or repository for things). A library, for example, might be seen primarily as a community resource, or perhaps as a container for books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, databases, online materials, and events. Or perhaps it focuses more on helping people to connect or make progress on some personal journey.

Another interesting approach is outlined in Words that Work by Dr. Frank Luntz. His “words and phrases for the 21st century” include terms that can help focus your thinking — words like imagine, accountability, patient-centred, independent, “a culture of”, “a balanced” approach, or renew (or reinvent, restore, revitalize, rejuvenate and so on). Pick one as an anchor or theme to focus your planning.

Focus your team on specific questions:  Perhaps you are trying to address your issues at a level that’s too broad. As consultant Brian Klapper has noted, the best systems for generating ideas tend to define focused challenges and ask teams to solve specific problems in a short period of time.

It can be tough work, but the payoff for focused thinking is significant when it comes to clarifying mission, developing strategy and succeeding at implementation.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:  Help Your Email Get Through

We continue to see research showing that, despite the significantly increasing impact of social media, email remains one of our most important tools in situations where communications really matter. For that reason, an article on MarketingProfs.com by Kevin Gao caught our eye — Top 10 Ways To Improve Email Open Rates. Some of those tips included:

  • Keep the subject line under 50 characters and make one important point.
  • Never trick your reader with a misleading or vague subject line.
  • Research, and avoid using, typical spam words.
  • Find the right frequency of communications.
  • Choose the right “From” name/email address and other signals that your email can be trusted, has value and is worth opening.

8020Info helps teams develop and implement their strategic plans, research and marketing communications more effectively. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries at (613) 542-8020, or by email at watercooler@8020info.com

8. Closing Thought

“It is impossible even to think without a mental picture.”

— Aristotle



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