The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs

1. Condescending Phrases To Avoid With Employees

In the daily hurly-burly, it’s easy for phrases to slip out that seem innocent but wound others. In his Great Leadership blog, Dan McCarthy shares some condescending phrases to avoid with employees:

  • “I’m not a detail person, but Leslie is, so she’ll take care of that stuff” It might well be that Leslie doesn’t enjoy slogging through details either but has to because it’s her job. Don’t make her seem petty, as if the little stuff is in her DNA, while you’re the big-picture, important person.
  • “Don’t worry about it; it’s not a big deal.” Actually, it probably is a big deal to the employee who raised the matter, so give it proper attention.
  • “Oh, you sound just like my daughter.” Don’t dismiss an employee, implying they are as clueless as a family member, be it your daughter, uncle, or grandmother.
  • “Well, that sounds good in theory but in the real world…” And what world are you implying the employee is from? “Take some time to hear the employee’s ‘theory’ out, and check your real-world assumptions at the door,” writes McCarthy.
  • “I don’t have time to deal with this – figure it out, that’s your job.” It is your job to coach, however, and this is probably a good opportunity.
  •  “Well, you are the first person to complain about this – no one else has a problem with it.” Maybe the others are too timid to speak up, and you should be thankful for this intervention and pay attention.

2. Avoid Ad-Speak

The grand illusion of advertising, according to consultant Roy Williams, is the idea that the right people just haven’t heard about you. In fact, they probably have, but don’t care — in part, because you are sending a message they dismiss instinctively.

Imagine, he says on his Monday Morning Memo, you’re trying to get a date for your sister. “She’s really pretty in the face,” you declare. The person hears the qualifier – in the face – and it’s not enough. It seems you are hiding something, and even when you add enthusiastically “she’s got a really good personality” it won’t be effective.

Switch to a business that says it sells at “competitive” prices, or has a location that is “convenient” with an “impressive selection” of merchandise. Again, it seems carefully filtered, with things left out.

“Too good to be true,” is another element of ad-speak that is ineffective, as is “highest quality at the lowest prices.” In each case it’s dismissed as the prospect asks a single question: “What are they not telling me?”

Great ads close the loopholes, answering that question. Reverting to his example of getting a date for your sister, he suggests:

  • Loophole #1: Is she attractive? “Here’s a picture I took of her last night.”
  • Loophole #2: Is she intelligent? “She’s the new director of the animal shelter.”
  • Loophole #3: Why does she not have a boyfriend? “She moved to town last week.”

Ditch the ad-speak. Answer the questions in your marketing, and your organization will benefit.

3. Handling a Thankless Assignment

Sometimes you may be handed a thankless assignment where there is a limited upside for doing a great job and a serious downside if things go wrong. On his blog, Rajesh Setty suggests that in such situations you should:

  • Understand and track the big picture as you proceed: A thankless assignment is generally a piece of a bigger puzzle you need to understand.
  • Get visibility on your assignment: With thankless assignments, nobody will help you gain visibility for your role – that’s a sign that it’s thankless. “The more visibility you have, the less chance that your efforts will be swept under the rug when the overall project succeeds,” he advises.
  • Raise a quiet alarm when something else hurts completion of your assignment: Your task will inevitably be dependent on one or two other people completing their tasks, and there will be other people depending on your task to be completed so they can handle their assignment. You need to understand those dependencies and raise an early alarm if you or others might be impeded.

4. Strategy in Three Steps

Consultant Graham Kenny boils strategy development down to just three steps on Harvard Business Review blogs:

  • Identify the stakeholders you depend on for success. This is a key step that he says even top corporations fail to take.
  • Recognize what you want from your stakeholders. Having missed the first step, most management teams launch into what they need to do for stakeholders before recognizing what they want, in turn, from them.
  • Recognize what your stakeholders want from you. Make sure it’s not what you think they want but what they actually want.

5. Zingers

  • To Be Better: Here are some ways to improve as a manager: Don’t micromanage; don’t be a bottleneck; focus on outcomes, not minutiae; and build trust with colleagues before a crisis comes. (Source: Eric Jacobson on Management)
  • Let’s Sit and Chat: Set some chairs up by your water cooler, to encourage spontaneous meetings where face-to-face interaction occurs. David Shrier, managing director of connection science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says structured meetings don’t build trust but the water cooler’s unstructured invitation can work. (Source: MediaPost.com)
  • Chill at The Light: Rushing between appointments and stopped at a red light? Instead of fuming, try meditating. Turn off your radio or music player, and focus on deep breaths, advises writer Stephanie Vozza. (Source: FastCompany.com)
  • Who Learns Online? Don’t discount job applicants who have online degrees. A Gallup research survey of online graduates from one university found them more likely to be employed than college graduates in general and more engaged at work. Further, 68% had a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams while in college – three times higher than the U.S. average. (Source: Gallup.com)
  • Before You Click: At the start of the day, always complete one important task before you open your email. (Source: Productivity501.com)

6. Q&A with 8020Info: Alternate Approaches to Strategy

Question: We have a strategy session at the end of the month. Can you suggest any alternatives to the old, standard approaches?

8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

It used to be stressed that strategy is about choice — that you need to think big picture, choosing from the many options before you — and not try to embrace them all. That’s still true: it’s vital.

But Roger Martin, former dean at the Rotman School of Management, has highlighted the importance of integrative thinking, how to release our minds beyond blinkered concepts that can narrow our futures. And one key element of that, brought together in his book The Opposable Mind, is that some of the best strategies combine what seem to be contradictory, even opposite, ideas.

Integrative Thinking:  Luxury hotelier Isadore Sharp displayed integrative thinking when he refused to accept that only two types of lodging could be built: small motels with intimacy and comfort, or large hotels with excellent location and amenities. Instead, he decided to create hotels with the intimacy of his original small motor hotel and the amenities of a large convention hotel.

Similarly, when A. G. Lafley took the helm initially at Procter & Gamble, he refused to pick between low pricing or intensive innovation investment, embracing both.

A Positioning Matrix:  So sometimes, without going hog wild, we have to reach beyond choice to combine options. A way to do that might be to consider the forces affecting your business and use a 2×2 matrix to plot them.

In 2006, a year before Martin’s book, the authors of Strategic Organizational Change suggested using a matrix to create a positioning map describing the two main factors influencing your industry and how your competitors are responding. For example, they suggest that, in the brewing industry, it might involve whether to have few or many brands and whether to operate in few or many countries. After seeing the various positions, a new path for your company might emerge.

Constructing Dilemmas:  Alex Lowy and Phil Hood wrote The Power of the 2X2 Matrix a decade ago. “2×2 Thinking recognizes the power in exploring competing forces. By intentionally constructing dilemmas, we challenge ourselves to think at a higher logical level,” they note. “Although dilemmas rarely feel good, they often contain the seeds of deeper understanding and a superior solution than we are otherwise capable of finding.” They talk of a critical time when CIBC strategists realized they had to create a better balance between alignment and autonomy, and plotted the tensions on a 2×2 matrix to embrace the best of two worlds.

The Chinese have long prized the yin-yang symbol, a reminder of opposites combining for a greater impact. So look for contradictions that seem to bedevil your organization and consider the idea of combining them in a creative way.

7.  News From Our Water Cooler: Acquiring New Skills … Fast.

As we unpack a new year, January is often a time we contemplate learning new skills needed to advance in the year ahead. But who has the time? Josh Kaufman offers some helpful methods in his top-selling book, The First 20 Hours – How to Learn Anything FAST!

He suggests that most of us should set aside the “10,000-hour rule for mastery” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, and concentrate instead on 10 principles of rapid skill acquisition. They are:

  • Choose a lovable project — a problem or goal that excites your interest.
  • Focus your energy on acquiring one skill at a time.
  • Clearly define the target performance level you want to achieve.
  • Deconstruction — first break down your new skill into the sub-skills you’ll need.
  • Obtain critical tools and supportive environments so you can practice efficiently.
  • Eliminate barriers to practice, both practical and emotional.
  • Make dedicated time for practice. (You don’t find time, you make it.)
  • Create fast feedback loops that tell you how you’re doing.
  • Practice by the clock in short bursts.
  • Emphasize quantity and speed in your deliberate, consistent practice.

You may want to acquire skills needed to edit a video, play chess, program a software app, order restaurant dishes in Mandarin, pursue a new type of personal fitness regimen or become skilled in strategy development.

Whatever your lovable project, if you can find an hour a day over the next three weeks, you could pick up a new fundamental skill by the time our next 8020Info Water Cooler slips into your inbox!

8. Closing Thought

“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.”

— Tom Peters



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