The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs


In this issue of the Water Cooler we touch on how to live up to an “open-door” policy, tips on serving internal customers, investing in talent attraction, using stories to change culture, and pacing when you retool your marketing. Enjoy.


1. Is Your Door Always Open?

It’s common for leaders to announce, “My door is always open.” But that’s probably not true, suggests Megan Reitz, a professor at Hult International Business School, and John Higgins, a consultant.

Power gets in the way. People are probably afraid to approach you. The consultants suggest in Harvard Business Review asking yourself:

  • Are you honestly interested in other people’s opinions? And if so, whose opinions are you interested in hearing and who are you biased against? What data do you listen to most?
  • How risky does it feel for people to speak up to you? If on 10 occasions you received challenges attentively but on the 11th, a bad day, you were chippy that will unfortunately be the story your team retells.
  • How aware are you of the political games being played? Personal agendas play out all the time. “Enabling others to speak up means understanding why this person might be saying what they are saying (or why they are staying silent) and making an informed choice about whether to surface that agenda,” they write.
  • What labels do you apply to others that define what can be said? Are they “consultant,” “woman,” “young,” or “sales”? Each label denotes status (or lack thereof) and unwritten rules about what you expect to be said.
  • Finally, what specifically do you need to do to enable others to speak? This can range from dressing more casually to reduce status difference to introducing a “red card” at meetings allowing people to challenge you.


2. Enhancing Internal Customer Satisfaction

People you deal with in other departments deserve the same high standards of customer satisfaction from you as outside customers. Consultant Jeff Mowatt recommends:

  • Talk in person: When you have a new request or process that requires explaining, begin by talking in person to the other department’s key influencers. “Ask for their advice – literally. That word lowers their defenses and helps generate buy-in,” he writes on his blog.
  • Be a straight talker (and writer): Write the way you speak, making your communications sound like a conversation, not a press release.
  • Watch who is copied on emails: Follow the so-called RACI formula, in which the only people copied on project messages are: the person who is Responsible for overseeing the project; the senior person who will be held Accountable for the project; people outside the project who may be Consulted for input; and finally, people who should be Informed throughout the project.
  • Avoid self-promotion: Give praise to others while leaving yourself in the background. “Any announcement that remotely sounds like patting yourself on the back is going to be met with scorn and derision,” he warns.
  • Forget becoming a BFF: Don’t try too hard to fit in with co-workers in other departments. A middle-aged accountant in a suit, he notes, will have trouble “being one of the guys” with overall-clad millennials in the field. Just be a respectful colleague, someone they can count on — their


3. Stories To Change Organizational Culture

Paul Smith, managing director of Story Makers LLC, a communications training firm, says there are three types of stories a leader can use to change the culture:

  • Success story: This is about someone who illustrates exactly the values and culture you want to extol. Ideally, they should be in a situation where it would have been easy and attractive to make a different decision but they chose to uphold the culture.
  • Failure story: Here you feature someone who didn’t follow the values and culture you seek and the negative consequences to the individual and organization can be clearly illustrated.
  • Moment of clarity story: This tells about the time you first realized the culture you wanted. “Whatever made you realize that would be a great culture to foster in your organization will probably convince everyone else when they hear it told as a story,” he says in an interview with John Mattone.


4. Mistakes Smart People Never Make

Psychologist Travis Bradberry says on LinkedIn smart people have the good sense to avoid these mistakes:

  • Believing in someone or something that is too good to be true: The results of naiveté and failing to carry out due diligence — usually when hooked by a charismatic person on some scheme — can be disastrous.
  • Failing to delay gratification: We live in a world when seemingly instantaneous gratification is commonplace. But he warns “smart people know that gratification doesn’t come quickly and hard work comes long before the reward.”
  • Trying to please everyone: This never works.
  • Trying to change someone: This also never works. They have to want to change themselves.


5. Zingers

  • Cap it at three: Business coach David Finkel says the secret to making the next 90 days the most productive ever is to pick a maximum of three areas to focus on; decide on how to judge your progress in each; and identify what steps to take and who will take them. “Why cap it at three?” he asks. “Ninety days comes fast, and if you spread yourself or your team too thin, you’ll find that you do more things partially instead of fully.” (Source: Fast Company)
  • Shift out of stuck: When you’re stuck while tackling a creative project, don’t panic. Recognize you’re stuck and accept it’s part of the process, says consultant Robert Tucker. Try changing your perspective or environment — even shifting to work in another office or coffee shop can help. (Source: The Innovation Resource)
  • HR speed-bumps: It’s commonplace to hear complaints about HR. But blogger Laurie Ruettimann says it’s good that the department does get in the way: “It slows people down from making horrible mistakes that affect others. If HR gets in your way, thank your lucky stars. You were probably about to do something stupid and selfish.” (Source: LaurieRuettimann.com)
  • Help me help you: Let your boss help you get ahead. Trainer Dan Rockwell suggests asking your boss to talk about her aspirations for your department or team and, within that context, her aspirations for you. (Source: LeadershipFreak.com)
  • They all buy: Marketers make the mistake of seeing older people solely through the lens of age — “decrepit souls with weak bladders” — says consultant Tanya Joseph. In fact, older people are consumers who buy most of the things that their younger counterparts do, so market all types of products to them. (Source: Marketing Week)


6.  Q&A With 8020Info:
Retool Your Marketing At The Pace Of Change

Question:  How fast should we be changing our brand positioning and marketing approaches to ensure our strategies continue to be effective?

8020Info President & CEO Rob Wood responds:

The answer will depend very much on the level of marketing strategy that concerns you — it is commonplace to think that all marketing and branding activities need to change on the same timeline, but in fact each layer has its own pace. Some need to be updated in real-time or daily, and others evolve more slowly over years.

Scott Brinker, author of Hacking Marketing, recently used an interesting metaphor to explain this idea during a MarketingProfs.com webinar.

He noted that after a building is constructed, the site and basic structure change little over time, often decades. The “skin” of the building’s façade, the space plan, and internal services (like plumbing and electrical infrastructure) evolve over a somewhat shorter time scale. But interior decorating and furnishings of a building can change very quickly.

At the same time, foundational layers, like the structure, determine what options are available to facilitate change at levels moving at an accelerated pace.

Brinker then draws a parallel for the varied pace of different layers of marketing:

  • Feedback (e.g. social media, marketing metrics) — often updated in real time.
  • Tactics (media mix, framing, communications, experiences) — weekly tweaks.
  • Campaigns (marketing concept, audience, messaging) — revised within months.
  • Brand positioning and value proposition — slower change, over months/years.
  • The legal entity, corporate culture, values, image — evolve over years.


The focus of the effort involved, as well as the timing, may also vary for each level.

Gartner has shared a similar layered model for the pace of change in IT systems:

  • where the long-term foundation of infrastructure, design and core data might need attention to efficiency and alignment;
  • where better ideas, unique processes and new operational strategies (over mid-term timelines) might focus on strategic advantage; and
  • where systems of innovation often move rapidly over tight timelines for the development of new ideas and response to competitive challenges.

You will, of course, need to consider the overall strategic framework for advancing your marketing program — the external climate and the impact of trends and competitors, and your internal capabilities.

But match the timelines for retooling your efforts to the pace of change in the various levels of marketing activity that may be of strategic interest.


7.  From Our Water Cooler:

     Boost Your Workplace Appeal

Recently we briefed our local city council on a proposed new community workforce development and in-migration strategy. These initiatives ranged from employer actions to system-level changes to the work economy, but an underlying theme was the need to adapt the way we look at employee needs.

For example, our scan of changes in the work economy suggests that employers who want to compete for talent might consider offering new benefits to attract and retain skilled workers.

Silicon Valley boasts about their innovative, millennial-focused ‘workplaces of the future’ but that’s not a model that can, or necessarily should, be applied to all workplaces. Nevertheless, many benefits can be offered at little to no cost while helping employers improve their appeal to job seekers.

In a recent survey conducted by Fractl, a US-based marketing company, employees  placed the highest value on benefits that are low-cost to employers, such as flexible hours, work-from-home options, and discretionary time off or uncapped vacation time, which can also save you money by wiping away vacation liability.

Kerry Jones at Fractl also found that offering some of these benefits can win over job seekers even when they receive competing offers with higher pay and fewer benefits.

More than four out of five job seekers said they would consider a lower paying job if it offered more flexible hours, more vacation time, or work-from-home options. More than one third of respondents also mentioned lifestyle benefits such as gym memberships or free snacks and coffee at work as factors that would influence their choice of workplace.

The line of benefits you offer can foster a more appealing work environment — the investment shouldn’t be seen as an expense but instead as an incentive that helps attract and retain skilled employees.

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8020Info helps strategy teams think better together as they develop and effectively implement research / stakeholder consultations, strategic plans, change and marketing communications. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries.


8.  Closing Thought

““The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will and the other from a strong won’t.”

Henry Ward Beecher



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