The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs


In this issue of the Water Cooler we touch on the value of focusing on talent, managing across silos, dealing with excuses, barriers to delegation, plus de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats model.  Enjoy.


1. Talent Still Matters — A Lot

Two decades after McKinsey & Company popularized the notion of a war for talent, Business Psychology Professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic says talent matters as much or even more than people think. “It is arguably more underrated than overrated,” he writes in Harvard Business Review.

He focuses our attention on three aspects:

  • A few talented people make a huge difference: Talented people —what is often called “the vital few”— are the main driver of a company’s success. He says this is one of the most replicated findings in management research, with around 20% of individuals responsible for 80% of the output, in line with Pareto’s Principle.So organizations will see much higher gains by devoting more resources to the few people making a big difference. That beats trying to make what he calls the “trivial many” more productive.
  • Talent is easy to measure and predict: The science of talent identification is at least 100 years old and many reliable methods exist for identifying potential talent and predicting future performance. Star employees tend to have higher levels of ability, likability, and drive. He says the key component of ability is the capacity to learn new thing, which derives from IQ and curiosity.
  • Motivation amplifies talent: Personality characteristics, such as neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness account for almost 50% of the measurable variability in motivation.

So think about talent, and how those factors can help you find and manage it.


2. Psychological Barriers That Prevent Delegating

Delegating is universally praised. But many of us stumble with the process.

“For many people, the problem isn’t that we don’t understand the importance of delegation. Instead, we can’t get around the psychological barriers that keep us from delegating,” consultant Susan Gunelius writes in WomenOnBusiness.com.

Here are five prime barriers:

  • You’re a perfectionist: You are unlikely to delegate if you think you can do tasks better than others. Add in a Type A personality, and you’re even less likely to give up control.
  • You’re afraid it won’t get done right unless you do it: But if you properly train people, it will get done right.
  • You feel it takes too long to explain the task: In some cases it may be quicker to do it yourself. But more often we’re poor teachers and need to learn to hand off more easily. “Unfortunately, not training your employees starts a vicious cycle where nothing ever gets off your plate and your employees get used to doing less and less,” she says.
  • You don’t want to bother anyone else: But everyone has a role to play and you shouldn’t be taking on their tasks.
  • You like doing tasks you should be delegating: There are some tasks you love doing, but you shouldn’t be spending your time at them since it’s not the best use of your skills and time.

Those are not easy barriers to overcome. But watching for them is the first step.


3. The Visual Power of Bulleted Lists

Which presentation of this content is easier to grasp?

Version 1

Our spa getaway package includes two-night accommodation, two 50-minute spa treatments of your choice, an in-room breakfast for two, and gift basket upon arrival.

Version 2

Our spa getaway package includes:

  • Two-night accommodation
  • Two 50-minute spa treatment of your choice
  • An in-room breakfast for two
  • Gift basket upon arrival

Hoa Loranger, of the Nielsen Norman Group, uses that example to make the point that sometimes the best way to present information is in a bulleted list. It attracts attention, makes scanning easier, shortens the text into chunks, and reveals the relationship between items.

She advises you to write the list items so ideally they have approximately similar line length. You should number the list (rather than use bullets) only when the item count or sequence is important. Make the phrasing in each item consistent so the reader doesn’t stumble. Also, avoid repeating the same word or words at the beginning of each item.


4. Answering The “I Didn’t Have Time” Excuse

Trainer Dan Rockwell says excuses are often used in an attempt to lower your expectations.

A common excuse is “I didn’t have time to get X done.”  He says you may hear that from kind-hearted individuals who overcommit and let others run their life; don’t know how to set priorities; or are only pretending to be committed.

On his Leadership Freak blog, he suggests responding with one of these questions:

  • Would you like to develop your ability to manage time?
  • If you had enough time, what would you have done differently?
  • What are you doing that matters less?


5. Zingers

  • Emailing reprieve: LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based temporary staffing agency, tried going without email for an entire day. It was so successful they now do it once each quarter — and suggest you may want to consider it for your work unit. (Source: Fast Company)
  • Meetings on hold: You could add to the email reprieve a no-meeting day every week. Tristan Walker, CEO of a health and beauty products company, actually has three meeting-free days most weeks (Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays) so he can get other work done. The remaining two days are back-to-back meetings but he still prizes the system. You might start such an approach by blocking off just one day a week. (Source: www.glassdoor.com)
  • Digital minimalism: A third possibility to consider is Internet usage: Wesley So, a 23-year-old chess grandmaster and possibly the second best at the game in the world, decided to minimize stress and find more time to study. He restricts his Internet usage to email and chess game analysis. (Source: calnewport.com)
  • Fun with candy days: In a lighter vein, you could emulate SAS, the software analytical company, which has M&M Wednesdays: Enter any one of their offices worldwide that day and you’ll find M&Ms readily available for employees, suppliers, and customers. Consultant Michael Kerr asks: Is there a simple tradition that could turn into a legendary part of your culture? (Source: MikeKerr.com)
  • Right-sizing emotions: When Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton worked together on the movie Cleopatra, she taught him that histrionics well suited to the stage didn’t work in movies, where he was 40-feet tall on the screen. Consultant Wally Bock says that similarly, as a leader, everything you do is visible and magnified, with outsized effect. (Source: Three Star Leadership)


6.  Q&A With 8020Info:
     After The Brainstorming

Question:  We’re pretty good at brainstorming ideas but get into trouble when critiquing them … is there a way to keep it from becoming personal?


8020Info President & CEO Rob Wood responds:

It can be difficult for teams to shift from generating fresh ideas to evaluating them critically against goals and constraints. And as you present them to your group, it’s easy to become a bit protective or sensitive to criticisms of your initial brainwaves.

You might want to try a technique called Six Thinking Hats, originally developed by the psychologist and author Edward de Bono. (Kate Kaplan of the Nielsen Norman Group recently noted this tried-and-true approach in her recent piece Facilitatating an Effective Design Studio Workshop.)

“Thinking hats” are just metaphors for different modes of thinking and discussion, and when you adopt these lenses for discussion or critiquing, that helps keep the personal out of it. The six perspectives or roles for your thinking are:

  • White Hat: It calls for “just the facts” — objective information that is known or needed.
  • Yellow Hat: Your role is to explore the potential positives of an idea, probing for its value and benefit. The colour is intended to symbolize bright optimism.
  • Black Hat: This is the powerful perspective of constructive criticism, or playing “devil’s advocate”. It’s a lens of judgement used to spot difficulties, dangers, where something might go wrong or will not work.
  • Red Hat: This hat signfies feelings, hunches and intuition. Setting logic aside, use this lens to express emotions/feelings. Share fears, likes, loves and hates.
  • Green Hat: The green is associated with creativity — possibilities, alternatives and new ideas (sometimes in response to problems raised by the Black Hats).
  • Blue Hat: This perspective is concerned with process, including fidelity to the Six Thinking Hats model.

When using this approach in our practice, we typically assign participants to roles, encouraging them to comment from the assigned mode of thinking, not a personal point of view. The method can take a little time, but it normally produces more thoughtful understanding of your ideas for strategy. For other techniques to generate ideas and strategies, see Q&A with 8020Info:  Brainstorming for Strategy.


7.  From Our Water Cooler:
     Managing Across Silos

Managing a project across multiple departments or even across organizations is an increasingly common and complex job. We particularly see this when projects require the involvement of many employees, volunteers, or leaders working in their own separate functional silos.

Getting all partners working together and in support of the initiative is crucial for its success, but we can’t always rely on traditional leader-follower approaches. Flatter management structures and increased involvement between different organizations mean a lateral style of leadership is needed to be effective.

To be a great lateral leader, managers need to develop four key skills, as highlighted in Exerting Influence Without Authority (hbr.org) by Lauren Keller Johnson:

  • Networking: Lateral leadership relies on having relationships with people inside and outside your organization whose support you need to carry out initiatives. So cultivating these relationships and networks is crucial for a project’s success.
  • Constructive persuasion and negotiation: It is important to develop these skills with the goal set on mutual benefit. They should be used in good faith, to be constructive rather than manipulative.
  • Consultation: Visit the people whose support you need. Ask the opinions of relevant stakeholders as well as their reactions to your ideas. You’ll get better and quicker results for your project if you invite and involve peers to participate.
  • Coalition building: A team of advocates will exert far more influence than a lone proponent. For that reason, it is important to build a powerful coalition to support your initiative. Look at who is most likely going to be affected by the changes, and whose commitment is needed for the initiative’s success.

These aren’t approaches that most firms invest in, and the skills aren’t quickly gained, so managers need to take a proactive approach — honing these four skills will increase your initiative’s chances of success.

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


8.  Closing Thought

“I found out that it’s not good to talk about my troubles — 80% of the people who hear them don’t care and the other 20% are glad I’m having them.”

Tommy Lasorda


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