The 8020Info Water Cooler

  Highlights from the latest information
  for managers, leaders & entrepreneurs


In this issue of the Water Cooler we focus on developing strategic thinking skills, what pictures can do for team building, conversations that boost employee engagement, some alternatives when budget processes aren’t working, and avoiding change backlash.  Enjoy!.


1. Four Conversations To Boost Employee Engagement

With all the emails and meetings flooding us at work, it’s hard to imagine we might be under-communicating. But executive coach Kristi Hedges says leaders must set priority on the conversations that matter. Specifically, on Forbes, she recommends four conversations to have regularly with your staff:

  • The Open Conversation: Most conversations have an agenda, usually the leader’s, and are narrow and focused. You also need open conversations that are expansive, powered by curiosity and learning. “They are where we hatch our best ideas, gain insights, and broaden our viewpoints,” she says.
  • The Potential Conversation: Here you state what you see as possible for someone else — whether a direct report, colleague or friend. The comments don’t have to be carefully worded. She argues a simple “I see this in you” or “you’re at your best when you do that” goes a long way.
  • The Energy Conversation: Energy is a limited resource so leaders need to check regularly how subordinates seem to be faring. By noticing the individual’s energy level and addressing it directly you can better ensure productivity.
  • The Purpose Conversation: These conversations are avoided because leaders feel helpless to discuss somebody else’s purpose. But purpose is vital. Keep it simple, asking questions like what are you good at doing; what do you enjoy doing; what creates a sense of forward momentum; and how do you prefer to work in relationship to others?

Make time for these vital conversations.


2. A Photograph Can Spark 1,000 Words

It’s important for new teams to spend time getting to know each other and building connections. Executive coach Tammie Plouffe recommends using photographs to ignite that conversation. (We’ve had good results too with a very similar technique.)

“As a facilitator, I’ve found that photos can create connections between people faster —and more profoundly— than any other icebreaker or team-building activity I’ve ever used,” she writes in Harvard Business Review.

“And because the response that photos evoke is natural, leaders with no facilitation experience can use photos to turn many team interactions into an opportunity to create connection and accelerate collaboration.”

She recommends that you collect lots of photos (about 10 per person) with broad appeal. Display them around a room where the team can walk around and see them easily.

Then focus the discussion. For a new team, the first topic is probably why the team exists and what effective collaboration might look like. Ask team members to pick photos that resonate or visualize their thoughts on purpose and collaboration.

Once everyone has had time to think and choose a photo, have each share their selection and describe why it speaks to them. Ask the group to look for common themes and then ask insight-building questions — for example, what the selected images had in common, how you want to work together, and what the next steps would be to make your purpose a reality?

A photograph can spark 1,000 words of purposeful conversation.


3. Smart Questions For Improving Your Organization

Here are some questions for inspiring new ideas that consultant Paul Sloane suggests on the Innovation Excellence blog:

  • How can we double our average order value?
  • How can we get 100% brand awareness in our target market?
  • What is the most dramatic business innovation we have seen in the last two years? How could we apply that approach here?
  • How can we empower people at all levels to make decisions quickly?
  • If we want to double our revenues, what is the single most important thing we must change and what should we do?
  • If we had to cut our cost base by 50% but maintain revenues, what could we do?
  • If we had absolutely no fear of failure, what would we try?
  • What are the most important rules that we and our competitors follow? What if we broke them?
  • What customer needs and pain points are not being met today? What will they be in two years’ time?


4. Communicate in Advance to Avoid Change Backlash

When planning to launch a major change, don’t let a communications vacuum leave you vulnerable to staff or public backlash. Michael Hyatt suggests six things you need to do well to avoid the shocks of unexpected change:

  • Figure out what you want to say. Distill your message (the why, how and/or when) down to what could be a headline. Then flesh it out in more detail.
  • Write the message down, perhaps in a media release. Prepare talking points and perhaps a Frequently Asked Questions document.
  • Get your leadership team on the same page. Give them time to explore and understand the change, provide input, and work toward alignment, if not full agreement. This can take some time.
  • Contact influential leaders and stakeholders — personally. Quietly make visits or calls before any public announcement. Cascade this communication down and then, selectively, outside the organization.
  • Announce the change through the media (including social media). If you’ve done your advance work, this will not be news to those who care most.
  • Make yourself available to answer questions. For big news, make yourself available for interviews. Respond to every media enquiry, even if it’s to say you don’t have the answer or can’t comment.

Hyatt says it’s also a good idea to actively monitor social media responses so you know what people are saying. Don’t be afraid to jump into a conversation and respectfully correct the narrative.


5. Zingers

  • Controlling or Controlled By: There are two types of people in this world, says psychologist Travis Bradberry: Those who believe they can make things happen and those who believe things happen to them. Focus on your freedoms, not your limitations. (Source: LinkedIn)
  • More than Money: The four currencies in your customer’s lives are money, time, feeling safe, and feeling special, says consultant Donald Cooper. Compete on those, rather than price. (Source: DonaldCooper.com)
  • Take the Lead: The secret of the fly ball, says entrepreneur Seth Godin, is that we don’t shout: “You’ve got it!” We don’t assign who will catch it — if you can catch it, you call it. Responsibility is most effectively taken, not given. (Source: Seth’s Blog)
  • Consider a Brand Character: Characters in books, movies, and TV shows are magical. And it’s the same thing when you can create a character integral to your advertising, says consultant Roy H. Williams. The Old Spice Guy and Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man In The World are examples. Their appeal is strong and multi-generational. But you need to be willing to spend time in your ads building the character. (Source: Monday Morning Memo.)
  • Tech in presentations: Prompster Pro (an iOS and Android app) can turn your smartphone or tablet into a teleprompter so you no longer have to fumble through notecards or comb your memory during presentations. (Source: Fast Company)


6. Q&A With 8020Info:  Beyond Budgeting


Question:  I have heard that some large organizations choose not to prepare budgets. Does that make sense?


8020Info Associate Harvey Schachter responds:

The Beyond Budgeting movement is based on the huge amount of time some organizations can spend on budgeting and the impact of people “gaming” the system so the budget is not much of a control mechanism.

Some companies have found the budgeting process absorbs as much as 20% of management time — not just at this time of year, but year round.

Managers at all levels of the hierarchy may also set easy targets or manipulate the accounting to seem to be achieving designated goals. Budgeting also forces everyone to be evaluated and rewarded against forecasts that can later prove worthless because of outside factors.

Companies that don’t produce budgets don’t let everyone run wild. Essentially, they know spending and cash flow will tend to be patterned after the previous year, budget or no budget. They compare their performance at the end of the year against competitors or other benchmarks, which offers a more realistic assessment.

And they encourage managers to set stretch targets that they won’t be held to — that approach can actually improve performance over normal budgeting.

In a small organization, the time taken in producing a budget may be minimal. But some of the other benefits are intriguing. Perhaps you can include them in your budget process? And Paul Sloane’s questions (see the third item in this newsletter) may also offer some ways to open up discussions and possibilities.

Another attack against budgeting is that it freezes us for the year. New ideas are spurned because there’s no uncommitted money available for taking action. With no budget, you can move on new ideas at any time. Perhaps that idea can also be incorporated into your organization, budget or no budget.


7.  Around Our Water Cooler: Train Your Strategic Thinking Skills

Strategic thinking will never go out of date, and shouldn’t be limited to just senior executives — it should be practised at every level throughout an organization. But we may not know where to start.

In the Harvard Business Review, Nina Bowman highlights four areas to work on if you want to become a better strategist:

Know — Observe and Assess Trends:  Thinking strategically isn’t something you get and then don’t need to work on. Being an effective strategic thinker means you have to stay up to date by:

  • Routinely exploring and analyzing trends in your day-to-day work (such as identifying issues that occur repeatedly, and what causes them.)
  • Connecting with peers throughout your organization and industry to understand their insights on your marketplace or operating environment.

Think — Ask the Tough Questions:  When working on a project, be the first to consider tough questions, such as: “What are the early signs of success or failure?” or “How will the outcomes of this project support the organization’s broader goals?”

Speak — Presenting Strategy: Communicating strategy is one of the most important abilities, but this skill takes time to develop. Aim for the point where you can walk people through the process of identifying issues, shaping common understanding, and framing the strategic choices. You can also improve how you communicate strategies by:

  • Adding more structure — logically group and order your main points and keep content as succinct as possible. Frame the overarching themes to be addressed.
  • Leading with the solution/main point, and then presenting supporting details.

Act — Make Time for Thinking and Embrace Conflict:  It can be hard to develop strategy, especially if your days are packed and you are unable to take time to really think about a problem, let alone engage other points of view. So it is important to schedule time for deep, strategic thinking, and to honour that commitment.


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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 reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.”

— Rita Mae Brown





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