Annual Check Up: How Healthy is Your Startup?

If you are starting fresh with your venture, or even if you’re knee deep in a startup, it’s good to ask yourself: How healthy is my business at this point? According to Patrick Lencioni, an organizational health guru and author of several books on the topic, organizational health is the single greatest factor in determining the success of your startup.

An unhealthy organization is a stressful place to work, mired in confusion and conflict, and under-producing. An organization cannot survive for long under these conditions. Lencioni claims that the health and the ultimate success of an organization rely on two main components: a cohesive leadership team and communication clarity. Does your leadership team:

1) engage in productive, unfiltered discussion and debate?

Or do they stay quiet, nod but secretly disagree, or fear reprisal for pointing out             problems? 

2) leave meetings with clear, specific and agreed upon next steps?

Or, do people leave meetings with unresolved issues, confusion or partial buy-in?  

3) hold each other accountable to commitments and behaviors that reflect the company’s core values? (Have you established core values to behave by?)

Or assuming that you have established core values, do your team decisions and             behaviors deviate from those core values?   

4) put the company’s priorities ahead of their individual department’s needs?

Or do department heads compete with each other, establish goals that are personally expeditious versus company-focused? 

A founder who builds a healthy organization looks first to his or her leadership team − whether it be two of you or twelve of you. It’s easy enough to hire smart leaders (experts in strategy, finance, technology, and marketing) than it is to change unhelpful attitudes and behaviors after they’ve seeped into the guts of the organization. When gossip, sham participation and confusion abound, exceptional (and expensive) talents cannot be fully utilized. Much time and money is lost in rehabilitation. In my experience coaching communication in companies, a healthy organization saves time and money allowing leaders to perform to their potential.

In the next blog post, I’ll address the second distinctive feature of healthy organizations − communication clarity.

Need more simple and time-saving ways to improve your company’s health. Send your comments and questions to me at [email protected]

7 COREageous Ways to Beat Founder Loneliness

It’s well known that founders are at risk for anxiety and depression. An aspect of entrepreneurship that’s rarely addressed is ‘loneliness.’ The ‘loneliness’ that founders describe is not about living alone or being physically isolated. My clients’ loneliness is more about having to keep doubts and failures secret because they are not living with or surrounded by other self-starter types who “get it.”

A lack of trust, a fear of rocking the boat, losing support or weakening morale combine to create a form of loneliness unique to entrepreneurship.

Here are excerpts from a letter sent by a COREageous subscriber, a founder of a travel design company whose description of ‘founder loneliness’ speaks for many of my clients. He asked for ways to manage the loneliness he experiences much of the time:

The fact is that I really can’t share my frustrations with anyone inside the company. I have to be so careful what I say to someone, even my co-founder, because somehow that information gets distorted and passed to everyone in the company as it only creates an endless cycle of damage control…

 I feel like I lead this double life:  my startup and my marriage. I can’t let the two cross paths, meaning I can’t unload on her (every night).

I’d like to share my concerns with my board, but I’m afraid they might lose faith in me, or second guess the project if I do…

My free time and money is limited. How can I deal with this loneliness and keep moving forward?

Here are 7 ways to help busy and cash-strapped entrepreneurs beat loneliness:

1.Reach out anonymously to other entrepreneurs online. You are not alone.

2. Find camaraderie outside of your startup playing on a team, joining a church group or a teaming up on a community project that lifts you up.

3. Share your thoughts with a non-dependent family member you can trust 100%.

4. Find an entrepreneur coach or a mentor. Just an occasional venting and problem-solving session can do wonders.

5.Watch videos and listen to podcasts of entrepreneurs you aspire to − preferably those who had a lot of hard knocks along the way.

6. Journal your concerns and frustrations. Writing them down gets them out of your head, clarifies your thoughts and leads to creative solutions and next steps.

7. Don’t give up.

Feeling anxious, depressed and lonely as a founder? CoreCoaching may be the outlet you need to share concerns and brainstorm solutions. Contact me at [email protected]

How to Stay On Track When You’re Under the Weather

You’ll read that most successful entrepreneurs view exercise as a core essential. Regular and rigorous exercise is a habit I urge my clients to adopt.  It is the antidote for crazy hours, strict deadlines and massive pressure. It feels good, instills discipline, pumps up energy, focus and positivity, blows off stress and helps you sleep better.

A physically fit founder projects traits that attract investors and customers: competence, resilience and confidence. The exercise habit gets so ingrained that when you catch a cold or the flu you may push yourself too hard, doing your usual routine and end up really sick and for a longer period of time.

Over a weekend visit to my sweet home Chicago, I caught a nasty cold. I returned to a mound of work, including an important presentation to put together in 2 days. Feeling weak and frustrated, unable to do my regular routine, I needed something “exercise-like” to help me get my work done without over-doing caffeine, worsening my headache or wiping me out even more.

My go-to solution: Ki-Hara Stretching, made famous by Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer, Dara Torres.  Done slowly, sitting or lying down, and similar to, but more toning than yoga stretches, these gentle stretches gave me the refresh of a spin or boot camp workout without making my chills and fever worse.  In fact, following about 10-15 minutes of the stretches, my symptoms lifted quite a bit, and I was able to get through my to-do list efficiently for many hours with energy to spare.(Disclaimer: Before attempting any form of exercise, especially when you have a cold or the flu, it’s smart to check with your doctor)

The next time you’ve got lots to do and get bogged down by a cold or the flu, get whatever rest you can, drink plenty of fluids and Ki-Hara your way back to work.

For more time-saving, entrepreneur-friendly exercise approaches contact me at [email protected] 

Are You Accountability-Challenged? Become Accountability-Friendly!

Last week I consulted to a young tech startup near Boston. To my surprise, I walked into a party. The team of five employees were having a blast playing video-games, tossing popcorn around and drawing graffiti-like images on the huge whiteboard. I was there for four hours. I noticed relatively short breaks from the festivities when the team dispersed to their offices. After periods of about 30 minutes the party started up again.

I asked Ted, the founder in his mid 30’s, “Was this a celebration day for a project well done, a goal achieved?  “No,” Ted reported, “This is what goes on in between their work periods. They work best in concentrated chunks of time with long breaks in between.” The founder’s concern was that these breaks seemed to be getting longer and work time shorter. The team generally knew what they were expected to produce each month, but oversight was lax. Ted was traveling often to drum up business, and progress reporting was spotty. Two of the investors noted dips in the bottom line and started asking about the team’s accountability.

Ted was stuck as to how to keep the work culture lively and hold the team responsible for meeting the expected results. “I want my team to enjoy working here – they are a brilliant, but distractible bunch. But I don’t know how to rein them in and keep the enthusiasm. There’s some pretty tedious, but essential work amidst the creative work that’s not getting done. It’s stressing me out the more I ignore it.”

To console Ted, I shared a study mentioned in the book Fixit: Getting Accountability Right by Roger Collins and Tom Smith, in which the researchers asked respondents to select one reason why they find holding people accountable difficult. These results accurately reflect the problems I notice in many small companies, and it could explain Ted’s reluctance to hold his team responsible for the outcome:

1)  12%  I don’t like confrontation.

2)  14%  I don’t want to lose rapport and make people not like me.

3)  16%  No one else does it, so it makes me look like the bad guy.

4) 50%  I’m not sure how to do it in a way that yields good results.

5) 8%   Other.

Ted was torn between responses 1, 2 and 4.

I assured Ted that there are creative and effective ways to infuse “friendly accountability” in the group without risking morale:

  • The first step is to acknowledge the problem in terms of reaching “the numbers” and sharing this data with the staff. The reactions to how the company is falling short may reveal who is committed to the project and who’s there for a good time.
  • Clarifying targets and asking for ways to meet those targets enhances communication and fosters buy-in. Get employees’ input on whether it means stretching out the work day or flipping the duration of time spent relaxing versus working.
  • Assigning a peer as a team leader could keep the team on track when Ted is on the road.
  • I also suggested that when energy dips (around 3:00p.m) to schedule a brisk 20 minute walk to discuss progress or any problems affecting their ability to meet the targets. Some exercise and personal connection could ignite another couple hours of focus and productivity.

Ted agreed to have this conversation with his team and follow up with me next week.

Are you afraid of the “A” word? Let me help you and your team become more comfortable with accountability. [email protected]  

 

Be Alert to Six Sparks of Conflict

As a founder you need to depend on your team to get their jobs done, done well and on time. But in any young startup, pressures mount, and personalities clash.  You may be uncomfortable with any kind of conflict – the healthy and the destructive kind. Healthy conflict is marked by openness and passionate debate that can yield positive changes. It requires a strong sense of trust between team players, and trust may still be a work in progress.  Destructive conflict, on the other hand, is mean-spirited and personal. Its source is often a grudge, an intent to find fault or weakness or a miscommunication. It can ignite a drama that spreads like wild fire throughout an organization wasting valuable time and money. It’s essential to know the difference.

The “sparks” I address in this post are the unhealthy, destructive kind. Those sparks, if ignored, can combust into bonfires. Some sparks fizzle out on their own. But if tempers flare, if your star players get snarky, or when people start calling in sick, a fire has begun because you’ve let things go too long. You can’t play parent to your team members, but it’s your job to be alert to these six sparks of conflict. Snuff them out before they affect your bottom line:

1) If you work remotely, make as many random, in-person appearances as possible. Meet face-to face with your team and watch them carefully as they tell you how things are going. Probe ambiguous comments or non-verbal behaviors that make you uncomfortable, by asking,

Nancy, I noticed you were rather quiet today. Is anything going on we need to discuss?

 Len, I need clarification on that last statement, can you help me understand what you meant?  

2)  Conference calls can be revealing too. Notice: Who is not participating like before? Who is interrupting or taking over the discussion? Do you notice anything unusual in the tone or energy of their voices? These behaviors may suggest a not-so-positive change in the group dynamic in the form of bullying, stonewalling or anger. Mention your observations to the team or the team leader and explore what may be going on.

3) Emails you or your team leaders receive may expose sparks of conflict. Look for unusual brevity, a change in tone, screaming CAPS, desperate run-on sentences with no punctuation, abrupt or disrespectful language. Approach the sender with your concerns and encourage team members to bring any disgruntled office communication, including tweets and Facebook posts, to your attention.

4) Teasing can be in fun, and if in jest, teasing can be a way to connect with the team and show a sense of humor. It can also be a subtle form of bullying. If you notice teasing, inquire privately whether the person being teased is 100% okay with it. If not, the teaser needs to cool down a bit – or a lot.

5) Listen for employees who are blaming others or not taking responsibility for something going wrong that was within their own control. Get the blamer and the “blamee” into the same room and hear both sides.

6) Are any employees taking frequent or suspicious sick days, arriving late to work or leaving early? This could be due to trouble with the team or personal problems that can affect the team. Take them aside, point out the irregular attendance, let them know their presence at work is valuable, and listen. You may discover the underlying cause(s).

Are you uncomfortable with conflict? Let me help you manage conflict painlessly. Contact me at [email protected]   

 

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