Help Your Home Life Survive a Startup: Avoid the Spillover Effect

Founders who are passionate and obsessed with their startup, work long hours and leave work stressed out tend to bring that tension home. Perhaps you’ve heard the following refrains:

You seem so distant when we are together.

Are you hearing me?

There’s no need to raise your voice over this.

If the answer is yes, the stress from work is spilling over into your home life. This is making your home life less satisfying, which puts you in a worse mood when you return to work the next morning. Unless the spillover effect is tempered early on, this cycle only intensifies.

Here are my top three suggestions for reducing the spillover effect:

  • If you tend to come home and want to kick the dog, accept that you may need a buffer before you walk in the door. For example, stop off at the gym for 30 minutes to exercise, or decompress on the drive home by listening to soothing music or a comedy podcast.
  • Re-frame the sources of stress that could have a positive outcome. For example, a prima donna employee who threatens to leave may be a welcome loss. Or a demanding, but caring customer who is pointing out deficiencies in your product may be doing you a great service.
  • Instead of letting your evening be consumed by complaints and worries  open up a journal and write down, complete with expletives and emojis, the stressors and your feelings about them. If your partner wants to hear about your day, at least you’ll have exploded on paper prior to walking in the door. Writing things down also helps you move from emotional to problem-solving (critical thinking) mode a bit faster.

Need more help regulating your response to startup stress? Share your story with us at [email protected], and I’ll blog back some solutions!

Let’s Have Some Fun Being Accountable

If you ask your staff, What are you doing to get more done?, you’ll get a some blank stares and some good answers like: I limit social media, filter email, turn off my phone, shorten conversations, etc. The follow-up question results in more blank stares: How well are those efforts paying off?

Because I’m known to be somewhat of a task master, when I say to my clients – Hey, this exercise will be fun! I get a few smirks. It has elements of surprise and learning that helps the bottom line, and makes for good group discussions, so it’s within the realm of “fun.” Here’s how it works:

Each staff member cuts out five 4 inch strips of paper. They write a day of the week on each strip, mix them up and put them in an envelope. For four weeks, at the end of the work week, each person closes their eyes and picks out one day of the week from their envelope. If they pick “Wednesday” they need to recall what they did for every hour on Wednesday. If they don’t remember, they can look back on their plan for the week (assuming that they had a plan!!) to see what work was accomplished or how they spent their time. At first, the reports are pretty dismal, the average report ranges from 30-40% productive use of work time.

This exercise has many advantages: It makes people more conscientious about how they use their time at work. It helps one see the value in making a plan for each day. Knowing that Friday is coming up soon, and not knowing which day will be pulled, improves the consistency of their efforts. It also helps one use the anti-distraction strategies more consistently and judge their effectiveness. This exercise also makes leadership clarify expectations for productivity.

I shared this exercise with three different companies.  By the 3rd week, at all three facilities, productivity overall kicked up between 20-30%! Now, that’s fun!

Give it a try at your startup, and let me know the results!                                        [email protected].


Coaching Up or Out?

In my last CE post I talked about coaching valuable, but problematic employees. I will refer to these employees as Ms. or Mr. X.

In hindsight, you may have noticed these problems (a haughty attitude, lack of cooperation,frequent complaining, etc) coming early on, but chalked it up to Ms. or Mr. X being “new to the team.”

You get busy, and in the back of your mind, you hope that Ms. or Mr. X  will respond to peer pressure, conform and the problem will vanish. It’s highly unlikely.

So, the next question is − coach up or coach out Ms. or Mr. X? Prior to that sit-down conversation, prepare your talking points. What characteristics will make this employee coachable? Is Ms. or Mr. X:

  • open to learning? (Ask for examples.)
  • confident enough to accept their limitations? (What are they and do you agree on the problem behaviors?)
  • ready to listen and appreciate the gift of criticism (Ask for examples.)
  • willing to persevere to change (How will change become visible immediately?)

If “coaching up” is the decision, then create a plan to monitor these changes (daily, weekly or biweekly check-ins and by whom). Expect the employee to summarize in writing this meeting and the commitment to change. That is your documentation. Review the plan for accuracy.

You may think this process is a “bit tough” on the employee in question. Yes, they may pass on the challenge and quit. But, in fact, you are helping Ms. or Mr. X succeed in the workplace and in life. You are also demonstrating leadership and supporting your team by addressing the aberrant behavior head on.

Founders: Interested in learning more about building core leadership skills? Send along your queries and workplace conundrums to me at [email protected]              

Political Views and a Friendship at Odds

Ben has been friends with his boss Joe for many years with very few and short-lived disagreements over the years. Ben is a very responsible and loyal employee and highly valued in the organization. He has always enjoyed working for Joe. But a wedge has come between them, or it’s more accurate to say, a wedge Joe has created – intolerance for Ben’s political view.

Ben writes:  Joe always used to greet me and send me referrals; we’d even hug on occasion. Since he found out who I voted for however, he averts his gaze, gives me a gruff “hello” and ignores me the rest of the day. It’s astounding! Occasionally, he pops into my office, sits down, lambasts my position and shares his disbelief at “my ignorance.” He has no patience for hearing my perspective. If I calmly offer to share my side and the facts behind it, he gets red-faced, loud and angry. The staff scatters to an office within earshot to witness the drama. If I ask Joe questions about his position, I get a flurry of expletives and more insults. I want to keep our friendship and my job! Help!

Ben, keep your cool, and show that you care about the friendship and doing your job. Greet him every day as you normally would. At the water cooler talk about what you have in common – projects, family issues etc. If he brings up politics, or makes a remark about your candidate, laugh it off and get back to work. Keep your door open to him and welcome healthy discussion. I suggest you listen to Joe with curiosity and only share support for your position if asked. You can be the sounding board he needs to air his frustrations, but not the whipping post. If the discussions get heated, calmly state that it’s okay that you see things differently and you have work to do.

In time, Joe will see that the tantrums and grudge-holding waste energy and look bad to staff. Conversely, you will be seen as rational, mature and open to healthy conflict – all admirable qualities in life and at the workplace.

The heated political arena is a good test of friendship. Do you need help keeping an open mind and a friendship intact? Contact me at [email protected]      


Managing the Diva, the Aberrant Genius or the High Performing Disrupter: Part One

Lynn G. writes: In my quest for a creative project manager, one that could jump start my team and create a little “healthy competition,” I may have made a mistake by hiring Tina (name changed). She is highly productive, but abrasive. In the wake of her accomplishments, Tina is slowly eroding the morale of the team. How do I keep Tina’s behavior in check without losing good staff ?   

This is one of the biggest challenges for a young startup. Careful vetting, a preventative measure, is often cut short when you need better numbers fast. Identifying gaps or dysfunction in your existing team is another option to employ before hiring a diva to save the day. Have you clarified your team’s performance expectations and offered clear paths to achieving those expectations? Have you made clear in the hiring process, what behaviors will not be tolerated?  In a founder’s haste to please investors and increase sales, it is often common to overlook the weak links in one’s management skills. Since Lynn did not specify behaviors unacceptable to the company from the start, I advised her to spell them out for future hires.

At this point, however, Lynn needs to determine if Tina’s downsides exceed her considerable contributions. Aberrant behavior can tolerated if the behaviors are seen as those in service of the company; it is often a high performer who saves staff jobs.

For now, what is Tina doing that is disruptive enough to justify a warning or an opportunity to change? Does Tina break team communications? Interrupt others? Does she lie, attack, harass or mistreat staff? Does she make people afraid to talk? Do you spend too much time correcting her and making excuses to staff?

Lynn answered “yes” to most of these questions. Lynn’s next steps? A warning? Dismissal? Or is Tina coachable? In the next CE post, I’ll share the qualities that make an employee coachable and some ways for doing so.

Need help in coaching up your diva or aberrant genius? I can help. Contact me at [email protected]  


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]

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