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]

6 Ways to Communicate with Highly Sensitive People

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are those who “feel too much” and “too deeply (emotionally)” than the average person. They experience acute physical, mental, and emotional responses to external (social, environmental) or internal (intra-personal) stimuli. Highly Sensitive People are neurologically different from others and have many gifts, but their intense reactions to people and situations often cause confusion, conflict and greater emotional turmoil. In order to foster positive and constructive relationships with a HSP, the less sensitive person, or the person who is less extreme in their responses to various stimuli, must utilize special communication strategies.

Here are 6 of the most helpful strategies:

  1. Pause for processing. HSPs deeply process internal and external information and the stress of this can be overwhelming. This will look like they are struggling to express themselves. Give attentive silence and avoid interrupting them or feeding them the words you think they are looking for. When they are done talking, tell back how you understand what they said. Conversely, ask them to tell back what you have said to be sure they have understood you and captured your message accurately.
  2. Notice and gently suggest alternative behaviors. How you point out weaknesses and shortfalls can make or break relationships. Avoid a voice tone that is condescending, patronizing, too loud or parent-like. Say instead, “I noticed that…” or “Are you aware that…” or “Another approach might be to…” These words carry much less blame and shame.
  3. Timing. Pick the right time to give feedback. If you or they are tired, rushed or upset, it’s likely that your feedback will be less appreciated. No one needs to hear that they did 25 things wrong all at once, and this is especially disturbing for HSPs. Pick the top 1-2 to address at one sitting. Engage in a problem-solving discussion that keeps the emotion from escalating. Notice when they are getting overwhelmed and take a break. They may need more time to process a mistake and a solution than you do.
  4. Praise and encourage authentically. Be modest and honest in your praise; many HSP shudder when given a compliment, even a well-deserved one. To keep stress low for both of you, try not to get overly excited about their successes or lack of progress. If emotions aren’t kept in check, your highly sensitive friend will lose face if they disappoint you.
  5. Invite questions. Positive, inspiriting talk and a supportive attitude make you more approachable for questions. They may be hesitant to bother you when they become bogged down with a problem. Let your open door policy (with its boundaries) be known. You may be the “safe” sounding-board they’re looking for. Don’t criticize.
  1. Don’t rescue them from distress unless absolutely necessary. HSPs learn from their mistakes, but with more pain. If you rescue them too often, they may never acquire the thick skin needed to get through life. Your constant rescuing might actually hinder their growth.

Do you need more help communicating with a highly sensitive employee or co-worker? Contact 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]  

 

Fear of Feedback

Q: We have a very sensitive engineer who is key to our startup. My partner and I have to be very careful how we phrase anything regarding his work. I’m not even talking about constructive criticism; it may just be something said in passing. We try very hard not to say anything that may be misconstrued, but you just never know what is going to be misinterpreted. How do you suggest dealing with this employee?

For many, fear of feedback (including compliments) is a problem. The most common reason for someone to be this sensitive is that in their past they were severely and frequently criticized, so even the mildest suggestion is painful. They may express this fear of feedback in several self-sabotaging ways: denial, procrastination, rigidity, avoidance, jealousy, brooding etc. It’s extremely self-limiting burden to bear, personally and professionally. Any slight suggestion is interpreted as failure or rejection. An extreme fear of feedback is a condition called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) and improved only with medication.

Your employee’s sensitivity to feedback may require some outside coaching or some clinical help, but here are things you can do:

1) Increase trust. Schedule a short coffee break with him a couple times a week to talk about his interests or how the startup is moving along. Point out general areas of improvement that are needed within your startup (marketing, beta testing, quality control etc.) and share the remedial steps that others had to take.

2) Get his perspective on ways to make the company better, and how to implement those improvements. Let him know you appreciate the perspective sharing. This is a good way to model how positively feedback can be received and put to work.

3) Gradually, I would point out a change that he needs to make in order to make the company better and possibly to incentivize him. Use numbers and benchmarks. Avoid making any direct attacks on his performance; keep it more “big picture.” Break it down the change into do-able steps with opportunities for regular updates.

4) Verbally reinforce any progress made toward change.

If that fails, coaching is a good next step. As a coach, I would help him identify the emotion behind his reaction, and help him re-frame the criticism to loosen the grip of the negative association. Next, I would help him approach the needed change by breaking down the task to small, satisfying and manageable chunks. In my experience, this results in decreasing the fear of feedback, and in most cases, creating a healthier attitude around feedback.

If the fear of feedback prevents you from advancing in your career and in your relationships, let’s have a talk. Contact me at [email protected]

 

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