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]

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]  

 

Building Trust with Transparency

Transparency is one of the best ways to build trust with your team. Here’s how:

Explain the company’s strategic initiatives, short/long term goals, deadlines and the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Do not assume your team understands your reasoning behind these objectives or that they understand how their roles specifically support these initiatives.

Share relevant financials along with explanations. Just because the company is bringing in money, doesn’t mean it’s time for pay increases!  The more your employees know about the company’s financial goals, plans, priorities, challenges and opportunities the more buy-in you’ll get from them.

In your leadership meetings encourage a ten minute How I Did It segment. An employee is invited to share a triumph – how their killer solution to a vexing problem saved the company time, money and/or valuable customers. Triumphant employees earn modest rewards like a gift card or an afternoon off.

If an employee intends to depart or is laid off, make their exit a friendly one. It’s never a good idea to burn bridges or leave on sour terms. Bad news travels faster than good news. Explain honestly to the group the general reason for the person’s departure w/o revealing personal details. If the departure was caused by some undercurrent issue, take action to address the issue immediately.

Encourage questions, concerns, fears, and new ideas at Monday morning coffee meetings and Friday team lunches. Give updates on projects. Come up with jolting questions that spark conversation and new ideas like: If you were the competition, how would you put us out of business?  Encourage the participation of the less chatty employees by welcoming their ideas in writing. Encourage them to contribute relevant articles, new books, podcasts etc.

Everyone makes mistakes, and some errors are more costly than others.  Encourage early reporting of errors. Help your employee to move as soon as possible from guilt and shame mode to solution mode. As a leader, admit the mistakes you make and what you’ll do to correct them.

Founders and other members of the leadership team can offer open door office hours for more private conversations.

Make clear to your customers what your team is up to and what directions you are moving to improve the customer experience. Create opportunities and venues for gathering customer feedback. Continually ask them how you or your product or service would make them happier customers. Show eagerness to hear about what they don’t like.

Finally, when staff come to you with an idea, a complaint, a problem or a solution, let them know they have been heard! It is a very common employee complaint. (See my October Mindful Communication Minute Newsletter on this topic coming out soon)

If Your Creativity Needs a Kick, Seek Unusual Sources

You may have your new product or service up and running, or you’re in the process of getting your new business off the ground. It’s frustrating to lack new ways to be competitive and for solving day-to-day problems.  We typically rely on our experience, knowledge, self-help books and the wisdom of industry leaders for solutions, but sometimes we have to get out of our closed circle of reference and seek “a refresh” from unexpected sources.

As a coach, it’s up to me to offer fresh eyes and new perspectives for my clients to explore. When I feel even close to getting bored with my usual strategies and tactics, I’m curiously drawn to books like The Men Who Changed the Course of American History, Tripping Over the Truth, Stories From Shakespeare, The Alchemist, or collections of mystery stories. Movies like Midnight in Paris or The Darkest Hour remind me, in contrasting ways, that it’s okay to listen to my gut, change my mind and inspire others to do the same. Any books or movies that have to do with discovery or attempts to solve difficult problems of all sorts should be on your list. Perhaps these books and movies won’t give you any direct answers or solutions, but they will add enlightening bits and pieces to what you already know and re-kindle your creative spark.

Need some fresh eyes to help solve a problem in your company? Get COREageous and contact me at [email protected]        

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