Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

5 Steps to Manage Conflict

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” Thomas Paine

There is no doubt, managing conflicts is a challenging task. On my journey as an entrepreneur I have had my share of conflicts. I think working in close proximity and under much pressure, tends to raise conflicts more frequently in entrepreneurial ventures. It is hence important to know how to handle them more effectively. Losing a team mate, a client or a supplier can spell the end for a young startup. Listed below are five steps to help manage conflicts in a systematic and structured manner, and thus reach a fair and faster consensus.

1. Facts: Before anything is discussed or negotiated, it is important that all relevant details are documented. This includes finding core reasons behind the conflict, the stage the conflict is at, and the affected parties. It is important to be objective when documenting these factors, and ensure that each one of the affected individuals is part of the process. To read more about the fact finding process please click here

2. Ground Rules: Developing a set of rules and structure can greatly facilitate conflict resolution. It is important to let all the participants know what is expected of them. It also helps to formalize the actual negotiation process with a set agenda, and a mediator if possible. Setting up such a structure helps the negotiation process run smoothly, with each participant well aware, before hand, about the discussion agenda. To read more about setting appropriate ground rules please click here.

3. Negotiations: The actual negotiation stage brings all the concerned parties together, to discuss their points of view in a structured manner. It is important to insist that each participant keep their mind open to different options, even if they do not agree with them. Keeping a close mind and remaining stubborn makes the process more challenging to manage. During this stage, notes need to be taken down regarding options discussed and differences and concerns that were voiced. To read more about the negotiation stage please click here.

4. Evaluation: After the negotiation stage, all the participants are called back at a later date to discuss the options discussed during the negotiation stage. At this time, it is important to establish a set of objective criterions, to ensure the options discussed are feasible, fair and take into account the larger picture. There are several strategies which can be used at this stage to rank or combine options, and to come up with a mutually agreeable option. To read more about the evaluation stage please click here.

5. Closure: The final stage of a conflict management process involves bringing closure to the argument. This is done by  formalizing whatever was discussed and decided into a written document, which clearly outlines everyone’s responsibilities and roles. It is important that a commitment is made to follow through on what was decided. Periodic meetings can be established to ensure that everything is moving as planned, with suggestions and feedback provided along the way. To read more about closure please click here.

I have followed this system in conflicts I have been involved in. However, given the variances in every conflict, one needs to improvise along the way. Managing conflicts is a challenging task, especially when they have been brewing under the surface for long periods of time. Reaching a formal agreement acceptable to all the concerned individuals is a major feat. It requires patience, an open mind and the willingness to be flexible. It is much easier to be stubborn and refuse to change a position, rather than be adaptable and sacrifice for a more congenial and brighter future. 

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Closure

“The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed. It is just these intense conflicts and their configurations which are needed to produce valuable and lasting results.” Carl Gustav Jung

Closure is one of the most critical components of successful conflict resolution. Without it, there is always something unfinshed hanging in the air and this makes people uncomfortable. I am sure many of us have been involved in conflicts which have ended without the required closure. It is not a pleasant situation, and if you then have to continue working with the persons concerned, it can be most awkward. To avoid such situations and reach closure, there are a few things I work on ensuring. 

1. Written Plan: Ensure that everything that has been discussed and decided upon, is written down in a formal document. This document should outline levels of future responsibility, possible compensation agreements, changed working arrangements or any other directives that are to be carried out. Putting it all down on paper makes it tangible, and easy to take ownership of.

2. Commitment: It is important that once a mutually agreeable option has been accepted, tasks and roles allocated, everyone commits to whatever they were assigned. A personal commitment is as important as having faith in the abilities of others to carry out their parts. This is not a time to doubt the follow through abilities of others. At this time more than ever, it is necessary to begin and rebuild the trust which may have been lost in the process.

3. Periodic Checks: A system to routinely check the progress of what was decided and agreed upon is vital, to ensure everyone is keeping their end of the deal. Such checks help monitor team progress and provide valuable insight into the team or individuals working dynamics. Such meetings can be a sounding board for suggestions, complaints or feedback. 

Closure after a long drawn out conflict is a liberating and empowering feeling, and helps us face challenges with ease and confidence. It reminds us, that survival in this world, requires us to learn to be flexible and move forward. Being stubborn and refusing to see different sides of a conflict, renders us incapable of moving forward. 

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Evaluating Options

“There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise, and integration. By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise neither side gets what it wants; by integration we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish.” Mary Parker Follet

Once the negotiation stage has been cleared, all options presented and discussed need to be evaluated. During this stage, respective parties need to set their differences aside, and work towards reaching a consensus where both parties are satisfied with the outcome. This is by far one of the most challenging stages in the conflict management process. Much of the time such situations conclude in deadlocks, because one party may not be open to entertaining any option other than one which benefits them. Conflict resolution needs a certain level of sacrifice from each party to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. 

Some steps which can help reach a mutually beneficial agreement are:

1. Developing Criterions: Prior to starting this phase it is important to establish some base criterions. These include ensuring that all options discussed are feasible and fair. It is also equally important to identify a set of objective criterions which help each of the participants look at the larger picture. This helps set a tone which in turn helps the flow of the discussion and reaching a mutually beneficial agreement, faster. 

2. Ranking: To begin the process, rank the options discussed in the negotiation stage. This will help the participants decide jointly which options address the needs of the group and their own needs. This is a tricky exercise, as each participant would like to rank the options which benefit them the most, on top. To resolve this issue, each option should be graded against a set of objective criterions which are mutually agreed upon. This helps bring objectivity and fairness into the process.

3. Combining of Options: I have found that it is often possible to combine certain options, thereby creating a mutually acceptable option to both parties. Through this method we can bridge differences in opinions, which may limit parties to reach a mutually agreeable agreement. This takes some creativity,  at the same time, helps to think out of the box when resolving conflict. 

There needs to be much give and take at this stage. Sacrifices need to be made, at the same time it is important to remain objective and work towards a mutually beneficial agreement. During this stage one needs to be creative and think out of the box. A deadlock must be avoided at all costs, if a party becomes stubborn and refuses to change positions, we need to factor this dynamic in, and find alternatives which may be acceptable to them. 

 

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Tackling the Issue

“In a conflict, being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point — a higher, more expansive place, from which you can see both sides.” Thomas Crum

Proceeding with actual negotiations after laying down a comprehensive foundation for determining the facts and establishing ground rules, makes the exercise easier. With a set agenda, each party is fully aware of what will be discussed. The negotiation stage is a a critical one in conflict resolution. Without each party making the effort to bring the issue to the table, and discuss it candidly, very little progress is possible. Once the concerned individuals have made the effort to come together, and discuss the issue at hand, it is important to keep the discussion moving in a focused and objective matter. 

Key points to be kept in mind at the negotiation stage are:

1. Remaining Open: It is quite natural to close one’s mind to the other person’s point of view in a conflict. If such a stance is taken however, to reach a mutually agreeable decision will be a difficult and long process. Therefore, it is essential in such a situation, to not just remain open to the other party’s point of view, but the larger picture as well. 

2. Developing of Options: When a conflict is being negotiated, it is important that each side offers possible options to resolve the matter at hand.  I have been involved in conflict resolution, where the discussion revolves only around options which are not acceptable to either side. Therefore, being creative in the development of options is vital, as is abstaining from judging or criticizing them.

3. Notes: In the heat of discussions, we tend to lose track of what was said. This only complicates matter further. During the negotiation stage, it is hence vital, that notes about major agreements, disagreements, options and any other important piece of information are taken down, this will help in resolving the matter at hand.

These pointers are cornerstones to keep negotiations open and healthy. They may be very simple steps, but they have been extremely helpful to me when I have been involved in negotiating conflicts. In the end, it comes down to keeping things simple and straightforward. It is only when we complicate issues, with more details or people, do they become more of a challenge to resolve.

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Setting the Stage

“Instead of suppressing conflicts, specific channels could be created to make this conflict explicit, and specific methods could be set up by which the conflict is resolved.” Albert Low

Most times there is no formal process on how a conflict is supposed to be resolved. Although setting up stringent structures can be stifling in an organization, it can streamline processes and make them more efficient. My thinking has shifted over time, from a loosely managed structure to a more defined one. The reason for this fundamental shift is due to the fact that entrepreneurial teams often consist of very strong personalities. When individuals or groups with strong personalities entangle in a conflict, one can expect a fair share of fireworks. Tackling this with set structures in place, helps facilitate such situations, as also controlling the external impact of such conflicts. 

Listed below are a couple of primer steps to help set the stage before the actual negotiations begin:

1. Ground Rules: It is important to set strict guidelines, to keep the negotiation stage as civil as possible. T Controls on language, tone of voice and relevance to the discussions are essential. Usually, if uncontrolled, irrelevant examples are brought into arguments, making conflict resolving more challenging. Keeping strict focus on the issue at hand in a healthy environment is vital.

2. Agenda: Before affected individuals or groups are called in for negotiations, an agenda needs to be developed to ensure that all the key issues will be discussed. Through this, both individuals can be given adequate time to share their points of views. By formalizing the structure of negotiations, they become more effective and relevant to the issue at hand.

3. Organization: Adequate notice needs to be given to the concerned individuals about the time and venue of the negotiations. The location must be set in a neutral space, where neither side will feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. This is an important step to ensure a smooth and natural flow in the discussions. At the negotiations, minutes or notes must be taken of all discussions and possible conclusions.

4. Mediator: If the issue at hand has escalated to a higher intensity level, it may be necessary to bring in a mediator or facilitator for the negotiations. This will provide unbiased mediation to help keep the negotiations on track and provide objective analysis. Both individuals must agree on the negotiator  to ensure a comfort level.

By following the above steps, expectations may be set prior to the negotiations. The affected parties will have a clearer idea of what will be discussed and how the negotiations will be facilitated and managed on the day itself. It makes the entire negotiation process more efficient and transparent, which in turn can help resolve the conflict as soon as possible.

 

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Know the Facts

“At the root of every conflict is a commitment not honored, an idea not realized and an opportunity misunderstood.” Dr. J M Sampath

One of the fundamental reason for why conflicts are difficult to manage, is the disconnect between perceived reality and the facts. Unfortunately, during conflicts, emotions tend to takeover and incorrect decisions are often taken. It is hence essential, that when  confronted with a conflict, we analyze the current situation very carefully before proceeding. There are many advantages to taking this first step when managing conflict. Some key advantages are, it gives time to the affected individuals to look at the situation objectively, it allows a look at the bigger picture and reduces the probability of acting irrationally or impulsively. 

Some steps which need to be taken during a fact finding exercise are:

1. Identifying Core Reasons: Take a sheet of paper and write down what you believe are the core reasons behind the conflict, to help convert abstract thoughts into reality. It is a good idea to write down the emotions and feelings attached to the reasons, to fully grasp the extent of the conflict at hand. 

2. Identifying Conflict Stage: It is essential to establish the stage of the conflict. Has this been brewing for quite some time? Is it something which was instigated by a new addition to the team? Different levels of intensities require varying degrees of involvement from external sources.

3. Identifying Affected Parties: Clearly marking out individuals or teams affected by the conflict is an important step. The longer a conflict has been suppressed, the greater the extent of its impact. Therefore, it is advisable to deal with a conflict as soon as it arises.

The fact finding exercise provides valuable objective insight into resolving conflicts effectively. Most of the time we skip this stage, and either completely ignore the issue at hand, or jump straight into the disagreement without thinking through our position adequately. This can have a severely damaging impact on your team, organization and oneself. Establishing facts and our arguments prior to the negotiation stage can save time, make positions clearer and help minimize any bad blood which can arise.

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5 Steps to Patience

“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.” Anonymous

When we read about the lives of great men and women, we find a common thread in their stories. That thread is patience. In today’s day and age of instant gratification, patience levels are at a steep decline. Too many people are moving too fast, too soon. Their lives are checkered with dissatisfaction and frustration. Lack of patience has a definite impact on the entrepreneurial journey as well. If wanting it all yesterday is a priority, this path does not have what you are looking for. Patience is a virtue which cannot be learned through text books or courses, it is acquired through experience. We are all constantly placed in situations where our patience is tested, the manner in which we choose to react to these situations, determines our patience tolerance level.

Listed below are five steps to understanding situations where patience is tested, and sequential consequences if patience is not exercised:

1. Strategic Indecision: Instant success for entrepreneurial start-ups is a rare anomaly. If you embark on this journey, make sure you realize it is for the long haul. It will require remaining committed to your strategy, and to constantly adapt it to market demands. Inability to adapt and change will give rise to growing impatience which will impact negatively on your business. To read more about patience and strategic indecision please click here.

2. Marketing Results: The secret behind companies who market themselves successfully, is patience. Once they formulate a strategy, they remain committed to carrying it out to the end. Do your best to remain consistent in the messages you send out and ensure you send them out regularly. Once the messages are out there, be patient, results will follow, in time! To learn more about marketing and patience please click here.

3. Handling Customers: Prospects and customers have an uncanny ability for getting under your skin, often driving you close to insanity. It is important to learn to keep one’s composure when dealing with difficult customers. There are several strategies which can be employed to help relieve some of the frustration, these include correct identification of prospects, using CRM software and having disqualification processes. To learn in greater detail about customer handling strategies please click here.

4. Employees: Managing employees effectively requires great levels of patience. They can be a handful, specially when the organization is growing rapidly and micro management is not an option. To help develop  patience levels for this, learning to set realistic expectations and providing continuous feedback is vital. To learn in greater detail strategies for management of employees please click here.

5. PRICE of Impatience: The price of impatience is, pain, regret, irritation, close-mindedness and becoming emotional. Each one of these can have a defining impact on your business, team and relationships. By not developing adequate tolerance levels to handle the complexities of business, reaching one’s goal can be a challenging process. It is important we learn to ask ourselves “Can I afford the price of my impatience?”. To learn more about the price of impatience please click here.

Developing a high threshold of patience, helps make the difficult challenges we face daily, more manageable. It enables us to enjoy life in a more fulfilling and satisfied manner, which in turn helps us to go on to achieve great things. Everyone will have moments, when lack of patience gets the better of them, keeping these incidents to a minimum, and being vigilant and pro-active about such lapses is essential. It is only when we become aware of patience thresholds, can we work to keep increasing them.

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The Price of Impatience

“One moment of patience may ward off great disaster.  One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.” Chinese Proverb

This week we discussed several scenarios where patience is tested on the entrepreneurial journey. For the last post of this series I will focus on the ‘price’ we pay for lack of patience. Understanding the price of impatience is as important as developing patience. All of us have experienced instances where our patience gave way, and we did or said things which impacted negatively on our life and caused regret. What is important, is that we learn from these temporary lapses and ensure they do not occur again. If we don’t, we run the risk of always being angry, upset and dissatisfied with the progress of our growth. 

Outlined below is what I define the PRICE of impatience to be:

1. Pain: Whenever we lose patience, we cause pain to both affected parties. Often, this is embedded in our subconscious and a recall of that memory, can be a painful experience. There are times when a degree of pain helps us realize all that we should be grateful for. Too much pain however, can be the cause of major instability in life.

2. Regret: Sometimes during lapses of patience, we find ourselves doing and saying things, we would never do ordinarily. It all happens so quickly, and we only begin to understand its impact after everything is said and done. That is when the regret sets in, and if we fail to move forward at this point, it has a domino effect on the self. Regret about something which happened in the past is definitive only by the lesson we learn from it, we must learn to avoid acting in a similar manner again.

3. Irritation: Patience and irritation are negatively correlated, when patience is on the decrease we experience a heightened level of irritation. Nothing and nobody seems to be right anymore. It is like a virus that drains energy out of a team. We have to keep this emotion in check constantly when we are running low on patience, it is one of the easiest ones to give into. 

4. Close-minded: When we lose patience, it is like a switch goes off and blocks everything around us. We become increasingly selfish in our outlook and begin to believe that only we know how to do anything right. This is a dangerous path to tread, the price we pay for this attitude is a serious one. 

5. Emotional: We lose our patience and suddenly, all logic and rationale goes out the window and we find ourselves making emotional decisions. These are usually clouded with the false notion that we know best. This also triggers our saying and doing things that have the ability to cause pain and suffering to those around us. Is a lapse in patience really worth destroying something you may have spent a lifetime nurturing? 

Whenever you find yourself in a position where your patience is wearing thin, ask yourself the following question: “Can I afford the price of my impatience?”. It is important to take into account the larger picture. If we do not, our outlook will remain selfishly restricted to me, myself and I. Is it really worth it?

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Employees and Patience

“The five steps in teaching an employee new skills are preparation, explanation, showing, observation and supervision.” Bruce Barton

Two characteristics often found in entrepreneurs is, the need for perfectionism and control. When teams are small, this works to their advantage, however, when business expands, these characteristics tend to be more disruptive by nature. For example, when the business starts to grow, it is inevitable that more resources will need to be hired to keep up with growth. The selection process itself is a difficult process for start-ups with limited experience. The real fun begins when you have these new resources on board and most of the time, they don’t know what they signed up for. Earlier on, I expected the same work ethic, dedication and sacrifices from them as I did of myself. That didn’t go so well, I soon found myself getting impatient as I had set unrealistic expectations. My perception of the scenario was biased, in the process I lost many good people. I learned a thing a two about patience during this time.

Some of the key things to keep in mind next time you feel your patience wearing thin are:

1. Set Realistic Expectations: To expect the people who work for you, to make the same level of sacrifices that you may be making is not correct. From the word go, we have to temper our expectations and more importantly, outline them before you start the selection process. This way, while recruiting there will be more detail, which will help the prospect to make a more informed decision. Keeping broad guidelines for what you want from an employee, will result in both sides being negatively effected.

2. Holding Hands: The on-boarding process takes time, this is the time to help the employee make necessary adjustments to fit into the organization. Bring them up to speed with the projects they will be working on and acquaint them with all the set processes. It takes an average of 1-2 months to bring an employee up to speed, till they start contributing to their potential. Make sure you help them as much as possible to speed up the process.

3. Feedback: We are all human and we all make mistakes sometimes. Instead of coming down hard on an employee regarding their work ethic, performance or behavior, provide feedback on steps to take to bring about positive change. Doing this effectively takes time and a lot of patience. Even when they mess up the proposal, don’t do a good job at that presentation or keep coming late to work, provide them with timely feedback. 

These are simple steps to take, to help become more patient with your employees. Incorporate them into your organization and see increased performance results, calmer working environment and a motivated workforce. Along the way, you will develop the patience required, to scale the business further and help manage people all over the globe. Remember, it is not possible to do everything ourself. Learn to sacrifice a little bit of that perfectionism and control, it will go a long way, in the larger scheme of things. 

Related Articles:

5 Steps to Hiring Better

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Are customers testing your patience?

“You can’t just ask customers what they want then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” Steve Jobs

Prospects and customers have an uncanny ability of getting under your skin, often driving you close to the verge of insanity. It all begins when you begin to identify potential prospects for your target segment. Those first couple of cold calls, emails and introductions set the wheels of the sales cycle into motion. Then it begins, the non responses, the transferring of your calls all over the company, being on hold for ages and even some rude responses. At this level you need to be somewhat thick skinned, you should then not have a problem getting through this stage with a list of higher probability prospects. It is during the next couple of stages when you have initial meetings, send proposals and quotations that your patience really begins to get tested. This stage differentiates the sales people who succeed, and those who just get by.

Over the last couple of years some tips that helped me during this period are:

1. Prospect Selection: In today’s market place, no one really cares for the generalist anymore. It is slowly becoming a market where niche specialists have a marked competitive advantage. I would therefore suggest you tailor your sales strategy to focus on a particular market segment and cover it extensively. If your prospect list selection covers any and everybody the number of mild leads will drive you insane. Be selective and choose your segment wisely. Next build a prospect list specific to that segment and start to make inroads.

2. CRM Software: If you are not using one for your sales development and pipeline monitoring, I would strongly suggest you look into one for your organization. If you haven’t used CRM software before, start by using simple systems such as the ones available at 37signals.com. These help tremendously in making correspondence with prospects structured, efficient and professional. It also allows you to get a dashboard view of what is moving in your pipeline and what is not.

3. Disqualification: Customers who are not interested or ready for your product/service at the present moment should be disqualified from your list. These are clients who gather information from you, and then become dormant. I suggest you develop certain time quotas, after which, if the prospect does not respond they should be disqualified from your qualification process. If this step is not done it will drain a lot of your time without necessary results. 

4. Contracts: Once you have signed up a customer for your product/service, make sure you sign comprehensive contracts with them, these must cover exactly what you will be delivering to them. Failure to do this will result in some customers asking for more than promised and you will find yourself in a difficult position. There are few things more irritating than a customer who continues to ask for changes, reviews and modifications during the delivery process. 

I don’t completely agree with the statement that “the customer is always right”. There are some situations when you will have to draw the line. Difficult customers end up costing the organization a great deal. They increase the level of frustration within the team and decrease morale. Constantly review your prospect and customer list, I use a rating system in some of the companies I work with. This lets the entire team know which customers get priority over others. Focus your energy on those leads and customers where you have the greatest ability to cross sell and develop deep relationships with.

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