Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

Do you give and ask for feedback?

“What is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters: abcdef? Answer: feedback. Don’t forget that feedback is one of the essential elements of good communication.” Anonymous

Regular readers of my blog will be able to identify with the topic discussed today, feedback. Today, we will discuss feedback specifically in relationship to teams and it’s members. When working with any team and specially a close knit startup team, it is essential that communication remain open at all times. In the flurry of developing the product, chasing the suppliers and completing the marketing material, communication channels tend to get clogged up, resulting in much distortion. This break down of communication eventually leads to the creation of an environment in which it is difficult to work with each other. To avoid reaching this state, we need a culture of candor and feedback in the organization.

When giving feedback to someone, it is essential to keep a couple of things in mind, to make sure that the person actually benefits from what you want to let him/her know. There is no point in telling Tim “You are always late, I think you should do something about this habit of yours.” If I were Tim I wouldn’t be very happy with that sort of feedback. I would much rather like to hear, “I have noticed that you have not been able to make our weekly morning meetings for the last 3 weeks, is there something I could do to assist you in making it to the next one? Is there a particular problem you are facing that is causing you to come late? I know this great book about time management and I think it could be of great help to you, I will give it to you by the end of today.”

Good feedback consists of:

1. Timing: Feedback needs to be provided at the appropriate time and place. There is no point bringing up something which happened 3 weeks ago. Deal with it as soon as you can. If required make sure it is done in private to reduce anxiety or pressure.

2. Specific: Avoid using words like “always” and “never” which do not correctly portray the situation. In order to be constructive, feedback needs to be specific in nature. Avoid being sarcastic, very frank and overly aggressive. The reason we provide and receive feedback is to help others and, ourselves. Always treat the other person how you would want to be treated, because tomorrow, that person could be providing you with feedback.

3. Clarity: Sometimes even if we are being specific the meaning doesn’t actually come across clearly. For example “We have missed you during the last 3 weekly morning meetings, there is a lot of critical information shared during these meetings and the team would like you to be a part of them. Team work is essential for our organization to grow and given that we are struggling with this quarter’s number we really need you to cooperate with us on this matter.” The meaning has been partially lost and now the receiver of the feedback is not sure what to make of it.

4. Action Steps: Whenever feedback is proposed it is essential that it is followed up with some action steps which include targets, timelines and metrics to help the individual. Without these, we more often than not, revert back to our old habits, making the entire feedback loop redundant. Therefore, when giving or asking for feedback, make sure that that goals are set to help monitor progress.

The art of successfully giving feedback comes with experience and time. By providing feedback you add value to the team and all of its members. There will be times when feedback will be uncomfortable and these are situations you need to learn to manage. Suffering in silence is not a smart strategy and one where both the team and individual lose out.

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There is no Failure only Feedback

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Are you action oriented?

“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There will always be some people on a team who are constantly coming up with ideas, different scenarios and ways to take the team forward. These are great people to have on a team and are an amazing resource to motivate and inspire other team members.  There is a flip side to this coin as well, if this individual does all the talking, without delivering, it can be a serious issue. When someone is an ideas person, or works on the strategic element of the business, some form of action needs to be taken on it . This can be in the implementation of the concept, in the trial of the business model or even gathering feedback from the rest of the team. Hence, there need to be clearly defined action steps, for practical implementation.

There have been numerous occasions when I have been on teams where you find a particular individual providing the bulk of ideas and suggestions, but, they never put down action steps. If this happens continuously, rather than being a source of motivation, this converts into a source of frustration for the rest of the team. It is true that everyone provides value to the team in different ways. In my experience however, individuals who do not shoulder responsibility and shy away from taking action, isolate themselves. Being action oriented is a critical characteristic in any individual, more so in an entrepreneur. There needs to be a sense of urgency for execution, rather than prolonged deliberation. When assessing yourself, and how you add value to your team, ask yourself whether you consider yourself as action oriented or not?. Next, ask others for feedback to learn which areas you need to improve on for taking action.

Team members, customers, suppliers and investors look for people who can deliver on what they commit to. This trait is common to most successful people who don’t just over think things, but, just do it. The concept of “Ready, Fire, Aim” is a theme I believe in, it has has served me well over the last couple of years. It certainly accelerates the learning process, helps you add more tangible value to your business, and gets you the reputation of being the guy who gets things done. If you are sitting on the sidelines waiting for that perfect opportunity, I strongly suggest you get your feet wet, and take things as they come.

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Lights…Camera…Action!

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Are you playing to your strengths?

“A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.” Larry Bird

In my first couple of ventures I had little knowledge of my strengths, and most importantly, team dynamics. Team roles were fluid, it seemed everyone was doing each other’s job without getting too much accomplished. This eventually led to team break downs, on account of lack of communication, frustration and most importantly, lack of direction.  I had a couple of expensive real life courses in team dynamics. An important lesson I learnt along the way was, each one of us must find our particular and specific skill set, and hone it into a major strength. The challenging part about this task is, this identification process is not as straightforward as it appears to be.

The following are a couple of things to help make this identification process easier:

1. Ask for advice: This should be one of the first steps to take during this discovery process.To begin with, make a list of people whom you have worked with, been mentored by, been managed by, and close friends and family who know you well. This will help you to pin down recurring themes which crop up during your interaction with different people. To conclude this step, make a list of skill sets which the group thought you excelled at.

2. Ask yourself: Look at the list you have developed and start to make linkages with how you displayed those skill sets in the past. Which ones came to you naturally ?, Which ones gave you the most satisfaction?, Which ones were you most comfortable in. Experience is a great teacher and must be relied upon to help make this process easier.

3. Take a personality test: There are many great tests which you can take to help assess strengths and work place based preferences. Get feedback on your test scores from a certified consultant to help you understand your report with greater insight. This will give you a holistic picture of who you are. When I first took a personality test I was amazed at the report. We have so many subconscious preferences. Personality tests help make you consciously aware of your tendencies.

4. What do you aspire to be?: This is one of those questions you hear so often as a child. However I have noticed that as we grow older no one asks this of us anymore, a lot of the time we don’t ask it of ourselves either. As life becomes more complex and complicated, we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture and lose ourselves in the detail. Who are your heros?, What or who inspires you? These are the sort of definitive questions you need to ask yourself to get in touch with who you really are.

Finding and then playing to your strengths is a long process and takes time. It is important that we start the process as early as possible, This will place us in a position to reach out as soon as possible. There is  much trial and error involved in the discovery process. Sometimes you realize your choice is not showcasing your true potential. No problem! Use the experience as feedback and move forward. The important thing is to be growing constantly, it is when we stop growing, that we lose out on what we can achieve.

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Mentors & Strength Finder

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Are you a good team player?

“Individual commitment to a group effort, that is what makes a team work, a company work, society work, a civilization work.” Vince Lombardi

Earlier, I have written about the creation of winning teams alongwith a couple of different aspects of team formation. The previous posts were written with a broad perspective of the team as a whole. This week I have chosen to zoom-in on the individual team player. I will talk about how an individual can make sure he is delivering his/her best when working in a team. Those of you who have worked with various teams realize that working cohesively as a team is a lot harder than it actually appears to be. I have had my share of difficult co-workers and teams, I am sure some may have thought the same of me. With so many intertwined dynamics, maintaining a state of equilibrium is not the easiest of thing to do.

This week I will discuss five steps you can take to become a better team player. However, there are a couple of ground rules which need to be established before going into that discussion. First and foremost, working as a team requires a 100% commitment from those involved. A team will only function efficiently if, the team as a whole, makes a commitment to remain honest and flexible. These two building blocks are essential for every member on the team. The environment we operate in is in a constant state of change, sometimes, that change may make us uncomfortable. It is essential that you voice your concerns and opinions while maintaining an environment of constructive candor in your organization.

Working in a team gives each one the ability to shine, to showcase strengths, and bring value to the team. Having worked with several teams for startups, I have seen both the good and the bad. When you are working at a startup, most of the time your team will consist of individuals who are fiercely competitive, have strong personalities and expect nothing but the best from each other. It becomes each and every team members responsibility to bring their “A” game to work everyday. This requires fanatical dedication to what you are doing and a belief that it is going to succeed. I hope this series will provide  insight into how to become a better team player.

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5 Steps to creating winning teams

“When it comes to anything that’s social, whether it’s your family, your school, your community, your business or your country, winning is a team sport.” Bill Clinton – 42nd American President

Over the course of this week we have explored the basic fundamental steps which need to be taken to get your dream team into place. It is definitely not the easiest of tasks. However with enough time spent in searching for these, the long term pay off is worth all the effort. The following will be five steps any individual should take when setting up his/her ideal team.

1. Identification of the self: Before we set out to find our teammates we have to first take a good look at ourselves. Who we are and what our core values are . This will help us to identify core strengths as well as vulnerabilities. We will then know to a great extent what sort of people we need to be on the look out for. A key factor of this step is acknowledging, that the law of attraction states that what you get is not determined by what you want. It is determined by who you are. To read more please click here.

2. 8 core characteristics checklist: After you have made an effort to understand who you are, you have to find individuals who share your core values and those of the business. These are individuals who understand the bigger picture and have the ability to execute on a micro level as well. They have a passion for what they do and strive to be the best at it. Once they commit to a goal they work arduously to reach it with honesty, integrity and within ethical and moral boundaries. Use this checklist whenever you are evaluating either joining a team or recruiting members for it. To read more please about the 8 core characteristics please click here.

3. The first critical discussion:This is a step which is usually overlooked or not given enough importance by startup teams. The core question surrounding this meeting is “Who does what?” and “Who gets what?”. These are fundamental questions which need to be answered and talked about extensively before starting operations. If the key points such as commitment levels and amount of capital injection isn’t talked about clearly it results in the team not performing at its potential and usually leads to the beginning of an ugly down cycle for the the team as a whole. To read more about what needs to be discussed in this meeting click here.

4. Performance Management Processes: When teams are new, productivity is usually high. As time goes by there will be a series of highs and lows. These in turn affect productivity and efficiency within the group. If you don’t monitor productivity closely you will end up with polarized teams. These result in factions between the highly productive and the mediocre performers, which in turn causes the entire team’s productivity to decrease and may even result in the team breaking up. In order to keep close tabs on this a team must run regular performance appraisals to monitor the teams progress towards targeted goals and commitments. To read more on performance management processes please click here.

5. Rewards and Recognition Strategy: Team members make a substantial investment when they join startup ventures. They are hoping for a greater payoff for the substantial risk that they are taking. If the team doesn’t manage its rewards and recognition strategy correctly, there will be a loss of morale which directly impacts productivity of the team. We have to ensure that the team collectively decides on attractive rewards and recognition for team members who perform above the average. This will create an environment which is conducive to growth as it pushes everyone in the team that much harder. Correctly managed rewards and recognition strategies are a critical factor which need to be put into place when creating winning teams. To read more about rewards and recognition strategies please click here.

To wrap it all up, first get to know who you are – then look for individuals who excel on the 8 core characteristics checklist – ensure that before starting the project you have clearly recorded who is going to be doing what and what he/she will be getting – track performance extremely closely – reward team members when they excel. Following these simple steps will enable you to get a startup off the ground faster, with greater efficiency and well prepared for the long run.Paying attention to yesterday posts title will translate into. Together Everyone Achieves More = TEAM.I hope everyone has benefited from this week’s topic. If you have any specific queries, questions or suggestions please get in touch.

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