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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Handling Conflicts

“Conflict is the gadify of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheeplike passivity and sets us at noting and contriving.” John Dewey

All of us face conflict at one point of time or other. It does not matter how non-confrontational you may be, it is something that one needs to have the ability to handle. Everyone has different ways of handling conflict. It depends on the issue at hand, core values and beliefs, and one’s personal disposition. When all these factors come together, it becomes a complex issue which needs to be handled with sensitivity and care. Unfortunately, not many people are adept at handling such situations, and may shy away from them to maintain a status quo. This leads to a further amplification of the problem at hand, and could lead to additional issues and problems. 

Working at a start-up or a relatively young company with a decentralized structure, conflict is inevitable. Being of a non-confrontational nature myself, I used to avoid these uncomfortable situations, for a long time. After sometime, I began to see how my behavior was making conditions worse, and was affecting the rest of the team as well. That is when I began to pay greater attention to resolving these conflicts as soon as possible, to maintain a healthy environment in the workplace and to ensure that morale levels were kept high. It is imperative to keep the larger picture in mind when dealing with conflict,  to fully understand what is at stake.

Over the course of this week, I will go over a couple of key points of conflict resolution which I have learned over time, to deal with conflict in a much more efficient and effective manner. Due to the complex nature of conflicts, and depending on the intensity and number of people involved, these points will act as markers to help look at the matter objectively. At the same time, I would really like to hear from you regarding any specific conflicts that you may have experienced during your entrepreneurial journey. In the coming months I plan on adding a section for case studies, conflict resolution is always interesting. I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy the series.

 

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The first critical discussion for most teams

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
Henry Ford

You have come a long way since discovering yourself. Realizing what is important to you. Finding people who share the same core values and ambitions. A business concept is agreed on and you find yourselves prepping for one of the most important discussions that will shape how the team operates from here on out. Who does what? How much do I get for it?. Early on in my first couple of businesses we were usually all friends. So we would reach very vague agreements that pretty much everyone would be doing just about everything and we would split the equity of the company equally between everyone. At the time this seemed like a great idea, there was no conflict and this was the fastest way to get going. This is the greatest advantage of using this method when answering these questions. With experience though I have witnessed the dark side of this option as well.

Among the first things that usually happens with this agreement will be; some team members are pulling more than their own weight. This is also a natural progression as clear objectives for each team member are not given. Resulting in some team members realizing that they don’t have to do too much and can just tag along for the ride. I had this happen to me quite a few times. It becomes like Survivor , the TV show. People begin to form alliances and plan to oust members out of the tribe. It becomes unpleasant because before this venture we were all friends. Friendships are lost forever, confrontations are a common occurrence and usually something like 5 months down the line you have lost friends, money and even your passion to ever do business again.

After I learned this lesson the hard way a couple of times I decided to do research on the topic and find a better way to go about it. I have been using a method which I am still perfecting along the way. It provides a more structured approach to this common problem and it has resulted in reaching agreements which set out clear objectives, expectations and commitment.

There are a couple of key concepts that need to be agreed upon first. When starting any business every team member should understand that they are taking a substantial risk. Everyone in the team should believe 100% in the idea or concept. Before the business starts the idea is worth exactly $0. So having heated arguments about the millions of dollars you are going to make in the coming years is a bit premature and frankly making castles in the air. Once we have reached this stage we can move to the next.

There are a 4 key components which are involved in equity split up:

1. Commitment: Will the team member be full time, part time, work over the weekend or on a consultant basis.

2. Experience of the partners: Partners who have successfully sold companies, worked at a startup companies, have experience working in the corporate world, have gained expertise in a given field or skill set, have had international exposure in multiple markets.

3. What skills are they bringing to the table: Is a team member bringing a critical skill set to the business model? Do they have substantial experience in managerial skills, sales and marketing, public relations, technical/IT, customer support. Every team member should identify how they are going to bring value by being part of the team.

4. Money: Every team member needs to have skin in the game. Without it team mates feel you are free riding. So every team member has to decide what sort of money or sweat equity he/she is prepared to put into the venture.

Each component can be a allocated a particular weightage. Depending on what type of startup venture it is. Some are capital intensive others are experience dependent. Once a weight has been allocated you will be able to gauge in a much more practical way “how much should you get?”. After the venture begins you have to put into place performance benchmarks to ensure that team mates are actually doing what they committed to. This will be talked about tomorrow.

I hope this system helps makes the process of “who gets what” a little simpler and I wish you all the very best in your new ventures.

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