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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5 Ways To Be a Better Team Member

“In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product and profits. Unless you’ve got a good team, you can’t do much with the other two.” Lee Iacocca

“Are you giving your best to the team you are working with?” All of us, who are part of any team, must ask ourselves this question periodically. It forces us to look at the larger picture, and how our actions affect it, for better or for worse. This is vital for our own personal development as well as the team’s progress. Having worked with many teams, I know first hand how easy it is to play the blame game. Team member X is not giving enough time, member Y is not bringing the value he/she is supposed to, a myriad of such thoughts constantly float in your head. We need to make a fundamental shift in our thinking, and focus on giving 100% to the team. We cannot compromise our commitment because other individuals on the team are not pulling their weight. What we can do, is become more proactive in helping other members of the team grow, as well as ourselves.

Listed below are five ways to become a better team member and help the rest of your team follow suit as well.

1. Playing to your Strengths: Understanding and playing to your strengths is a process that takes time. It is important that we start this process as early as possible. There is  much trial and error involved in this discovery process. Often, we realize our choice is not showcasing our true potential. No problem! Use the experience as feedback and move forward. To learn more about playing to your strengths please click here.

2. Being Action Oriented: Team members, customers, suppliers and investors look for people who can deliver what they commit to. This trait is common in successful people, they do not over think things, they, just do it. The concept of “Ready, Fire, Aim” is one I believe in, it has has served me well over the last couple of years. It certainly accelerates the learning process, helps you add tangible value to business, and gets you the reputation of being the guy who gets things done. To read more about becoming action oriented please click here.

3. Giving and Asking for Feedback: 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, it is one where both the team and individual lose out. To learn more about giving and asking for feedback in an effective manner please click here.

4. Being Sensitive: Being sensitive is commonly associated with weakness and insecurity in business. I do not believe this, I believe, this is an essential personal characteristic, specially one that entrepreneurs must possess. Being sensitive to the feelings of others, situations and circumstances allows you to focus on larger issues in a more comprehensive manner. Highly effective team members understand the need for sensitivity when dealing with issues which impact the entire team. To learn more about sensitivity in team dynamics please click here.

5. Paying the Price: Every team member has to pay a price when he/she becomes part of a larger entity. For a team to work effectively together, they need to reach a stage where there is price equilibrium. This creates a situation where everyone on the team has similar vested interests and are fully committed to its success. The price of being a team member consists of many elements, two of the most prominent ones are, time and sacrifices. It is critical that all team members find a balance to maintain stability within the team. To learn more about the price of being a team member please click here.

Being the best team member that you can be, is each team member’s responsibility. We have to continuously focus our energies on bringing increasing value to our organization. This may, sometimes be at the cost of your own personal goals, time and other opportunities. When you make a commitment to be part of a venture, remember, to identify the price of entering into the agreement beforehand. This is something to keep in mind when embarking on any entrepreneurial journey. Usually the price for entry is steep, by the same token, so are the rewards. Success is the result of consistent action towards identified goals. The better you perform as a team, the faster you can reach those goals.

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Paying the Price

“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” Anonymous

Every team member has to pay a price when he/she becomes part of a larger entity. For a team to work effectively together, they need to reach a stage where there is price equilibrium. This creates a situation where everyone on the team has similar vested interests and are fully committed to its success. Reaching such a level is a difficult process, because “price” is relative. If a team consists of 2 junior partners along with 2 senior partners should each member be paying the same price? If a team consists of 3 partners out of which 2 have sacrificed their social life should the third follow suit? I have debated this topic with a lot of people and am always surprised when I hear unique responses to some of the questions asked above.

At the end of most discussions however, there is a consensus that “price equilibrium” needs to exist in every team, it just varies according to the circumstances. Two key aspects of the price one needs to pay, to be part of a team are:

1. Time: Time is a vital and required input into an organization, majors rifts are caused in the team if this is not done seriously. Team members need to dedicate the time they have committed to. For example, if you have a partner who is assisting you while keeping his day job, it is his/her responsibility to be contribute to the team during nights and weekends. When one of the team runs multiple businesses, it is essential to demarcate time commitments according to your level of involvement. Without contributing time an individual is causing a disequilibrium and it usually has nasty consequences.

2. Sacrifices: When you embark on an entrepreneurial venture, get ready to make serious sacrifices. Building a business is not an easy task, it requires all members of the teams to sacrifice their own personal goals for team goals. Many find this difficult to do, some have lifestyles which they want to maintain and others may not be ready to give up personal goals. The fact of the matter is, if you are not ready to sacrifice your time, money and opportunities, do not join a startup. If you are part of the team and you are not sacrificing, in comparison to other members, it is time to step up.

In order to become a valued and key member of your team, it is essential that you are willing to pay the price required. If you find the price too steep, let all your team members know. It becomes challenging to keep paying out and not receiving anything in return during the early stages of your organization. Therefore it is critical to find out more about the team you want to join, before, you sign up. Find out what sort of price you are going to have to pay and whether you are going to be willing to do so. Doing this will make both your life and those of the other team members a lot simpler.

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Being Sensitive

“It is… axiomatic that we should all think of ourselves as being more sensitive than other people because, when we are insensitive in our dealings with others, we cannot be aware of it at the time: conscious insensitivity is a self-contradiction.” W. H. Auden

The topic of discussion today is not a subject you usually find on business blogs. Being sensitive is commonly associated with weakness and insecurity in business. I do not believe this however, I believe this is an essential personal characteristic, specially one that entrepreneurs must possess. Understanding this, is the result of interactions with my mentors, who have constantly impressed upon me the importance of being sensitive to your team members, customers and suppliers. I have seen and experienced this in my own interactions of working with several teams over the last couple of years. Being sensitive to the feelings of others, situations and circumstances allows you to focus on larger issues in a more comprehensive manner.

Being a team member will inevitably result in times when the situation requires compromise and taking action in ways you may not always be comfortable with. Reactions to such situations can often be the ‘make or break’ factor for some teams. The key factor in all of this, boils down to balance. Being either overly sensitive or insensitive, bring their own share of difficulties. Maintaining a balance between both extremes requires discipline, an open mind and flexibility. I have worked with several people who have had trouble maintaining this composure, it has invariably led to difficult situations. 

Highly effective team members understand the need for sensitivity when dealing with issues which impact the entire team. Some areas requiring sensitivity are:

1. Dealing with conflict: The manner of handling conflict is a telling sign of whether balance can be maintained between extremes. For example, an individual is in a conflict with another team mate for not contributing adequately to the team. If you were the person who brought up this issue with your team member, your tone, rationale and way of handling this issue is critical.

2. Dealing with change: Whenever an organization undergoes a structural change process, substantial friction is created. This could be when individuals are required to move out of their comfort zone. As an effective team member, it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone on the team is given enough support during this transitional period. Focusing selfishly on yourself or how this change process will impact you alone, is not a winning attitude.

3. Dealing with loss: Every organization has its share of ups and downs. It is during down periods that a team is required to come together and figure out how to fix the situation. I have learnt, dealing with organizational loss tends to bring out the ugly side of people. The fact is, no one likes to lose, but it is a part of life. The success of a team comes down to, how we react to such situations and whether we are able to handle it well collectively as a team.

I agree entirely that some people are more sensitive than others. It is important however, that everyone on the team does their best in dealing with difficult situations and individuals, with an open mind. This attitude will not only help create stronger bonds between all team members, it will also make you stronger as a person. The next time you find yourself in a difficult situation, do your best to understand where the other person is coming from as well. Always remember to treat others in the same manner you would like to be treated yourself.

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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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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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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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