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 Write a Customer Value Proposition

“The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy. The essence of trust building is to emphasize the similarities between you and the customer.” Thomas J Watson

A customer value proposition (CVP) is a direct reflection of how your organization brings value to your target segment. It helps them answer the fundamental question “Why should I buy from you instead of your competitor?” A well developed CVP has the ability to transfer your target segment’s attention to the distinctive advantages of your product/service, and the reason they should select it. If the CVP is generic and abstract, with fancy words which do not translate into tangible value for the customer, it is of no consequence. Listed below are five steps to help you develop a winning CVP.

1. Customer Identification: Who is your target customer? Instead of answering this question with generic answers such as multinational companies, teenagers or women, be more specific in your approach. An analysis outlining the customer’s needs and their current pain points is the need of the hour. If your product/service does not fulfill a need, it will be difficult for your organization to generate substantial traction. Therefore, the first step requires understanding your target customer and ensuring that the essence of your CVP reflects an unfulfilled need. To read more about customer identification please click here.

2. Distinct Advantages: What makes your product/service special? If your product/service is homogenous in comparison to the rest, chances of getting lost in the crowd are, high. Your product/service must provide customers with a simple and clear reason to choose your organization over the competition. This being a vital component of your customer value proposition, it is essential that substantial time and effort is put into identification and development of these edges. To read more about discovering your organization’s distinct advantages please click here.

3. Measuring Value: If your product/service does not bring tangible benefit to your target customer, chances of recurring business is diminished. During customer research, you will discover pain points for your customers. These need to be addressed by adding metrics to monitor positive changes through your product/service. Once the customer understands the value you bring to their organization, they are able to select you with greater ease and provide recurring business. To read more about measuring the value brought by your product/service please click here.

4. Sustainability: With the claims made in a CVP, an organization is making a promise to its target segment. This could be in the form of creating efficiency, increasing productivity, stimulating sales or even making life easier. When the customer selects your service, they expect to receive the benefit promised to them. It is critical that organizations understand what it takes to keep those promises, and to continually make good on them. Making big claims is the easy part, delivering on those claims is what sets the winners apart. To read more about sustainability of your CVP please click here.

5. Competitor Comparison: Every company has their strengths and weaknesses. However most companies are so engrossed internally, they forget to pay attention to their competition. For a CVP to be most effective, it must clearly provide the prospect with a reason to be selected over another competing product. It must bolster its strengths and play against their competitors most exposed weaknesses. With the constant changes taking place in our world today, do not lose sight of the competition, always remain vigilant about all potential and major changes. To read more about competitor comparison and your CVP please click here.

Developing a good CVP takes time and effort. It is not something which can be done in a single day. It requires a thorough analysis of your industry, competitors and yourself. A comprehensive understanding of market dynamics and the industry’s pain points will help construct a CVP which addresses market concerns and bridges it with solutions. A well developed CVP can be a great source of inspiration and motivation for the entire organization. Make sure you allocate adequate time and resources for its construction.

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Competitor Comparison

“Concentrate your strengths against your competitor’s relative weaknesses.” Paul Gauguin

Your customer value proposition (CVP) needs to be benchmarked against your competitors. Prospects will always ask the question “Why should we choose you over them?”. As mentioned in earlier posts, ensure a distinctive advantage, tangible metrics and a proposition which is sustainable over a period of time. When formulating a CVP the competition must always be kept in mind. Irrespective of whether you have experienced success relatively quickly or whether it has taken a longer period of time, the tendency to become complacent  is always there. It is at these moments that we are at our weakest, and our vulnerabilities exposed.

When initially constructing your CVP, it is vital to do a sweep of all the local competition. This will enable you to:

1. Position yourself: It is important to position yourself correctly in relation to your strengths and the competition’s weakness. We are always looking to operate in that sweet spot where our competitors are at a disadvantage, and target customers are able to make a clear and easy choice about whom to choose and why.

2. Focus: There are areas, where our competitors have clearly developed strong competencies, which make it difficult for new entrants to penetrate. After a thorough analysis, the aim should be to collect all the vulnerabilities in the competition’s defense and amplify them. This is best done by focusing marketing and research efforts to ensure development in areas where the competition is at its weakest.

3. Understand trends: By continuously monitoring the competition, a keen insight into future trends in your industry is developed. This enables developing core expertise in those areas before the competition and can put you in a strong position to potentially disrupt the market. 

Once the analysis is complete, the wordings in your CVP should reflect the strengths of your organization in comparison to those of your competitors. With the constant changes taking place in our world today, do not lose sight of the competition, always remain vigilant about all potential and major changes. 

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Keeping Promises

“Never promise more than you can perform.” Publilius Syrus

Imagine if FedEx did not get your package to its target destination overnight! Would you use or recommend the service to anyone again? Probably not. As customers of products/services, we expect them to deliver on their promise. Inability to match expectations, results in unhappy customers, and more importantly, negative word of mouth publicity. Such publicity is viral in nature, can spread like wildfire, and could well mean the end of the road for your organization. Deciding to play it safe and not putting anything on the line, chances are you will never really stand out in a crowd. A fine balance has to be maintained to ensure customer satisfaction, while ensuring your organization is able to stand out in a crowd.

Look at renown brands in the market place today, notice the promises each is making. Volvo promises safety, Energizer batteries promise to last longer, Domino’s promises to get you your pizza in less than 30 minutes and Disney promises entertainment for the entire family. Each one of these companies makes a commitment, then ensures they deliver on the promise. Anyone of them, failing to consistently deliver on their promise, would not find their name on the list above. Many companies however, make big promises these days, come through initially, but are not able to make that commitment a sustainable one. 

When developing your customer value proposition (CVP) and committing to increase efficiency, boost productivity or bring a smile to your customers, it is critical to lay a solid foundation to continually provide those experiences. Making big claims is the easy part, delivering on those claims is what sets the winners apart. Carefully think through promises to your clients, ensure the ability or develop the capability to deliver on those promises on an ongoing basis. Remember, all it takes is one major fall to bring down everything you have worked hard to build. 

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Measuring Value

“The trouble with measurement is its seeming simplicity.” Anonymous

If you have ever pitched a product or service to a prospect, there is no doubt you have heard the question “How is this product/service going to help my organization?”. If the reply to this question is abstract, vague and includes words such as speed, efficiency or productivity, without any tangible figures or results, closing the deal will be a challenging proposition. When I say tangible results, it does not mean they have to be precise, they should however provide the prospect with something to create a frame of reference. For example, Domino’s Pizza gets your pizza to you in less than 30 minutes, FedEx gets your packages to its target destination overnight and M&M say, their milk chocolate will melt in your mouth and not your hands. Three world renown companies, each with a differing degree of measurement attached to their product/services. 

The bottom line is, if your product/service does not have the ability to bring tangible benefit to your target market, chances of success are slim. The question coming to mind now, should be, “What sort of tangible benefit can my product/service provide my target market?” Entire books, courses and seminars have been created around this one critical question. If a company is able to answer this question with a tangible benefit of great value to its target market, success is not far. However, answering this question is not as straightforward as it appears.

These are a couple of pointers to help start discussions around this particular question with your team:

1. Identification of pain points: An organization’s product/service is developed in order to address a certain pain point that the target market may have. Initially national post offices promised prospects that they would get their packages to their destination. The process was slow but efficient and there was no alternative. FedEx comes along, and addresses this pain point by promising to get your package to it’s target destination, over night. This example shows,  to get faster traction your product/service has to address correct pain points.

2. Establishing metrics: Once you have addressed a particular pain point, measure how it is superior to the  alternatives. FedEx aims to get your package to its target destination overnight. The stress is on the speed  of package delivery. Identify key metrics to ensure, that prospects will be able to clearly measure the benefits of using your product/service. There are many examples in the market place, mutual funds offer specific returns, sports cars tell you how fast they can go and some software promises specific increases in productivity. 

3. Case Studies: Actions and results speak larger than words. If you are a new company and have a product/service which has not been commercially tested, I strongly suggest you find your first pilot customer as soon as possible. Most established companies look at start-ups with suspicion, at the back of their minds, they wonder if you can actually deliver. I believe it is a justified stance and one which we need to learn to live with. To counter it, find a customer, do a commercial implementation and track just about everything you can. Afterwards, analyze which metrics have value and focus on those.

This is by far one of the most challenging steps one has to take in the development of a good customer value proposition (CVP). Much time needs to be spent in identification of correct metrics and related data collection. However it is well worth the effort. The next time you pitch your product/service to a prospect remember to tell them exactly how you will be benefiting their organization. It will clearly increase the probability of closing the deal, the incremental increase however will depend on how well you have mapped out your CVP. 

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Distinctive Advantages

“Strategy used to be about protecting existing competitive advantage, but not any more. Today it is about finding the next advantage.” Vijay Govindarajan, Chris Trimble

A customer value proposition without a distinctive competitive edge is an incomplete one. If your organization can sell books online just like any other seller why should customers buy from your store? When you create a distinctive competitive advantage, it sets you apart from your competitors and gives your organization an edge. For example Amazon has this brilliant one click ordering system, huge variety, and an intelligent reviewing system. Put it all together, and that is a most compelling reason to buy books from Amazon as compared to other online book stores. 

When FedEx started out they promised getting your package to its target destination overnight. Suddenly all other courier companies were scrambling to put together the resources required to offer the same. However, only very few have been able to come close, and today FedExing a document or package has become the norm. FedEx was able to leverage on this distinctive advantage and used it to create a high entry barrier. This clearly demonstrates how an organization can strengthen its position in the market place with a distinctive competitive advantage. 

Identification and development of your organization’s distinctive advantage entails:

1. Internal review: Do a thorough scan of your organization’s strengths and capabilities. Do a function by function analysis which includes looking at your, management, production, sales, customer support, finance, operations, marketing and Information technology functions. Analyze which ones are helping you most in promoting and expanding your business. 

2. Developing: Once you have identified a function or process which sets your organization apart from the rest, you need to develop it further. This is done by strengthening the advantage with a greater allocation of resources as well as developing complementary assets around your competitive edge. This will not only widen your edge it will make it much harder for the competition to replicate it quickly. 

3. Reviewing: To remain competitive in today’s dynamic market place requires your organization to be extremely vigilant about changes taking place. Many organizations become too comfortable and in their complacency allow competitors to catch up. Constantly innovating and reviewing your edge is an expensive exercise which does not show immediate results. However to ensure that your organization keeps its position in the market place, it is a must. 

Distinctive advantages do not necessarily have to be unique. They must however provide customers with a simple and clear reason why they should choose your organization over the competition. Being a vital component of your customer value proposition, it is essential that substantial time and effort is put into the identification and development of these edges. Without them, the probability of long term success is greatly reduced. 

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Who is your customer?

“The road toward being successfully different usually involves one of three broad initiatives: leveraging a deeper understanding of customer needs; exploiting a deeper understanding of industry economics; or simply having the courage to challenge conventional wisdom-to overturn “the way we’ve always done it.” David Rhodes, Michael Ackland

On the surface this seems a trivial question. Everyone has a vague idea about who their customer is. Ask any business owner or entrepreneur and the answer will vary according to their respective businesses. Answers I hear often are, Small Medium Enterprises (SME), Multinational Companies (MNC), Teenagers, Baby Boomers or Technology Enthusiasts. A lot of the businesses then proceed to market and pitch to everyone in their market segment. Eventually they find themselves back at the drawing table wondering why their product/service is not selling. The fact of the matter is, many smaller and younger businesses hardly ever invest the time to research and find exactly who their customer is. Going after broad segments like SMEs or Teenagers is suicidal for most start-ups, this takes up a lot of resources and is unable to effectively cater to such a large target audience. 

When an organization is developing its Customer Value Proposition (CVP), this question needs to be talked about and researched in great deal. This will not only save time and resources, it will provide a foundation to effectively market and sell your product/service. Some key concepts to keep in mind when mapping out your target customer are:

1. Be specific: Targeting everyone, with limited resources, is a strategy with a low success rate. Evaluating your product/service needs in-depth analysis of those who will most benefit from what you have to offer. Being specific will allow you to zone into a segment, and develop a niche, in the long run this will also develop into a competitive advantage. Some key concepts to keep in mind when profiling your target segment are:

2. Understand who your target customer is: Say for example, your organization provides services related to alternative advertising. Your target customers are SMEs with a turnover of less than $2m with products targeting the 18-24 demographic. To successfully sell your services, not only will your organization have to understand the SME’s marketing patterns but will also have to understand who their target segment is. Failure to do so will create a mismatch between what you propose and what is required.

3. Understand your target customers needs: It is essential that you satisfy your target customers needs and requirements. Sometimes these needs will be lower prices, higher quality products, 24/7 customer service support, environmentally friendly products or other specific requirements. Not understanding your prospect’s needs,  will cause a gap in your selling strategy. These will in turn, result in low conversion rates and directly impact the success of your business.

4. Research your target segment: To truly understand your customer, in-depth research is vital. This research must include maximum data collection, ranging from company size, turnover, organization structure, decision makers, influencers, press releases and product/service information. I like to build customer market research files, in which we gather data on all major players in our target segment and document them on a single sheet of paper for easy reference. 

Successful profiling of your target segment is an arduous task at the start of a venture. Many questions will come to mind, such as, “Are we limiting our target segment too much?”, “Is this a profitable segment to be in?”, “Am I sure who my target segment should be?”  as well as other such questions. These questions are good, they show a conscious effort to find the answers to the questions at hand, it does take time and experience to find these answers . However, if you adopt a “see how it works” strategy, document all your feedback and findings. Once you have collected substantial data, convert it into finding the segment you should be operating in as soon as possible. 

So who is your customer? 

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The Customer

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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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There is no Failure only Feedback

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