Building Trust with Transparency

Transparency is one of the best ways to build trust with your team. Here’s how:

Explain the company’s strategic initiatives, short/long term goals, deadlines and the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Do not assume your team understands your reasoning behind these objectives or that they understand how their roles specifically support these initiatives.

Share relevant financials along with explanations. Just because the company is bringing in money, doesn’t mean it’s time for pay increases!  The more your employees know about the company’s financial goals, plans, priorities, challenges and opportunities the more buy-in you’ll get from them.

In your leadership meetings encourage a ten minute How I Did It segment. An employee is invited to share a triumph – how their killer solution to a vexing problem saved the company time, money and/or valuable customers. Triumphant employees earn modest rewards like a gift card or an afternoon off.

If an employee intends to depart or is laid off, make their exit a friendly one. It’s never a good idea to burn bridges or leave on sour terms. Bad news travels faster than good news. Explain honestly to the group the general reason for the person’s departure w/o revealing personal details. If the departure was caused by some undercurrent issue, take action to address the issue immediately.

Encourage questions, concerns, fears, and new ideas at Monday morning coffee meetings and Friday team lunches. Give updates on projects. Come up with jolting questions that spark conversation and new ideas like: If you were the competition, how would you put us out of business?  Encourage the participation of the less chatty employees by welcoming their ideas in writing. Encourage them to contribute relevant articles, new books, podcasts etc.

Everyone makes mistakes, and some errors are more costly than others.  Encourage early reporting of errors. Help your employee to move as soon as possible from guilt and shame mode to solution mode. As a leader, admit the mistakes you make and what you’ll do to correct them.

Founders and other members of the leadership team can offer open door office hours for more private conversations.

Make clear to your customers what your team is up to and what directions you are moving to improve the customer experience. Create opportunities and venues for gathering customer feedback. Continually ask them how you or your product or service would make them happier customers. Show eagerness to hear about what they don’t like.

Finally, when staff come to you with an idea, a complaint, a problem or a solution, let them know they have been heard! It is a very common employee complaint. (See my October Mindful Communication Minute Newsletter on this topic coming out soon)

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Entrepreneurship and Servant Leadership Don’t Jibe

I’m coaching a founder (I’ll refer to her as Pam) who is on the fence. Pam hired an able team of designers and artists to create “thinking games” for children. But, she is toying with the idea of managing her business by blending in and serving her team versus leading them in the traditional sense. Pam wants to provide “Servant Leadership,” a popular 21st century management model. In this model the founder assigns roles and tasks to subordinates, and then offers support, such as researching, stocking supplies and running their errands. Mmm…sounds like she wants her subordinates to run the show? Pam is seeking coaching because investors are getting antsy. Abiding by the servant model, she’s having a hard time motivating her team to move forward and meet crucial deadlines. Her startup is in stuck mode and here’s why:

When a founder is taken up with ground level activities, the role of the leader is diminished. A founder needs to have some level of detachment from his subordinates to pursue opportunities for the business, brainstorm ideas and make the tough decisions. This bit of healthy distance from employees allows the founder to articulate the vision and provide direction to employees.

When employees see their founder catering to their needs in an extreme manner, they are less likely to view him or her as an authoritative figure. If problems arise and the servant manager needs to switch to a more authoritative leadership role, entitled employees have a hard time meeting the new expectations independently.

Servant leadership de-motivates employees. It’s is like a parent bailing out his child by constantly stepping into to fix things or to do the homework for the child. When employees think their founder will unconditionally and non-judgmentally resolve issues that arise, it’s easy to take it easy and let quality and performance slip.

A happy ending: After several months of a frustrating, but well-meaning stint of Servant Leadership, I encouraged Pam to take a vote and see how her team wanted her to lead. Not surprising, they voted to have Pam resume her role as leader. They voted to exchange the freedom and nurturing for increased productivity and direction that would give them a sense of fulfillment at the end of a week. Most of them missed the “good stress” associated meeting a deadline and taking responsibility. Her team declared that returning to “real leadership” was better for them and for the future of the company.

Need help leading in a way that maximizes cooperation and teamwork without becoming a servant to your team?  Contact me at [email protected]   

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Managing Drama in Your Startup

According to a new book, No Ego by business consultant Cy Wakeman, the average worker spends 2.5 hours per day distracted by drama! We’ve all experienced varying degrees of workplace drama in other jobs – personal losses, power struggles, insubordination, office gossip and petty arguments.  Until you start a business of your own, you may not be aware of how significantly drama can hurt your bottom line. How to manage workplace drama is not typically noted in the founder’s play book. If no drama has spiked in your startup thus far, good for you, but unless you’re working with robots, it’s inevitable.

The usual sources of drama in a startup can be traced to hires without proper job descriptions, under-performing or disgruntled employees, changes in procedures, slow periods and accelerated periods where the company has to scale up quickly. Another source of drama is the life of the employee. Just as employees bring the work stress home with them, employees bring their home traumas to work. Let me address some solutions the “trauma to drama” variety.

Most CEOs want to create an open, caring work environment where people look forward to coming to work. The workplace  may be the only safe and inspiriting environment in some people’s lives.  I support mindful listening as a way to understand an employee who is experiencing personal problems outside of work. Listening wholeheartedly to an employee can help you gauge the intensity and duration of the situation so as to come up with solutions that will prevent company losses. It is the responsibility of the employee, not the employer, to ultimately solve his/her personal problems. It must be made clear that work is not a counseling center or a rehab. His or her fellow employees are not being paid to be social workers. Allowances such as a more flexible schedule, an extended lunch hour or such accommodations are appropriate. A business may have to find some temporary coverage, and if possible, the employee may need to train the temp. Your HR department may assist in finding counselors or support groups. But, I suggest that a business set in advance, reasonable limits to these assists. Meet with your staff and talk about what to do if such drama erupts.

More to come on workplace drama in future blogs.

Are you the frequent victim or the instigator of drama at your workplace? Being one or the other could cost you your job or your career. If that’s you, let’s discuss! [email protected]      

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If Your Creativity Needs a Kick, Seek Unusual Sources

You may have your new product or service up and running, or you’re in the process of getting your new business off the ground. It’s frustrating to lack new ways to be competitive and for solving day-to-day problems.  We typically rely on our experience, knowledge, self-help books and the wisdom of industry leaders for solutions, but sometimes we have to get out of our closed circle of reference and seek “a refresh” from unexpected sources.

As a coach, it’s up to me to offer fresh eyes and new perspectives for my clients to explore. When I feel even close to getting bored with my usual strategies and tactics, I’m curiously drawn to books like The Men Who Changed the Course of American History, Tripping Over the Truth, Stories From Shakespeare, The Alchemist, or collections of mystery stories. Movies like Midnight in Paris or The Darkest Hour remind me, in contrasting ways, that it’s okay to listen to my gut, change my mind and inspire others to do the same. Any books or movies that have to do with discovery or attempts to solve difficult problems of all sorts should be on your list. Perhaps these books and movies won’t give you any direct answers or solutions, but they will add enlightening bits and pieces to what you already know and re-kindle your creative spark.

Need some fresh eyes to help solve a problem in your company? Get COREageous and contact me at [email protected]        

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Pick Up the Pace on Sunday

This morning, as I rode my bike towards the last of three “nasty” hills (in COREageous-speak that translates into “wonderfully steep”), it reminded me of how important it is to build some momentum ahead of a challenge. If I wait to pick up the pace at the base of the hill, the climb is less forgiving. (Actually, “miserable” and “energy-sucking” are better descriptors.) It’s much smarter to get some speed going a quarter mile before the incline.

I use this experience to incite a mental shift from the weekend to the workweek. On Sundays, while most people hang around and dread Monday, with a Sunday ritual you can get ahead of the pack and cruise full speed ahead into the workweek. If you let the Sunday-Monday doldrums attack you, it will take Herculean effort to pump up your mood and meet your milestones for the week. I also share this Sunday ritual lecture with my college clients, the future entrepreneurs.

Even if you’re not a fitness nut, work with me here: Get up early Sunday while the house is quiet, hydrate and do some stretches. Read the news, check your phone, have a strong cup of coffee or tea. Enjoy a healthy breakfast with your family or a friend. Gather your gear, think about your route and air up the tires. Think about what you want to accomplish today. You’re warming up easy on the flats. Look over your plan. See the hill way in the distance? It’s comin’ fast. Listen to a motivational podcast or read an article from your industry. Gradually pick up the pace, 100 yards to go before the incline. With your intellectual energy piqued, your focus strong and your phone turned off – get to work. You’ve got this! Charge up that hill!

Pick up the pace on Sunday. It’ll be easy to keep that positive energy and determination going all week, without even breaking a sweat!

I’m eager to hear how the Sunday ritual is working for you! Please write me at [email protected]

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Capture Ideas and Connect Better with Information on Paper

If you want to get your ideas out quickly, put them on paper. Research shows that you’ll process your thoughts and remember more when you draw or write them down. I’m not a fan of GAGs (Gadgets, Apps, Gimmicks) because by the time you find and launch a note-taking app you could have instantly secured your thought on paper. Besides, if you use a phone or computer to take notes, it’s easy to get distracted by other GAGs on your desktop.

The same goes for using a paper calendar vs. an electronic calendar. Many of my hi-tech clients swear by the week-at-a-glance paper calendar book as a way to block off hunks of time and create a vista view of the week.  (See www.ata glance.com)

When reading something you care to remember, you’ll deep-process more of what you read if you annotate in pencil or write a note on a stickie. After you finish the book, skim through your annotations or collect your stickies to review those highlights. It’s so satisfying to remember what you read so you can have an intelligent conversation on the topic well after you put the book down. Keep your stickies together and put them in an envelope with the title on the front. It’s interesting, several months later, to open that envelope and refresh that information.

Be like Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson and Indra Nooyi and have paper and pen ready to jot down thoughts and brainstorm ideas anywhere you’d find yourself hanging out —by your bed, poolside, TV room etc. Keep a moleskin in your pocket or purse to write down ideas when you’re standing in line or getting a haircut. And, if by any chance that little piece of paper is swept off by a gust of wind, you’ll have a better chance of remembering what you wrote if you wrote it!

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A Vacation Alternative for Entrepreneurs

As entrepreneurship becomes more widespread, I suspect that the nature of “vacations” will change. For example, for the last few years my business and my husband’s business have not allowed for regular 1-2 week vacation slots. Like many other entrepreneurs, long breaks are not feasible for us right now. To make a vacation worthwhile, you’re supposed to come back well rested and full of energy. Airport hassles, crowds, tight schedules, and money you’d rather invest in smarter ways make those expectations unlikely. Perhaps you have elderly parents or family members that may need some urgent attention, and you’ll have to be available for them. You/we are not alone. Here’s something that has been working well for us I’d like you to try.

Carve out one hour a day for a vacation break. Prepare the walking shoes, the sunhat and somewhere to go in your mind — whatever you’ll need to escape for just one hour each day. In that hour you’ll escape from the office and think about a great vacation you took or one that you hope to take one day.  Subscribe to a hard copy adventure magazine you can lose yourself in (not on your phone!)  Plan a fabulous dinner you’d like to prepare. Get on a bike and allow yourself to focus on the environment around you.  Find some simple activities, ideally with a health component, that will sweep your mind and body away for 60 minutes. Just as with meditation, when thoughts of work or projects come into mind, let them fly by like passing birds. If planned well, this kind of vacation can enhance creativity and open up pockets of energy you can instantly apply to your work. These kinds of no-hassle vacations can be tremendously satisfying.  Plus, don’t be surprised if a terrific solution you’ve been seeking pops into your head during your “time off.” You’ll be close enough to your desk to put it in motion.

Make downtime an investment in your business.  CoreFour coaching can help make this valuable time beneficial to your business. [email protected]       

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Is Your Style of Procrastination Working For You?

I bet you thought I was going to curse procrastination in this blog. Au contraire!  Not all procrastination is bad. As a matter of fact, putting off a major undertaking may give you time to consider the risks. On the other hand, you may have a style of procrastination that works very well for you. According to Mary Lamia in her book What Motivates Getting Things Done, procrastination is a problem when styles collide or when the deadlines are missed or met with unreasonable stress.

Before I talk about different styles of procrastination, let’s clarify the difference between good and bad stress. Good stress is excitement or intense curiosity, like the jitters you may experience before doing a talk. Bad stress is anxiety provoking, panicky, self-sabotaging and physiologically unhealthy for us and those around us.

Lamia distinguishes between Deadline-Driven and Task-Driven procrastination styles, DDPs and TDPs respectively. DDPs note the deadline and begin mentally planning the task in spurts without taking any overt action. They may let the idea incubate for several days and weeks. Come the last day, it all comes together. Many successful DDPs report a surge of “good stress” and a heightened state of focus within hours of the deadline. They often deliver their best work under pressure. If you’re DDP, and the fallout doesn’t take a toll on your health or the well-being of those around you, it’s a safe and effective strategy, so go with it.

TDPs will start tasks almost immediately, but not complete the tasks until later. They may be perfectionistic and postpone task completion until it meets a high level of quality. These folks have a hard time being satisfied with “good enough.” Yet the successful TDPs will manage many tasks at once and eventually meet their deadlines with a minimal amount of bad stress.

Since procrastination, the bad stress variety, is such a common complaint, I find it easier to help my clients become more efficient within a style that suits them versus trying to switch horses. It’s also good advice to share your style for meeting deadlines with co-workers and partners, as both styles can be unnerving to the non-procrastinator.

Would you like to make your style of procrastination more efficient or rid yourself of procrastination for good? Happy to help! Contact me at [email protected]        

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Let Your End Users Talk

When starting your own business, it’s important to do solid market research – you must be sure you’ll have customers and lots of them. When talking with potential customers, or end users, you want to seek information about their pain points. You are researching, not selling. You must accept the possibility that your product or service idea may drastically change or disappear after these conversations, and be okay with that. Poor listening to the market is a major reason for the high failure rate of new businesses.

Last week I observed a “discovery session” for four entrepreneurs (Es) who were creating tools for adult learning.  45 older adults were invited to share their frustrations with learning. The participants were divided into four groups with one E to each group. Two of the four Es spent the hour talking more about the virtues of their product idea than listening to the needs of the group. One E threw out a series of yes/no questions, which came across as a way of corralling participants into agreeing with the E’s proposition. When a few members piped up and suggested different features, alternatives or hailed the competition, you could see these Es bristle. These Es were clearly in love with their own solutions and could not help but shift to selling mode instead of gathering unbiased and constructive information. The other two Es, however, had the right approach.  As a matter of fact, you could not tell whether these two Es even had a product idea. They sat back and let the participants vent about their struggles with learning how to use a cell phone or installing a computer. These Es asked open-ended questions  resulting in so much content that the scribes could barely keep up. In addition, these Es, not blinded by their own solutions, were intensely interested in how the participants valued existing tools.

Need help learning how to deeply listen and ask questions that put you on the path to entrepreneurial success? Contact me at [email protected]                

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Sleep Deprivation and Startup Failure

Sleep deprivation and wacky sleep schedules are synonymous with entrepreneurship. It is probably the most common condition my clients report. So much so, that they consider it normal — a badge of honor. Poor sleep is just what comes with being a founder, right?  I submit that a founder who is not getting good quality sleep, not necessarily more sleep, has a lower chance of success. In my quest to get to eradicate the high failure rate of new businesses (70-90% depending on your sources), I look to the core of the problem which includes the well-being of the founder. Snap judgments, impulsive decision-making, concentration complaints and irritability are frequently signs of a founder in trouble. These are also symptoms of sleep deprivation. To make good decisions, and the rest, our prefrontal cortex (the CEO of our brain) needs to be able to inhibit the activity of emotional parts of our brain. With a good night’s sleep we experience a better balance between emotion and rational, logical thought.

A study several years ago by Matthew Walker Ph.D, author of Why We Sleep, compared brain scans of two groups of subjects – sleep deprived and well rested. He looked at the activity in a part of the brain known as the amygdala – a hot spot for triggering strong emotions. The brain scans of the sleep deprived subjects  showed a 60% amplification of emotional reactivity. The well rested group showed “a controlled, modest degree” of reactivity in the amygdala. He concluded that “without the rational control given to us each night by sleep, we’re not on a neurological –and e emotional –even keel.” Notice how more nights of good quality sleep increase your chances of staying in business!

See my article for ways to getting better sleep!

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