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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My Favorite Ways to Shift from Vacation to Work Mode

If you took any significant time off for vacation, and if you are having or anticipating a sluggish transition back to work, consider these tips:

  1. Once you’re back, stow away all vacation paraphernalia as soon as possible: suitcases, event t-shirts or souvenirs. Lingering over pictures and vacay stuff is distractible and fortifies your post-vacay malaise.
  2. If your post vacation to-do list gives you a sinking feeling, take several minutes to refresh your intention, the passion and purpose for your work.
  3. Restore your (normalized, I hope!) pre-vacation sleep and exercise routines. Challenge yourself on Monday to add on another five pushups or sit ups to your daily workout.
  4. Round up your team members and refine your goals for the next quarter. Encourage folks to share any ideas for the company that popped up in their minds while on vacation. Plan a couple affordable office events for the fall – apple picking, a picnic lunch, a Sunday brunch staff meeting at your house, etc.
  5. Detox yourself. Drink plenty of water and eat lots of greens. Alcohol, junk food and lavish desserts drag down your energy; the effects of additives, bad fats and sugar can linger in your body for many days.
  6. Think of one situation you encountered during your vacation that inspired you to greater heights in your life. Here are some examples of such moments:

• The golfing partner with the great attitude whose ball landed in every water hole or sand trap along the way, until he scored a hole-in-one at 18

• The waiter who gave you the greatest idea for enhancing customer service

• The fellow at the bar who shared a book that gave answers to a problem you’ve been dealing with for months

• The one-armed surfer and the veteran with the artificial leg who handily conquered 20 foot waves beating the normal-limbed competition “hands down.”

• The 95 year old man who stood in the hot sun at the finish line to cheer on his 85 year old college sweetheart.

Not enough solutions for you? How about a back-to-work-pick-me-up coaching session?

Contact me at [email protected]

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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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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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Cold Call Curiosity

Q: I avoid meeting face-to face with potential customers. I developed a very good pet care product, but I need users and feedback. The thought of traipsing from one vet’s office to another and having no-takers is daunting. I want to get more comfortable with the cold-calling process. Please help!  Ron P. Mokena, Illinois 

Cold calling can be uncomfortable, and there may be some real and unfounded reasons that discourage you from visiting potential customers. One of my favorite ways to re-frame a sales call with a high risk of rejection is to approach a cold calls as an “information gathering” visit. Assuming that you truly believe in the value and purpose of your product, here are a few ideas:

Put together a basic script: a greeting, an introduction and the problem your product can solve. Add a dose of friendliness and gratitude for their time. Practice with friends until you’re smooth.

Ask what product they are using now (you should have a good knowledge of your competition) and point out what makes your product special, more effective or easier to use. Supply proof.

Drop in on stores that would likely carry a product like yours  and ask the manager for feedback on the looks of your product. Ask what they’d do differently. They may know an expert who can enhance the look of your product. Don’t be surprised if he/she asks for a sample and a business card!

Make notes of what your potential customers had to say and learn from it. Ask, “I want to make my product better, what would make you want to give it a try?” With this approach, most folks will give you some advice. Being a seeker of information first and a salesman second may make the “jagged little pill” of cold calling easier to swallow.

For more on the subject of cold calling, check out Cold-Calling for Cowards by Jerry Hocutt.

Need help connecting with potential customers face-to-face? Contact me at [email protected]   

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The Creativity of Constraint

Many of my clients are trying to start their ventures while maintaining full or part time jobs. A major complaint is finding the time to make progress towards their project. Their routine was so nice and neat before the ball wrecker of a startup came crashing in and challenged their time management skills. For a budding entrepreneur – it is now your “moment of truth.”  Do you cringe at the thought of keeping “a schedule” or being accountable for your time? I have a client who insists upon using the word “planner” because the thought of “a schedule” would constrain her spontaneity. These folks see a schedule as a tyrant, a force that denies their creativity and free-flowing nature. This must change.

Consider this: Some time constraint will make the best use of your creativity. When you block out regular chunks of time to work deeply on your project, that type of commitment will spur on a greater concentration of innovative thoughts and insights. With even small blocks of time set aside every day devoted to your project, your brainstorming will be more targeted. You will make small, but cumulative gains that amount to something tangible at the end of the week. An opened-ended “no plan” defies progress, invites distractions and draws you into the morass of Web-surfing and social media. How free-flowing will you feel when a year has passed without progress on your venture? Is it worth risking a little spontaneity to see your product or service taking shape? Create a structure that allows your true creative potential to emerge.

Do you need to be creative with time management? Would you like to be more thoughtful and productive with your time? Contact me at [email protected]   

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Turtle Tenacity

Driving home from the gym today, all psyched and ready to start work on a project that had many doubters (except for me, of course!), I spied a small turtle in the middle of the road. Because it’s turtle mating season, a kind soul posted a “Turtle Xing” sign to alert drivers that turtles are not speed bumps. Knowing the likely fate of this turtle, I pulled over and went to help the little guy get across the street towards his destination — the pond. Snapping turtles, unlike painted turtles, even small ones, are pretty vicious. This snapper, only 6 inches long, growled and hissed the moment I touched the back of his shell. One car after another pulled up to help. One guy got out of his truck, found a stick and started to gently prod him across the street toward the pond. Instead of hiding in his shell and being passive, the snapper snarled and viciously fought the stick with all his might, insistent on getting to the pond his way. Gradually, more drivers pulled over to watch this David and Goliath spectacle. One woman reflected, “He’s like me. If someone tries to stop me from doing somethin’ I wanna do, I give ’em a fight.” Another fellow marveled, “Wow, what a tough little guy. I bet he’ll get lucky in the swamp!” A third guy exclaimed, “Look at the fight he’s putting up, he just won’t quit. Geez, if you could bottle that, I’d buy a case full!”  The turtle’s strength and courage to fight something so much bigger was impressive. What if we pursued our projects with the same dogged determination as this turtle? Could we ignore the naysayers no matter how they are trying to protect us? Would we risk getting run over and losing everything to see our dream realized?

Finally, the guy with the stick got the turtle closer to the water. We cheered as the snapper scurried towards the mucky pond. Once he got to the edge where he would dive in and likely never be seen again, he stopped and looked back  at us as if to say, Good fight humans. I rather enjoyed it, but I hope you learned something too. Splash! And he was gone.

A bit of reflective conversation revealed that this seemingly insignificant event had inspired each one of us to be a little more persistent in pursuing our goals, and to resist the resistance. Sometimes, Mother Nature intercedes to teach us valuable lessons.

Need a push? Read about my CoreCoaching services, and let’s get you moving! Contact me at [email protected]

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