Tag Archives: Inc.com

A Conflict-Free Organization is Near Death. Really?

I saw an interesting post on Inc.com last week, with a title that was hard to resist: A conflct-free organization isn’t great. It’s near death. Hmm … there’s one to think about. It was posted by “serial CEO” Margaret Heffernan. 

Margaret had spent a day at a Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution in London. Here’s the key point: 

The big problem with conflict isn’t the conflict itself but the fear and anger it invokes when left unresolved. Most people are afraid to wade into an argument because they don’t feel confident they will be able to manage it, and they’re afraid they’ll become embroiled in something they can’t control and are unlikely to win.

The solution to that, of course, isn’t to keep avoiding the problems. It’s to train people how to deal with conflict effectively, calmly, and fairly. Yet only about a third of managers have any training in coping with conflict of any kind.

The headline bothers me a lot. Granted: Sacrificing ideas, progress, change, and solutions to just to avoid conflict isn’t good. But conflict isn’t good either.

And I question the research. Margaret writes:

In a Roffey Park survey, 57% of managers reported that “inaction” was their organization’s main method of conflict resolution, and cited “avoidance” and “pretending it isn’t there” as a regular course of action. Sound familiar?

Yes, it does sound familiar. Sounds to me like middle managers forced to interrupt their busy day to take a survey enjoying a passive-aggressive revenge with their answers. 

Come on, it was a survey. Do you think the respondents told the truth? 

Here’s my favorite way to avoid conflict: Talk about the ideas, the problems, the issues, the opportunities, and don’t personalize. It’s an idea or an option, not Ralph’s suggestion or Mary’s. Watch your tone. Keep your mind open. Listen. They are ideas, options, problems, but not people. 

Maybe it’s a bit like physics, with conflict like friction, and friction what happens when things move forward. A friction-free vehicle would be really cool until you tried to steer it. 

7 Steps to Practical Business Stories

Remember, stories aren’t just stories. They’re truth and promise and relationships established. They’re vital to business. There’s more truth in stories than in all the statistics ever published. 

Geoffrey James posted How to Tell a Great Story on Inc.com last month, quoting Mike Bosworth of Solution Selling, and Ben Zoldan, one of his top trainers. So this is how to tell a memorable business anecdote:

1. “Decide on the takeaway first.” There’s a business goal. Yes you want to make conversation, but also make a business point. If you’re selling shoes, tell a story about a shoe disaster, or a shoe rescue. 

2. “Pick the ending ahead of time.” Get the ending that supports the takeaway. 

3. “Begin with who, where, when, and a hint of direction.” He adds:

Every great story–and indeed, every great movie, novel, or TV show–starts with a person (who is going to do something), a place (where things are going to happen), a time (so people can relate “then” to “now”), and just a hint of direction, indicating where the anecdote is headed.

4. “Intensify human interest by adding context.” Details, done right, make it a story. Try to put your people there, caring about the people and the situation. 

5. “Describe the goals and the obstacles.” They call that plot. What was the problem, and how was it solved. 

6. “Describe the decision that made achievement possible.” 

It’s important not to confuse the decision (or turning point) with the ending of the story.  The turning point is not “what happened”–it’s the decision that caused what happened to happen.

7. “Provide the ending and highlight the takeaway.” Don’t assume your listener figured it out. Make sure to say it, out loud. Tell everybody what happened and why it’s important. 

Nice post, good recommendations; thanks Geoff, Mike, and Ben. 

Only If You Don’t Say So Yourself

In 10 Ways You Should Never Describe Yourself, on Inc.Com, Jeff Haden makes an extremely important distinction. He writes:

Here are some words that are great when used by other people to describe you, but you should never use to describe yourself. 

For example: motivated, creative, guru, passionate, innovative. Jeff lists 10 of them. 

I didn’t see it as clearly until I read it the way he put it. Somebody else calls you Guru, congrats. Call yourself a Guru — or passionate, innovate, creative — and, well, not so much. 

Nice post. Good point. 

(Image: bigstockphoto.com)

Growing Your Business: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

This was more than 10 years ago but I still remember it well. I was walking to lunch with a friend and long-time business planning client talking about our growth at Palo Alto Software. We had doubled revenue in the previous two years. These were good times. But my friend had a warning: 

Be especially careful at this point. It’s two times harder to go from 25 employees to 50 than from 10 to 25.

That didn’t make sense to me then, but it does now. It’s related to culture and accountability and leadership. What reminded me was Josh Linkner’s 5 Traps to Avoid When Growing Your Business on Inc.com. Especially his #3, which he calls “Putting Religion Ahead of Science.”

When you were a start-up, all you had was your vision and belief (aka “religion”). Your burning desire fueled you and the company to break through start-up gravity and get your business off the ground. As you grow, however, religion alone won’t be enough to sustain your trajectory. My business partner, Dan Gilbert, often says, “What got you here won’t get you there.” In most companies’ evolution, there comes a point where systems have to be documented, training materials established, and processes architected (aka “science”). Without this foundation, a company fueled only by passion derails, since your 126th employee won’t possess the same fire as team member No. 6.

The emphasis there is mine, by the way. 

Josh has several other good points on this list. Gorging opportunities, for example, meaning trying to do too much. This is also really good:

Remember this: More companies die of indigestion than starvation. When you look back five years from now, your success will based much more on the times you said “no” rather than the times you said “yes.” As the old Chinese proverb states wisely, “Chase two rabbits and both will escape.”

Good stuff. Nice post. And we don’t talk enough about this second inflection point, getting a company through its adolescence. It’s hard to do. 

Real Business Planning Thrives on Uncertainty

How do business plans and business planning relate to maps and navigations and getting somewhere? What about the difference between a business plan, business planning process, and extensive planning? Agile Planning

Why would you care? Consider this quote:

That is not to say entrepreneurs don’t have goals, only that those goals are broad and—like luggage—may shift during flight. Rather than meticulously segment customers according to potential return, they itch to get to market as quickly and cheaply as possible, a principle Sarasvathy calls affordable loss. Repeatedly, the entrepreneurs in her study expressed impatience with anything that smacked of extensive planning, particularly traditional market research.

That’s quoting Leigh Buchanon in How Great Entrepreneurs Think on Inc.com, who is writing about Prof. Saras Sarasvathy, of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business:

Brilliant improvisers, the entrepreneurs don’t start out with concrete goals. Instead, they constantly assess how to use their personal strengths and whatever resources they have at hand to develop goals on the fly, while creatively reacting to contingencies.

This, in contrast to corporate executives, who …

… use causal reasoning. They set a goal and diligently seek the best ways to achieve it.

I’m an entrepreneur. I love the idea of effective vs. causal reasoning, and I’m (like most reformed market researchers) as impatient as anybody with market research. But for me the most interesting word in that first big quoted paragraph above is “extensive,” as in extensive planning. To me, extensive planning is the overuse and exaggeration of the formal business plan document. It’s analyzing forever without moving forward. And, even though I’ve been a professional business planner for 30 years,I agree. I’m impatient with that too.

But I also believe totally in planning as process, as in my own plan-as-you-go business planning, which is simple, practical, effective, and flexible.

And as for market research, I mistrust it. Not that I don’t like to guide decisions with information, but research seems to take on a quasi-biblical degree of certainty that gets in the way of judgment. People don’t realize how much research depends on the assumptions and the underlying quality of the implementation, so even unsound research conclusions become impossible to question.

Plans should be just big enough to run the company. You have to learn to live with uncertainty, plan with it, love it, and manage it. You can’t research your way out of it. Not in the real world of entrepreneurship.

The Pull of Bloat and Feature Addiction

This one struck a nerve: This is by Jason Fried, founder of 37 Signals, in How to Kill a Bad Idea earlier this month at Inc.com. He’s talking about how software and websites grow too big.

The software grows. Version 2.0 comes along. It does more than Version 1.0. More features, more options, more screens, more stuff. Or the website is redesigned with more pages, more words, more images, more departments, more tools. Nothing has gone wrong yet. In fact, Version Two is pretty good, too.

But over time, yet more stuff is added. Remember our water bottle? Imagine what would happen if more stuff was added to it. Pretty soon it wouldn’t be functional. The physics would push back. Not so with software. You can just add more pages! Or you can just add more features or more settings or more preferences and hide them behind yet another button or menu. It’s just one more button, right?

This is where it all begins to fall apart. Future versions are loaded with more and more stuff. Nothing pushes back; nothing says no. And eventually, the product or the site becomes unmanageable. It’s too big, too slow, too confusing, but it’s still all subjective. Unlike the water bottle, the software can just keep growing. Software can’t overflow. It has no edges, so it can never be too big.

That is so true. I’ve been there. In fact,  I’ve been in the software business since 1983, and in the web business since 1994. We always want to do everything for everybody. What you’d like to do is have as many features in the software and there are users to suggest them, because you never want to say no. This is how Microsoft Excel, to cite just one example, does linear regression. And how many people use it for that?

As you might guess from the three paragraphs I quoted, Jason gets to the problem of when to say no. And that you have to say no sometimes. He says:

The only way to stop this perpetual growth of an object without physical borders is for you to create your own borders. Those borders are discipline, self-control, an editor’s eye for “enough.” The ultimate border is one simple word: no. Someone in charge has to say no more than yes.

If the laws of physics govern the physical world, the word no governs the virtual world. “No, that’s one feature too many.” “No, that’s just not worth it.” “No, no, no.”

I know. I was right there, at that very spot, for about 25 years. And just reading Jason’s spine tingling account of it, I know immediately he’s been in the same place a lot, and I’m glad that others are now doing that for the company I started.

Saying no was so damn necessary, and so damn hard, at the same time.

(image: istockphoto)