Startup Lessons Learned: Harmony Sucks!

let's settle this like adultsOK, sure – harmony can definitely be a great thing. But I thought ‘harmony sucks’ might get your attention! And I do believe that harmony sometimes really can suck: it can suck your ability to confront potentially thorny, uncomfortable issues with your team, partners and investors. Which in turn sucks the productivity out of your business.

The Heat is On!

Several years ago, this really hit home for me. The software company I ran a large division of had just acquired another software company of 100 or so people in Iowa and I took over running it. One of the first meetings we had when I landed in Cedar Rapids was attending their exec ops meeting. I really didn’t know what to expect, so let them know I mainly wanted to watch and listen to a typical meeting, and begin to participate after a meeting or two.

I’d never been in a meeting where there was so much heated debate! It even made me a little uncomfortable. People were fighting for their own P&Ls. Making the case for (always) limited resources to be directed to their cause. And they immediately drew me in for my perspective, which I provided by explaining how their goals flowed into the new parent company. And we had some great back and forth on my views too, which we all benefited from.

At the end of this 2-hour meeting, even though everyone didn’t get their own way, the team came away with a clear understanding and respect of ‘why’ the decisions were made, and everyone bought off and got behind getting those actions done. Later, I asked the controller JoAnn if that was a common exec ops meeting, and she assured me that ‘yes’, they approach each of those meetings very seriously, but with mutual respect and always a clear understanding of the tactics and strategy that maximizes the vale of the business. And sometimes it gets heated, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I’ve tried to apply that way of thinking and acting since then.

The Board is Not Bored

We have the best investors I’ve ever been involved with, and the sharpest board as well – board members and advisors alike. At a recent board meeting, we had our most ‘spirited’ meeting yet. Yeah, it even got a little contentious around our discussions on product and my approach to target markets. And you know what? It was our most productive board meeting yet! We all have passion, and that passion came through in very candid discussions around maximizing the value of Dasheroo. We came away with a clear understanding of each other’s views and an action plan we all could get behind and execute on. And most importantly, we all showed the respect we have for each other.

It reminded me that I need to apply ‘non harmony’ not to just our exec ops meetings more often, but in our daily work routine as well; sometimes everyone would rather just ‘get along’ and not surface an issue that may lead to conflict rather than dive into and resolve the thorny issues that are bound to arise in any company.

Question the Boss, They Don’t Know it All

I used to consult for a public company that was stuck in the passive harmony state. I quickly decided to leave, as no one wanted to stand up for what they believed was the in the best interests of their customers. They’d just all do what ‘the boss’ said, and go about their day, never achieving things that they felt were important. It was like living a Dilbert cartoon! Yup, it can infect big ‘ol companies too, probably  more often than scrappy ‘lil ones like Dasheroo.

Startup Lesson Learned

It’s easy to go with the flow, and maybe not confront an issue that is really important to you because it might ruffle feathers. You may have to go the extra mile to defend your position, it may not be popular, and you could even lose your argument. Whatever. Get over it. If it’s in the best interest of adding value to your customers and your business, stand up for what you think is important. But also, know where to draw the line, and pick your fights wisely. Too much conflict can also destroy your team’s passion and productivity. And always: show respect.


Leave a Reply