Launch, Pivot & Learn

After three start-ups and 10 years teaching strategic management, I shared the merits of a carefully-crafted business plan to my partners, investors, and students with faith and passion I was doing the right thing. But, I messed up.

I invested in one venture based solely on its stellar business plan. No one was more vested than I in the merits of a quality business plan. Over the last 20 years, I reviewed hundreds of plans, lauded some, and rejected most as too idealistic or unrealistic for my recommendation.  My pronouncement today– that the era of the business plan is over–is hard for me to verbalize. But let me say it again–I don’t recommend you spend months and thousands of dollars on crafting the perfect business plan.What do I recommend instead?

Launch, Pivot & Learn
Launch, Pivot & Learn is my new mantra for innovators, problem solvers, and serial entrepreneurs.
Why Launch?
If you remember the movie “Failure to Launch” , it was about being so comfortable in your current state, that you won’t make the sacrifices necessary to change, mature, and evolve as a person. The same is true for would be entrepreneurs trying to get everything perfectly set-up before they make the necessary commitments and sacrifices necessary to test the business model. “Launch” is about taking that leap to go to customers, suppliers, even would-be competitors with your product in-hand to learn whatever you need to do to make it viable. If you don’t launch, you won’t be in the position to learn quickly and be in the position to pivot.

Why Pivot?
No business gets it completely right the first outing. What you are able to sell is not usually what the buyer really needs. You have to ask them that question and adapt your product to their needs. No one executes their business plan perfectly. Everyone who is successful makes adjustments to their plans and pivots to where the demand is. Did you get everyone you needed to sign a NDA and provide you with a frank assessment of your product’s viability? So, being willing and able to pivot away from the original business plan is a critical success factor for start-ups.

Learn As entrepreneurs , our ability to learn from our miscalculations and track what is truly meaningful (key performance indicators) will determine the success or failure. How will we know what new products to launch? We must start the Launch, Pivot & Learn cycle all over again.

 

Out of work? Here is some advice how to land and stick in your next job

Are you a millennial starting work full-time for the first time? Or…did you lose your job and you’re looking for something new? Below are a few pointers as you start your search or your new job:
1. Be patient-opportunities to be promoted or make more $$ don’t come every day. Your supervisor will see your diligence and patience  as virtues.
2. Make the extra effort to go and see people in person whenever possible. Particularly when it is the first time you begin a business relationship with someone. Even with the ubiquity of smart phones and digital communication, face to face contact is more important than ever. A “connection” in person and some common ground will start things off on the right foot. Later in the relationship, when you have big misunderstandings, you should get back to them face to face. Get over to their office and work things out in person rather than text bad news. When you have really good news, have patience to wait and share it in person. The effort will pay off and your enthusiasm will shine brighter compared to your peers.
3. Try and take responsibility and calculated risks everyday-resist the temptation to wait for every last detail/instruction dictated by your boss. Don’t be needy via text or voice mail just because you can “ping” someone. You spend relationship capital each time it isn’t their priority. The initiative you show your superior you can “handle things yourself” will set you apart from competitors.
4. Join your trade association and network with alumni in your same industry or region. Many companies eliminated their middle managers during the downturn. Without internal mentors you will need to rely on relationships and experiences from those in your same industry often working at competitive firms.
5. Use your advantage in your familiarity with technology. Use your social media connections to create or find insights or information on trends, customer’s tastes, and hot product categories your company might explore as new products.
6. Tell “all” the truth when good or bad things happen. Take responsibility and you will earn a reputation for trustworthiness.

If you do all six you will be the last person let go all other things being equal.

Five principles every leader should learn from legendary UCLA coach John Wooden

Entrepreneurs like myself have learned a lot from John Wooden, the best basketball coach of all-time who lead UCLA to 10 NCAA championships. Here are a few of the gems from his book “Wooden on Leadership-2005:
1.Wooden said “Don’t get comfortable in your position of leadership (or power). Your players (or employees) and staff make you believe you have all of the answers because you enjoyed past success. People start telling you are the smartest one around. But if you begin to believe them, you become the idiot. You stop learning from your competitors because you beat them in the past. When you ignore those teams around you who are creating innovative new strategies and techniques, you are ripe for major defeat or setback. Don’t believe your own press”.
2.One of the main reasons it is so hard to stay on top is maintaining a competitive “edge”. If there is one key to gaining that edge or success, it is experience. Most entrepreneurs do not possess much experience unless they already paid their dues working for someone else. Some entrepreneurs failed or succeeded as the #2 in a similar business previously. Watch out for those guys and connect with someone with a lot of experience in your industry.
3.Once you’re #1 for a sustained period of time, it is easy to believe your on top. Look at Tiger Woods. He was on top of the world until he lost his edge. Every music artist or performer realizes how hard it is to repeat the #1 song or CD. It is hard to repeat as NCAA champions. The odds are like 1 in a 1000. At UCLA we realized we had to work even harder the second time to the point where we could achieve similar results. Why? Each subsequent success takes an even greater effort than the first because you lose the element of surprise. Your competitors have you in their sights. Avoid the temptation of believing your past entrepreneurial achievements signal future success.
4. Do your homework. As a leader you must never be satisfied or content that you know everything about your business, customers or employees. No two customers or employees are the same. Each individual under your management is unique and requires empathy, and understanding. This is particularly true about customers. No success with one large customer makes up for lack of empathy or understanding in other segments critical to your venture’s success. But be careful to not let one large customer guide how you will serve all others. Assume everyone wants to be treated as unique and valuable.
5.Wooden said “There is no one formula for getting your company/team to play well together”. It is science and art at the same time—and art is difficult to pull off, let alone be great at the science. It is so rare to be perennially successful because it takes sacrifice and dedication. Knowing Wooden won 10 NCAA championships and 88 straight games as UCLA’s head coach, he might know something about keeping a competitive edge and managing for success.

Common Denominator for Great CEO’s

What is the common denominator for great CEOs? At today’s Jacksonville business Journal ultimate CEO awards luncheon we heard from 12 CEOs. Although all of their remarks were brief, it was surprising to hear how similar they attributed the origin of their success– believing in and mentoring their people. Many of them discussed how they look for a combination of intellectual curiosity, smarts, and the ability to communicate effectively when recruiting teammates. The difference between a good CEO and a great CEO seems to be their ability to celebrate the successes of their team, while privately working on development areas with individuals, believing all the while that greatness will emerge.
Since the CEOs that spoke demonstrated humility, they did not discuss the sacrifices, hard work, and luck it takes to get ahead. Each of them commented on how a solid foundation at home was the basis for much of their success. Although we celebrate individual success, it’s often partnerships and husband-and-wife teams in small companies and in the background that create a foundation for success at the CEO level.
Kudos to all of the CEOs who were recognized today.

Lebron James returns to Cleveland

Lebron’s return to Cleveland is not about money or a championship–he already has both of those. The move is about passion and love. Even in sports it isn’t always about the money. James loves Akron, his boyhood home, and he started his NBA journey in Cleveland so his return is a homecoming on two counts. Reports are his financial in deal Cleveland leaves millions on the table when evaluating his current contract value on the free agent market. But sometimes you got to follow your heart. Kudos to Lebron.

Connecting talented young people to managers willing to mentor them

The joy in higher education is connecting talented young people with managers who are willing and even eager to mentor them. I was reminded today when I received an email from a VP of Finance at one of our nation’s largest grocery chains who complimented me on one of JU’s students currently working as a paid intern for the summer. The student’s name is Ellis and the mentor is Graham. Graham is a rare talent with financial savvy and excellent communication skills. Ellis is the raw talent employers want to see: Curious, energetic, willing to experiment, listen, and learn from others mistakes. It is an ideal match.

I asked Ellis what makes something really meaningful to learn in college? His answer was “When the information or tools I learned actually helped me to solve the problem or contribute to a solution” or “when I understand why a problem is so complex”. Graham added, “when our brightest interns like Ellis can follow the discussions, it means they are on the right track, they can become contributors”.

Here are questions I hear most often from parents of our business students: Does the knowledge or skill she is learning at JU add purpose or direction to her life? Will good intentioned people guide her in finding a “true” calling or life work? Is the business curriculum or coursework something that will help them be successful in the workplace or purely theoretical? Are the assignments and team projects just “busywork”? Does your college encourage and make internships possible? If the answers don’t make sense, you are buying an inferior product.

As Dean, I continue to teach every term. I want to stay relevant and closely connected with our students. I consistently challenge myself to find new methods of connection students with our alumni, like Ellis and Graham. These internship related activities make follow-up discussions and in-class assignments or tasks so much more interesting. Applying knowledge is a skill; it takes time and practice to develop. All of us make mistakes and get tired or hearing “no” or “do it again”. Most of us fear failure even though it is by failure that we learn the most meaningful lessons. The best schools provide a challenging but safe place to test out their analytical and persuasion skills. From our experience at JU with employers, the difference between today’s graduates they hire and the average 22 year-old is the graduate applies their knowledge to solve problems and knows what she doesn’t know.  When the important data or facts are embedded into a complex problem its a huge challenge. Employers I spoke with make the search for talent analogous to finding the woman or man with the skills and enthusiasm to solve a quantitative word problem as opposed to a straight numerical computation.

That is why our MBA graduates are so much more valuable to employers than regular candidates. It is also the reason we graduate so many successful of Jacksonville’s Presidents and C-Level talent such as Mike Shad (Automotive Dealerships), Carole Poindexter (Watsco), Kathleen Brandt (CSX), Tom Peterson (LPS), Earnie Franklin (Incepture), Bob Brigham (Mayo), and Tony Park (Fidelity), Matt Kane (Greenshade Software) to name just a few.

The Davis College’s primary goal is building thoughtful, engaged leaders prepared for tomorrow’s challenges in local businesses, government, and international commerce. The main purpose of a business education is for students to gain knowledge and construct meaning from facts or figures, not just memorize the “right” answers (to regurgitate facts or repeat someone else’s interpretation). But ultimately the “talent” must connect to employers to find those challenges and opportunities. So our focus at JU is connecting these young people with the managers and companies who will mentor and train them.

First we must mold the raw talent like Ellis into a problem solving machine. The methods and practices in building problem solving skills will change with technology, but the willingness to analyze and tackle wicked problems is something we must practice continually….and we drill “adaptability” into our graduates.

Many students start college by dreaming big but are tripped up by natural barriers. These barriers include access to useful problem sets, internship opportunities, prior knowledge and experience. Many students run out of money or loan capacity. Others are academically dismissed for poor performance because they lacked the skills or role models in their darkest hours. The “going got tough and they quit” principle applies to many college students who ultimately drop out. Then we must prove our value to employers and demonstrate and emphasize with their struggle to find the best talent.

Why is it so difficult to make one’s education meaningful and worthwhile? It is hard to accumulate what a guy like Ellis is building during this summer internship. Ellis gains the problem solving skills and resilience it takes to be seen as a contributor by someone like Graham.

We have recently invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in instructional technology so our business faculty can use the best tools and techniques and free up class time for student questions and teamwork. We call it a hybrid platform or flipping the classroom. We are investing so our students can spend more meaningful time in class doing what they value and not simply listening to lectures. But without students like Ellis, with a thirst for knowledge, even the greatest technology or online program won’t make up for a student or instructors’ sloppiness or laziness. As an instructor, I talk about not cutting corners when exploring solutions to a problem, and being curious about the data, asking why with purpose.

Hearing Ellis talk and repeating stories from hundreds like him, make it all worthwhile for me. Our faculty’s commitment to experiential learning and the opportunity to gain knowledge about an industry, it’s customers, and the market forces is all the more inspiring when we hear it from our best and brightest 20 year-olds. It is helping us mold a great group of 2015 graduates.

When a great talent like Ellis meets a business leader and engages in a meaningful dialog , something magical happens for the manager too. Students such as Ellis now see the value of their knowledge and Graham helps his organization go from good to great with the benefit of this new talent. Ellis and Graham understand their mentoring relationship for what it is–a gift. Ellis now possesses the desire to withstand any necessary struggle to solve problems and meet new challenges at work increased dramatically through this summer internship. This metamorphosis for students like Ellis is why I love what I do. We can all be mentors to someone. You have knowledge, skills, and know-how, right? Pass it on.

Six reasons to earn your degree

Many entrepreneurs claim college is a waste of money. If you can get into Harvard based on your skills in high school and work really hard, you could be the next Bill Gates  and or Mark Z. of Facebook. But for the rest of us, university study will help us as entrepreneurs in  at least five ways

1. As an undergraduate you will learn to create business plans that effectively integrate marketing, management, and finance in order to create value for customers, the owners, employees and the communities they serve.
2. You will better interpret and explain the data you collect. This analysis is necessary for decisions in our complex world. The skills you gain will allow you to better assess the trade offs among alternatives using these quantitative skills gained in college.
3. Better and more persuasively communicate complicated ideas and business strategy through effective oral and written presentations
4. Identify the social, legal, and ethical factors involved in business strategy and incorporate these factors into your recommendations and decision making.
5. Engage in civil discourse with those of differing backgrounds and cultures who disagree with you. You will become a better leader by acknowledging the strengths, weaknesses and risks associated with alternative actions.
6. You will practice contributing to the success of a team-based work as a leader, peer, and subordinate.
What future business leader doesn’t need that skill set?

Why I keep writing this blog

Recently, my blog ramblings have had two purposes: 1. Explain what real entrepreneurs think. 2. What ideas can help them build their businesses? 3. Find common ground between the success and failures of entrepreneurs 4. Learn what it takes to be successful.

I heard a great question from Jay Matson, President of Seminary Street Ventures who said “Can you really teach this entrepreneur stuff?”. It is a really good question. My qualified answer is “knowledge can help curb the really big mistakes”.

Why study Entrepreneurs?  They are an interesting lot of characters that drive a huge part of job creation worldwide. Plus I was raised by two entrepreneurial parents.  It is “in my blood”. Today, I lead business discussions, do consulting with small businesses, start-ups, and help family owned businesses that are in “transition”.

Success strategies for the new employee

Are you a millennial going to work full-time for the first time? Below are a few pointers as you start your new job:
1. Be patient-opportunities to be promoted don’t come every day and your supervisor will see your patience and enthusiasm as virtues
2. See people in person whenever possible the first time you begin a business relationship. Face to face contact is more important than ever in starting things off on the right foot. When you have big misunderstandings, get over to the person’s space or office and try work things out in a live face-to-face conversation. Don’t rely on text messages to communicate.
3. Try to immediately take responsibility for projects. Take calculated risks-resist the temptation to get every last instruction dictated by your boss via text or voice just because you can. The initiative you show to “handle things yourself” will set you apart from other millennials.
4. Join your trade association and network with alumni in your same industry. Many companies eliminated their middle managers during the downturn. Without internal mentors you will need to rely on relationships and experiences from those in your same industry often working at competitive firms.
5. Use your advantage of your knowledge of social media and younger connections to create or find insights or information on current trends, customer’s tastes, and hot product categories your company might not be aware of because they are supervised by “older” managers.
6. Tell the truth when good and bad things happen. Take responsibility and you will earn a reputation for trustworthiness.

Most conflict is good

Do you remember studio polling from the hit game show How to become a Millionaire? The show featured a series of questions poised to an eager contestant. These questions became increasingly difficult and the reward for a correct answer increased exponentially. To make the show more interesting group think was incorporated through studio polling and lifelines where the participant could call an expert. Over years of polling the studio the results were conclusive that groupthink produced more than the lifeline experts. The conclusion was groupthink is a powerful way to both create ideas by brainstorming and solving problems through what is known as groupthink.

Much of the information I will share was included in an article published January 30, 2012 in the New Yorker by Jonah Lehrer http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/01/30/120130fa_fact_lehrer?currentPage=all.  In 2003, Charlan Nemeth, a psychology professor at Berkeley, divided two hundred and sixty-five female undergraduates into teams of five. She gave all the teams the same problem—“How can traffic congestion be reduced in the San Francisco Bay Area?”—he assigned each team one of three conditions. The first set of teams was instructed to not criticize any suggestion and to allow the free flow of ideas. These groups formed what we call the control group.  The other teams—assigned what Nemeth called the “debate” condition—were told, “Most research and advice suggests that the best way to come up with good solutions is to come up with many solutions. Freewheeling is welcome; don’t be afraid to say anything that comes to mind. However, in addition, most studies suggest that you should debate and even criticize each other’s ideas.” The rest received no further instructions, leaving them free to collaborate however they wanted. All the teams had twenty minutes to come up with as many good solutions as possible.

The results were telling. The brainstorming groups slightly outperformed the groups given no instructions, but teams given the debate condition were the most creative by far. On average, they generated nearly twenty per cent more ideas. And, after the teams disbanded, another interesting result became apparent. Researchers asked each subject individually if she had any more ideas about traffic. The brainstormers and the people given no guidelines produced an average of three additional ideas; the debaters produced seven.

Nemeth’s studies suggest that the ineffectiveness of brainstorming stems from the very thing that Osborn thought was most important. As Nemeth puts it, “While the instruction ‘Do not criticize’ is often cited as the important instruction in brainstorming, this appears to be a counterproductive strategy. Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.” Osborn thought that imagination is inhibited by the merest hint of criticism, but Nemeth’s work and a number of other studies have demonstrated that it can thrive on conflict. According to Nemeth, dissent stimulates new ideas because it encourages us to engage more fully with the work of others and to reassess our viewpoints. “There’s this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone’s feelings,” she says. “Well, that’s just wrong. Maybe debate is going to be less pleasant, but it will always be more productive. True creativity requires some trade-offs.”

Another of her experiments has demonstrated that exposure to unfamiliar perspectives can foster creativity. The experiment focused on a staple of the brainstorming orthodoxy—free association. A long-standing problem with free association is that people aren’t very good at it. In the early nineteen-sixties, two psychologists, David Palermo and James Jenkins, began amassing a huge table of word associations, the first thoughts that come to mind when people are asked to reflect on a particular word. (They interviewed more than forty-five hundred subjects.) Palermo and Jenkins soon discovered that the vast majority of these associations were utterly predictable. For instance, when people are asked to free-associate about the word “blue,” the most likely first answer is “green,” followed by “sky” and “ocean.” When asked to free-associate about “green,” nearly everyone says “grass.” “Even the most creative people are still going to come up with many mundane associations,” Nemeth says. “If you want to be original, then you have to get past this first layer of predictability.”

Nemeth’s experiment devised a way of escaping this trap. Pairs of subjects were shown a series of color slides in various shades of blue and asked to identify the colors. Sometimes one of the pair was actually a lab assistant instructed by Nemeth to provide a wrong answer. After a few minutes, the pairs were asked to free-associate about the colors they had seen. People who had been exposed to inaccurate descriptions came up with associations that were far more original. Instead of saying that “blue” reminded them of “sky,” they came up with “jazz” and “berry pie.” The obvious answer had stopped being their only answer. Even when alternative views are clearly wrong, being exposed to them still expands our creative potential. In a way, the power of dissent is the power of surprise. After hearing someone shout out an errant answer, we work to understand it, which causes us to reassess our initial assumptions and try out new perspectives. “Authentic dissent can be difficult, but it’s always invigorating,” Nemeth says. “It wakes us right up.”

Criticism allows people to dig below the surface of the imagination and come up with collective ideas that aren’t predictable. And recognizing the importance of conflicting perspectives in a group raises the issue of what kinds of people will work together best. Brian Uzzi, a sociologist at Northwestern, has spent his career trying to find what the ideal composition of a team would look like. Casting around for an industry to study that would most clearly show the effects of interaction, he hit on Broadway musicals. He’d grown up in New York City and attended his first musical at the age of nine. “I went to see ‘Hair,’ ” Uzzi recalls. “I remember absolutely nothing about the music, but I do remember the nude scene. That just about blew my mind. I’ve been a fan of Broadway ever since.”

Uzzi sees musicals as a model of group creativity. “Nobody creates a Broadway musical by themselves,” he said. “The production requires too many different kinds of talent.” A composer has to write songs with a lyricist and a librettist; a choreographer has to work with a director, who is probably getting notes from the producers.

Uzzi wanted to understand how the relationships of these team members affected the product. Was it better to have a group composed of close friends who had worked together before? Or did strangers make better theatre? He undertook a study of every musical produced on Broadway between 1945 and 1989. To get a full list of collaborators, he sometimes had to track down dusty old Playbills in theatre basements. He spent years analyzing the teams behind four hundred and seventy-four productions, and charted the relationships of thousands of artists, from Cole Porter to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Uzzi found that the people who worked on Broadway were part of a social network with lots of interconnections: it didn’t take many links to get from the librettist of “Guys and Dolls” to the choreographer of “Cats.” Uzzi devised a way to quantify the density of these connections, a figure he called Q. If musicals were being developed by teams of artists that had worked together several times before—a common practice, because Broadway producers see “incumbent teams” as less risky—those musicals would have an extremely high Q. A musical created by a team of strangers would have a low Q.

Uzzi then tallied his Q readings with information about how successful the productions had been. “Frankly, I was surprised by how big the effect was,” Uzzi told me. “I expected Q to matter, but I had no idea it would matter this much.” According to the data, the relationships among collaborators emerged as a reliable predictor of Broadway success. When the Q was low—less than 1.7 on Uzzi’s five-point scale—the musicals were likely to fail. Because the artists didn’t know one another, they struggled to work together and exchange ideas. “This wasn’t so surprising,” Uzzi says. “It takes time to develop a successful collaboration.” But, when the Q was too high (above 3.2), the work also suffered. The artists all thought in similar ways, which crushed innovation. According to Uzzi, this is what happened on Broadway during the nineteen-twenties, which he made the focus of a separate study. The decade is remembered for its glittering array of talent—Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, and so on—but Uzzi’s data reveals that ninety per cent of musicals produced during the decade were flops, far above the historical norm. “Broadway had some of the biggest names ever,” Uzzi explains. “But the shows were too full of repeat relationships, and that stifled creativity.”

The best Broadway shows were produced by networks with an intermediate level of social intimacy. The ideal level of Q—which Uzzi and his colleague Jarrett Spiro called the “bliss point”—emerged as being between 2.4 and 2.6. A show produced by a team whose Q was within this range was three times more likely to be a commercial success than a musical produced by a team with a score below 1.4 or above 3.2. It was also three times more likely to be lauded by the critics. “The best Broadway teams, by far, were those with a mix of relationships,” Uzzi says. “These teams had some old friends, but they also had newbies. This mixture meant that the artists could interact efficiently—they had a familiar structure to fall back on—but they also managed to incorporate some new ideas. They were comfortable with each other, but they weren’t too comfortable.”

Uzzi’s favorite example of “intermediate Q” is “West Side Story,” one of the most successful Broadway musicals ever. In 1957, the play was seen as a radical departure from Broadway conventions, both for its focus on social problems and for its extended dance scenes. The concept was dreamed up by Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, and Arthur Laurents. They were all Broadway legends, which might make “West Side Story” look like a show with high Q. But the project also benefitted from a crucial injection of unknown talent, as the established artists realized that they needed a fresh lyrical voice. After an extensive search, they chose a twenty-five-year-old lyricist who had never worked on a Broadway musical before. His name was Stephen Sondheim.

Capener’s recommendations:

  1. Allow conflict and questioning in your meetings. Reward those who constructively praise and criticize your ideas. Conflict is proven to be a good thing, even in a relationship. As leaders we need to be ready to not only accept but incorporate that feedback into our plans, ideas, and work processes.
  2. We all experience conflict and misunderstanding with co-workers, clients, customers, suppliers, and especially our superiors in the organization.
  3. There is never a week in any person’s life when conflict management skills are not essential to her/his well-being and progress within and outside of the organization. Don’t be afraid to address most conflict head on and be teachable in the process.
  4. Develop empathy for alternative viewpoints. Learning to read the “signs” of impending conflict will enable you to understand hidden issues fueling your workplace conflicts or relationship problems. The more skilled you become, the more “relationship capital” your will build up.
  5. Practice handling these conflicts and issues internally and those skills will enable you to experience greater success with your clients.

What are the six steps to becoming a certified corporate conflict guru?

1. Learn the language of conflict resolution. Similar to learning a foreign language, the language of conflict resolution is an acquired skill. Some have a natural aptitude for this language and others must work very hard to overcome what is not natural. The natural person is selfish and driven for purposes only known to them. The peacemaker is open to take time to listen, understand the issues, and move her own position to adapt to the needs of the team. One example is the definition of peacemaker. Peacemakers are not weak or without backbone. They are the strongest individuals with the highest levels of emotional intelligence.

2.     Recognize the conflict. You can begin to resolve conflict by first recognizing it. If you cannot see misunderstandings and team conflicts for what they are, you cannot positively address them. If someone is habitually causing or creating conflict, it is not enough to be sorry. Instigators must be taught to recognize their natural inclinations before damaging performance of the team.

3. An earnest desire to learn from the conflict. As mentioned in #2, it is not enough to recognize the conflict. A conflict resolver learns from his mistakes and compensates for any loss sustained through his error or mistake. The desire to resolve the conflict and learn to work smarter is an essential trait for any one engage is working with culturally diverse teams.

4.      Acknowledging the conflict exists. Acknowledge one’s errors and mistakes in judgment. This forth step is often the most difficult since we are taught to hide our weaknesses and mistakes and push blame onto others. Becoming honest with your teammates and acknowledging your faults and miscalculations are essential to long-term improvement and progress. True honesty is admitting your own mistakes and being truly happy for the success of teammates and co-worker, especially when your boss is not watching you.

5.      Be the first to offer the “olive branch”.  The fifth step is a commitment to take positive action to address the conflict. Set a plan in place to resolve the conflict through face to face contact with the other party. Sometimes the act of explaining steps 1-4 will resolve an issue. However, when a large amount of damage has been done, a peacemaker may be necessary as a mediator. When you are at fault for causing the conflict, meet with the person one-on one if possible. A liar may make the truth known and correct to some degree the damage done by the lie. A gossip who has slandered the character of a teammate may make partial restitution through strenuous effort to restore the good name of the person he harmed. If by carelessness the wrongdoer has destroyed team dynamics or property, he may restore or pay back the loss. Conflict resolution requires action.

6. Demonstrate your conflict resolution skills by mentoring others in this process. There is no better way to develop conflict resolution skills than teaching it to others in your organization. Teaching these skills will help you master the process and become a certified corporate peacemaker. Practicing the steps in the process will help it become ingrained into your management style. If you commit to learn from your past conflicts and quickly resolve future problems you will have created a healthy and productive team environment. Greater profits and productivity will be the by-products of this process.