As a mom/entrepreneur, I'm often amazed at the overlap between managing my family and managing my business. I've often heard the advice to "treat your family like a business," and have a mission statement, goals, "team meetings," and the like. But rarely have I seen the reverse advocated: Treat your business like a family. I started wondering, if business advice would work at home, maybe parenting advice would make my business more effective. So I took three pieces of popular parenting advice and put it to work at work. Here's what happened:
1. Let them cry it out. (Dr. Richard Ferber) When my oldest child was born nearly 20 years ago, one of the popular, yet controversial, trends in parenting was "Ferberizing" your infants to train them to sleep through the night. The process involved increasing the amount of time you let the baby cry before you went to soothe them, with the intent of eventually working up to a full night's sleep.
As a chronic "fixer," I'm inclined to jump into message board discussions as soon as I sense questions, concerns, or disagreements, trying to solve customer service issues and bring harmony. Unfortunately, this habit resulted in my being on call 24/7, constantly feeling like I needed to watch what was going on and insert myself ASAP to make sure everyone was taken care of, even if the issue was just a request for information or a minor question anyone could answer.
I started resenting these "intrusions" that were keeping me from other work, and much like a mother going on her third sleepless week with a colicky baby, I grew testy and edgy. Not an ideal mindset!
After I started "Ferberizing," I gradually increased the amount of time between message board check-ins. Soon I was popping in only once or twice a day to see if there were issues I needed to address. Surprise! When I wasn't constantly monitoring the group, they often solved their own problems, or my customer service team had a chance to answer before "Mom" did it.
Bottom line: It may not be the ideal approach for babies, but it works very well with grown-ups!
2. They need a parent, not a friend. This piece of conventional wisdom has been making the rounds for some time, particularly in today's world of buddy-buddy parenting. When I thought about applying this nugget to my business, I wondered if I should use it with my employees or with my customers and clients. Finally, I decided I was more apt to want my coaching clients to like me, even at the expense of their progress - but no longer! Introducing the new, tougher business coach.
The first opportunity to take my new stance arrived quickly. A client was hemming and hawing about proceeding with her business because she was attached to her existing - and unprofitable - direction. In my brain, I knew I needed to lower the hammer and let her know she was circling back to old patterns, but at first I resisted. "What if she gets mad?" I worried. But then I reminded myself that she didn't need a friend, she needed a coach. Many of my best coaches pushed me to irritation or anger because they were pushing me outside my comfort zone.
I gave her the tough truth in a kind but firm way. At first there was dead silence. A LONG silence. And then... "You're killing me! But that's just what I needed." Success.
Bottom line: When someone's paying you, they're paying you to achieve results, not to be their buddy. Give them the best you've got, even at risk of losing the friendship.
3. "Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do." (Dr. Benjamin Spock) Dr. Spock has long been the savior of parents everywhere, with his firm testament that you, the parent, know best when it comes to your child. He urged mothers to reclaim their power from doctors and other "experts," and rely on their innate instincts when caring for their children.
As any business owner knows, there is a seemingly unending stream of "experts" in the entrepreneurial field. Each day, scores of self-proclaimed business gurus unleash torrents of Facebook ads, blog posts, and Periscope videos on the unsuspecting public. Often, though, the only thing these people are experts in is marketing themselves as experts; their true knowledge is frequently limited to one online course teaching them how to teach online courses.
When you're an entrepreneur, it can be tough to separate the real thing from the fauxperts. You're already venturing into uncharted territory in creating your business, so seeing an ad at a time when you're feeling uncertain can be like the real estate agent who descends on the widow the day after her spouse's funeral; you're already in an emotionally vulnerable space.
After committing to follow Dr. Spock's advice, I stopped the flow of info. I unsubscribed from more than a dozen email lists, I stopped reading "expert" blogs, and every time an ad popped up in my Facebook feed, I trained myself to click away as quickly as possible.
Within days, not only did I have more time in my schedule, I had a lot more clarity. No longer was I constantly double-checking my decisions against the latest expert theory. No longer was I wondering if I was missing some new trend or tool. I just... decided, and then moved on. And I felt good about it.
Bottom line: Dr. Spock isn't just the savior of moms and dads, he's the patron saint of entrepreneurs as well.
This short experiment was so successful that I've dug out my old parenting books to find more business guidance. Next up: The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old by Dr. Harvey Karp. I have a feeling it's just what I need for customer service and employee management.