In a new column called, “Let’s Chat,” we discuss topics on every woman entrepreneur’s mind—and what may be on deck tomorrow. This month, we tackle the “biggest challenges,” with a group of seasoned leaders from the WBENC Board.
All business owners face challenges, but how can entrepreneurs adapt to challenges and make them opportunities? Leaders in the WBENC community answer questions, offer insight and advice, and talk about their experience guiding entrepreneurs through hurdles and obstacles.
In a conversation moderated by Laura Berry, Founder and CEO, of Cogberry Creative, LLC, the conversation includes WBENC Board Chair Theresa Harrison, Diversity & Inclusiveness Procurement Leader, EY; Leadership Council Chair Roz Lewis, President, Greater Woman's Business Council; and Women’s Enterprise Forum Chair Cheryl Snead, Founder, President, and CEO, Banneker Industries.
Here is an excerpt of that conversation:
We often hear business owners, particularly women entrepreneurs, talk about work-life balance as a challenge. Do you have advice for them?
Theresa: I don't like the phrase "work-life balance." One of my big advocates at EY says it's really about choices. You make the decisions on the work at hand. You have to really be clear about your boundaries, and about what your career or professional aspirations are, and you make those decisions accordingly. It's not about work-life balance, it's about that moment when the decisions get hard: What are your overall boundaries are going to be?
Cheryl: I'll say ditto. In fact, I was going to say I actually need advice, because in 24 years, I don't think I've actually had work-life balance.
Similar to Theresa, I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all and it really depends on your personal situation, but for me, I've gotten to the point where I just look at it as, at the end of the day, do I feel like I've accomplished things? Do I have a moment to reflect or focus on something other than work? One of my New Year's resolutions is to keep a gratitude journal. At the end of the day, I take 15 minutes to think about my day and what I accomplished and what I'm grateful for. Actually, that makes me happy, and I think that gives me balance.
Theresa: That’s great. I was going to say I have a box so that, when a “challenge day” comes--when I'm challenged or having a real bad day--that's the box I go to. It’s full of thank yous and notes from people—even WBEs. Then I just sit back and relax and reflect, and focus on the positives. I really identify if I need a team to help me in this challenge, or if I just need to kind of stop, think, and then move forward and try to really focus on how to beat the challenge or get past that difficult moment.
I love that, in the business community, we don't say the word "problem." A challenge is always an opportunity.
Roz: Well, and you're right, Laura. With challenges, I always tell women businesses “This is an opportunity we can use to solve a problem.” Whether it's on your team, or with yourself, or within your company. Or even for your customer. Always look at it as opportunities; as a way you can improve. The bar is always raised, right? The question is, do you ever reach a level of nirvana? Is it ever going to get to that point?
As long as you're alive, you always have a challenge day as Theresa says. Each day is presented to you, and you get a chance to get it right and start all over. That's how I look at challenges. If I wasn't successful today, I'd say, "I hope, pray, and thank God that I have the opportunity tomorrow to get it right--and continue to build upon that." That's why they call it "the present." It's a present that's given to you to be able to do or improve upon whatever that situation is, or whatever that challenge may be.
Cheryl: I’m personally as well as professionally similar to Roz. One of the things I think our team has actually become very good at is problem solving. We look at it as a process, and we have a tool, Six Sigma, to be able to walk through that process to solve problems, which was taught to us by WBENC Corporate Member Raytheon.
It's just six steps. When you have a problem or a challenge or whatever you want to call it, the first thing is to
1. Visualize the future state, not what things look like or feel like today, but how it will look and feel like when that problem is solved.
2. The second step is to Commit. You may be committed to solving it, but you may need other stakeholders to help make that happen, whether it's your employees, or your boss, or your spouse, or your kids, whatever.
3. The third step is to Characterize. That's really brainstorming, all the possible ways to solve that problem. Nothing's out of scope, and sometimes the craziest ideas turn out to be the best.
4. Once you have all those ideas, you then have to weed them down, and that's the fourth step, which is Prioritize. You may prioritize based on time, you may prioritize based on money or resources. There's something that allows you to funnel it to one or two that really are the right process to solve that problem.
5. The fifth step is just like the Nike tagline: Improve. Just do it!
6. Then the last step is to Achieve. Once you've hit that nirvana, as Roz said, you want to celebrate with those that helped you make it happen.
As Roz says, it's not a straight line. It's actually a circle, because what you'll find is, as you go through the steps, you may hit a roadblock, you may have to go back and do one or two steps over, but you'll always move forward in a clockwise direction. You're always going to have new problems, so it becomes more of a journey than a destination.
I have to say, I started using that from a business standpoint, and I now use it in everything I do. You'll find that sometimes you go through those six steps in 15 minutes. Other times it might take you months, depending on how big the challenge or the problems are. But if you have a process and a tool, it really gives you the confidence to get through whatever you're dealing with.
Roz: My father owned his own business; both my parents did, and even in my role today, one of the cheerleading statements that my father always says to me is that, "Tough times don't last, but tough people do." He is saying you're going to get through it. It's just a matter of how you approach it. I love all the steps that Cheryl just mentioned, of saying that as long as you're taking those steps, and being real with yourself and real about how you're approaching a problem. Because you can't control, always, what happens to you. You can control how you respond to it. That is what I look for in a team and what I look for with my WBEs.
Theresa: You know, but I think struggle builds character. I think when we're pushed to that limit, or we're kind of overcome with that adversity, it turns into a growth opportunity. I think a lot of times when we're in the professional life and we're trying to do performance appraisals or whatever, "What's your challenge area?" No. "What's your growth opportunity? Where are the ways that you can seek this kind of adversity to grow from it?"
I think Roz is spot on. There's always going to be challenges, but it's your reaction and how you equip yourself to handle it. It's how you're going to get through this time and the next time.
Read more from this month's Let’s Chat conversation in the February issue of WBENC’s President’s Report.