Ajay Pattani, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Chicago, is founder (and reigning ping pong champion) of Perfect Search Media, a search and social agency. As an entrepreneur who respects his team's opinions while simultaneously evolving his perspective around risk, we asked Ajay about the intentional strategy he adopted to help his team continue to grow and change while addressing their opinions and concerns. Here's what he shared:
In 2019, our company grew to new levels of revenue, survived a client's bankruptcy, and weathered leadership turnover. I learned more this past year than in my previous 10 years of entrepreneurship and leadership.
I'm lucky to be surrounded by and work with intelligent and caring leaders who are passionate about our company's success. In our shared passion, however, I find myself in countless disagreements with colleagues. While this is a net-positive--because we enjoy a diverse range of opinions that position us to uncover blind spots in our strategy--it's an area of concern for me.
How do we, as entrepreneurs and leaders, respectfully come together when we share a passion for the company but don't necessarily have a stable common ground?
Here are three ways we've overcome this potentially tricky situation:
1. Assess each other's risk tolerance
Everyone has a different risk tolerance. As I continue to grow, I become more open-minded and less afraid of risk. From a business perspective, I often conclude that the most significant risk is not taking one and experiencing stagnation. Lack of innovation and testing has led to the demise of many strong brands.
In the summer of 2019, we were nearing the end of a 5.5-year lease in our amazing space in downtown Chicago. I remember moving in and imagining all the growth our company would achieve in that "dream" space. As our lease agreement was coming to a close, we needed to assess whether the space still worked for us or not. We hired a realtor to explore options around terminating or extending our lease.
Renewing meant committing to another five years of a hefty monthly financial outlay. As I considered it, I thought about where our company began and where I hoped we were headed. The lives of my teammates were--and are--changing rapidly, and I contemplated how our work environment should evolve, too.
Looking to the future, we needed options for more remote flexibility and an office that wouldn't sacrifice the culture we've invested in developing.
2. Meet all parties with robust solutions
With time running out and pressure mounting, I discussed several non-traditional solutions with our real estate agent. Together, our agent and I devised a short-term extension on our current space as we searched for more concrete solutions. Our landlord agreed to a six-month extension with the contingency of a 5 percent rent increase.
The story could have ended there, but I felt that asking more questions was worth the risk. And so, I did. I spoke directly to the landlord, and he appreciated my candor. He offered us a month-to-month agreement at half our current rent. From a business perspective, our building lessors had the opportunity to find a long-term tenant, but they chose to take a risk on us--just as we took a risk by asking them to negotiate a more flexible agreement.
3. Consider perspectives on timing
Our lease issue occurred at a time when I wanted to offer more remote flexibility to team members. We surveyed our team to gauge how they would feel about such a shift. While some favored it, others expressed concern about its potential effect on company culture--which many describe as the closeness of a family.
In this same timeframe, several teammates were also transitioning into leadership roles. With so much change afoot, team members expressed concern about how the changes would impact our company over the next few months.
From my perspective, I was excited about the long-term possibility of how our company might grow in the next few years as a result of being able to work internationally with team members from all corners of the world. As an entrepreneur, I constantly find myself dreaming about a future where such changes are possible.
The root cause of leadership disagreements
All things considered, I find that differing views on risk and timing are the primary cause of leadership disagreements. Considering these as root causes helped my team and me achieve alignment to create a more cohesive vision for our company's future.
As you work with your team, it's a best practice to ask what they view as the risks and how these risks play into your timing for making changes and decisions. This simple practice can help you better understand your team's perspective and implement changes that everyone agrees on together.