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  • Writer's pictureBob Wiesner, Managing Partner, The Americas

Three Ways to Reduce the Stress of New Business

In a perfect world, everyone in your agency or professional services firm would be dying to get involved in new business.  It’s ought to be a chance to work on high-energy, high-stakes project that will stretch capabilities, providing tons of opportunities to learn and to strut your stuff.  Sounds cool.

Sometimes it works out this way.  Sometimes it starts this way and ends as an emotional and physical slog.  And sometimes when people are given the chance to work on new business they run for the hills.  It’s a bad scene from the start.

New business is stressful.  Always will be.  But stress can be good.  I’ve written about that before.  So why does the stress associated with pursuit and pitch teams often turn out to be bad?

I have a theory, which came about from this article in HBR called “Managing the Hidden Stress of Emotional Labor.”

The author, Susan David, points out one source of bad stress that she says comes from “surface acting.”  I think many new business teams create this without realizing it.  Consider the following from the perspective of team members, as cited in the article:

A mismatch between [team member’s] personality (for example, level of introversion or extroversion) and what is expected from you in your role

A misalignment of values, when what you’re being asked to do doesn’t accord with what you believe in

A workplace culture in which particular ways of expressing emotion (what psychologists call “display rules”) are endorsed — or not

Agencies and professional services firms often assign people to new business teams because they’re subject matter experts.  Sometimes it’s also because they’re available.  Often that creates the mismatch described in the first bullet.

We’d expect values to be mostly aligned.  Everyone in the firm should be in it to win it.  They want to do good work, drive results, and have strong relationships.  Yet new business pursuits sometimes require approaches, strategies and solutions that can be at odds with the rest of the organization (even for the better).

And new business is, without doubt, a high-stress, high-emotion series of activities.  People really care, or should.   Perhaps these teams are expressing these emotions in culturally unacceptable ways, or even failing to express emotions when they’d be better off if they did.

When assembling and leading new business teams, consider whether you’re pushing your people into “surface acting.”  If so, here are solutions adapted from the article:

Remind team members how new business activities connect with their reasons for working at your firm.

Make sure they’re exposed to opportunities to do meaningful things, and do them in a way that embraces risk and learning.

Do some “job crafting.”  Tweak roles and responsibilities on the team to better fit the strengths of team members.

- Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, The Americas


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