How to Deal With an Equal Partnership With an Unequal Workload
January 21, 2021 | Education
It comes with challenges, but going into a business partnership can be a great way to cover the vast skills, competencies, and contacts needed to build a successful company—and also to halve your financial risk.
One numbers person, one creative.
One maker, one marketer.
One inventor, one salesperson.
Hopefully, at the beginning of your relationship, you will set out your business’s terms and legal setup; decisions about your distribution percentages, when and how you’ll vote on new partners, your strategy, vision, and management, and an exit plan. This way, you’ll have a reference point when disputes arise.
But as business owners, we know that there is a world of other issues that come up outside of these carefully planned arrangements and that having a good setup doesn’t indemnify us against the complicated day-to-day challenges of sharing workload and decision-making.
What is sweat equity?
Sweat equity is how we talk about the investment of physical exertion, mental effort, and time in a company. It can be difficult to quantify in a partnership.
Two people can do the same task, one person takes two hours, and one takes two days.
One partner can put in 25% less time in the week than the other person but has front-loaded that with years of experience and education on a specific topic.
Because it’s so hard to pin down the effort that we put into our days, sometimes the work we put in feels off-kilter and small grievances arise:
- When we started, we were doing the same amount of work, but I’ve taken on a lot more recently.
- My partner continually has work or family commitments which means they can’t dedicate as much time as they did.
- I feel like I care more about this than she does, and she only wants to do the fun jobs when I do the hard things.
- My partner keeps making minor mistakes that take a long time to clean up. I can’t babysit them and get all of my work done.
Observing Workload Problems
Recognize when you’re not working to your strengths
Sometimes we take on things that don’t suit us to be a team player, but if these tasks are mentally draining and frustrating, we can end up wasting time and feeling overwhelmed.
According to Author Marcus Buckingham, you know when you’re working to your strengths because:
- It makes you feel successful.
- You’re drawn to it, even if you don’t know why.
- It fully engages you; when doing it, you often find yourself in a flow state.
- After doing the activity, you feel energized, fulfilled, and powerful.
Take his StandOut assessment for free to find out more about enhancing your strengths.
Weigh up how each of the tasks on your to-do list makes you feel, and if there are certain things that are zapping your energy, instead of spending vast amounts of time trying to get better at them, take them back to the table with your partner and work out a new way of getting them done.
Dealing with ebbs and flows
How can you tell the difference between a long-term workload issue and the various ebbs and flows between people with different roles and different work styles? Is it that your partner is never working as hard as you, or are they pulling back temporarily to take care of family or other projects? If you had an emergency that meant you couldn’t work, would the business crumble without you for a month?
One way to work it out might be to map out where you sit on the performance/pressure curve over time. Are there certain times of the week, month, or year where you’re particularly overwhelmed? Most entrepreneurs oscillate between strain, stretch, and comfort. If you find yourself frequently in the red zone while your partner’s in comfort or stretch, no matter if the workload looks even on paper, a low trust, high blame, unsupportive dynamic will be created.
Identify whether it’s a control issue or a workload issue
In a successful 50/50 partnership, you can focus on your part of the day-to-day business with confidence that other parts are under control. This is more difficult for some people than others. Do you often find yourself quizzing your partner about the minutia of their department? Do you spend a lot of time and energy trying to manage other teams or external events and make things happen your way?
You likely went into your business with a particular vision of what it would be like, and it can be challenging to give up part of that control. But one of the beautiful moments in entrepreneurship is seeing how it’s shaped and influenced by the people pushing it forward. Of course you need to learn about the systems and processes in all parts of your business, but trying to control everything is going to add so much work and stress to your day-to-day life.
It can be tempting to hold your tongue on workload issues to keep the peace, but what you get isn’t really peace; not for you, who is living with resentment; not for your partner, who will see you closing off; and not for your employees, who are smart enough to pick up on the two factions in the business.
Practice non-violent communication
Nonviolent communication is a practice and communication model that puts an emphasis on awareness, responsibility, and empathy. It encourages you to use open questions, and manage conflict strategically.
One of the principles of nonviolent communication is that we shift away from the language based on evaluation/manipulation to language based on needs. This means stepping back from ordering, exhorting, lecturing, and name-calling, and towards expressing our own needs based on what we see and hear.
So, “I’m doing more work than you, it feels like you don’t care about the business” becomes, “I’m feeling overwhelmed and foggy. I need for us to reassess how we share the workload. Does that sound like something we can do together?”
Renegotiate how you share work
Negotiate when you both feel calm. You may feel like you have a good understanding of where they are spending their time or the reasons why they aren’t meeting the expectations of a growing business, but should be open to hearing their experience of working together.
Mediator and communications consultant, Bryant Galindo, suggests:
“Get clear on what your business partner can commit to and if they need additional support. Questions to ask yourself and your founder include:
- Do we need to hire a coach to improve their performance?
- Do we need to hire other team members to cover some of their tasks in the interim?
- What Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) do we need to switch?
- Are we objective and reasonable in what is expected from each other?”
Ask for help
It can be useful to have an informal council of mentors or business associates who can be a neutral third party in difficult partnership conversations, that’s why some people decide to give a small amount of equity to an employee they trust to break the tie on loggerhead issues.
You might also consider bringing in a mediator or coach to either support you in strategic planning, negotiating and reassessing how you work together, or supporting your business partner if they need skilling up in certain areas of their job that’s preventing them from working effectively.
Other than dissolving the partnership, this is the most extreme option and should be considered a last resort after you’ve tried talking and renegotiating your roles. It would take a hugely skilled negotiation to not make your partner feel like they are having something taken away from them. You might find that your partner’s pattern of avoiding work is a sign that they’re naturally taking a step back to focus on other things, but most people would feel like the work they put into building the company is being invalidated. This is a conversation that will almost certainly require external support.
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