How Do You Plan an Off-Site Meeting? Several Suggestions

Situation: A CEO wants to schedule an off-site planning meeting with her top staff. She has heard about the potential efficacy of off-site meetings and is intrigued by the idea of taking her staff away from the office for a day or two to concentrate on planning. She is curious about typical agendas, time frames, objectives and who should be involved in the meetings. How do you plan an off-site meeting?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • General considerations
    • Set the objective of the meeting in advance. Tell everyone involved the objective so that they are thinking about this prior to the meeting.
    • The staff involved depends on the objective of the meeting. Select participants to fit the need.
    • Include a team building event. One purpose of off-sites is to help the team or teams get to know each other better and improve collaboration.
    • Have an agenda for the meeting and meet without interruptions. Have participants notify key customers or contacts in advance, schedule back-up contacts if necessary, and don’t allow interruptions.
    • Hold the meeting during work hours. Options: one day, local for easy travel and return home; or two days, nice setting, dinner the first day, and late afternoon return home the second day.
    • Do you need a facilitator? This depends on the goal and organizer’s comfort with the topic of focus.
  • Typical Agenda:
    • A speaker or educational component pertinent to the meeting goal.
    • Breakout and group discussions to think through important issues.
    • A team-building event.
    • Some fun – dinner or an evening activity that allows individuals to talk in a relaxed setting.
  • Examples of effective events:
    • Broad agenda – What can we do better?
    • All-hands meeting – prompts contribution by all.
    • Opportunity for CEO to communicate the company vision and involve employees in the planning process for the coming year or period.

Who Do You Serve – The Customer or The Company? Six Thoughts

Situation: A company’s motto is that they serve the customer first. As an unintended consequence company projects get lower priority and action than customer projects. Frequently, the CEO finds that company projects are only half completed. What have you done to make company initiatives a priority? Who do you serve – the customer or the company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a great question. Clearly serving the customer has to be top priority. However, you also have to complete company projects, particularly those which are critical to company function or which will enhance your ability to serve your customers.
  • Define the company as a customer for important projects. Call this “billable hours” to the company and credit them as such on these projects. Accompany this with employee training on how to prioritize “company” versus “customer” projects when priorities conflict. It may take time to work through this, and for the message to sink in.
  • Add completion of company initiatives to the company kudos list. LInk company award eligibility to completion of company initiatives. For mission critical projects, grant double credit for completion of company projects. Adjustment of incentives will help to get the message across.
  • In employee communications, include updates on company projects along with customer projects and give equal or greater emphasis as appropriate.
  • Have you defined your “ideal customer”?
    • Include internal customers within your definition of ideal customers.
    • This will help to clarify and prioritize opportunities and shift the mindset.
  • For mission critical projects hire additional personnel or contractors.

What are Your Key Business Metrics? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A CEO has been analyzing the metrics that she uses to track her company’s performance. Historically she has used common metrics like sales, gross and net margin, profit and net operating income, budget plan vs. actual expenses, and sales forecast vs. actual sales. She is curious what other companies use to track performance. What are your key business metrics?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The most important financial metric for many companies is actually cash flow – how much cash you have on hand and your cash flow forecast. Two metrics that can help you to better understand and boost cash flow are:
    • Receivables – aging rate
    • DSO – Days Sales Outstanding
  • Additional financial metrics include:
    • Portfolio performance
    • Variable versus fixed cost ratios
  • To augment understanding of profitability, track “good” profit – revenue from customers who are profitable, as opposed to revenue that is either break-even or unprofitable.
  • Sales metrics to measure future revenue include:
    • Order backlog – by month for X months out
    • From this, forecast beyond visible orders
  • Marketing metrics include:
    • Net promoter score – would the customer refer us to a friend or family member?
    • Client and referral client retention rate
  • Metrics for utilization of resources for a service provider include:
    • Total hours paid versus total hours billed
    • Resource utilization
  • Business trend tracking. If business is seasonal, look for historic peak to peak times – this may be 3 months and may be 18 months. Determine this and make the rolling cycle equivalent to your business cycle.
  • Review your metrics regularly to reinforce their importance across the company

How Do You Balance Two Businesses? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company provides both contract staff and consulting services. They have a large client for whom they provide staff, but not consulting. The client routinely requests discounted rates on contract staff from the company. The CEO believes that the client requests lower rates because they, in turn, offers consulting to their customers, using the company’s staff, and want to offer these services at a competitive rate. How can the CEO better respond to the next requests for discounted rates? In addition, is there a way for the company to market their consulting services directly to the large client’s customers? How do you balance two businesses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Don’t avoid the conversation on your rates. Make sure that your client knows that they are getting top quality services and that this is reflected in your rates.
    • Make the issue a price / quality trade-off. If cutting costs is important to the client, offer lower quality options at a lower price and let the client decide what will fill their needs. This positions you as flexible and willing to work with the client, without losing margin.
    • Offer modest discounts for incremental business, but not current business.
  • Tell the client sooner, rather than later, that your prices are as low as you can make them. Don’t wait until you are in pain.
  • How can you promote your own business to end customers via the staff that you provide for this client?
    • Give them business cards to give out that reflect your business, not your client’s.
    • Provide them with wear nicely embroidered “Company” shirts to wear at work.
  • Be aware that your desire to approach the client’s customers directly with your services will be a threat to your client and may result in them firing you as a provider of contract staff.

How Do You Integrate a New Team Into Your Culture? Six Ideas

Situation: A West Coast company has recently acquired an East Coast company. The two companies serve similar customers with different but complimentary services. The acquired team has a history and mode of operating. The CEO seeks advice on how much they should require the new team to operate as they do at the home office. How do you integrate a new team into your culture?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Have patience. The transition and transfer of culture will take time. Your priority is for both offices to operate smoothly and profitably. Business practices differ by geography to suit their regional cultures. The remote office need not function just like the home office.
  • If you want a manager from your home office in the new office, take care who you select. Since you have history with the new company and office, select a manager who already has a good relationship with key senior managers in the new office. This will ease the transition, and will keep you updated on what is happening there.
  • Organize a dinner with your new manager and the senior managers in the new office. At dinner you will want to communicate your expectations and accelerate the transition.
  • Involve the senior managers from the new office in mentoring the new manager. This will give them an important role and will show respect for their knowledge and expertise.
  • Do all that you can to reinforce the link between the offices – in a constructive way.
  • Set benchmarks and plans of action, and manage to these.

How Do You Manage Multiple Products and Segments? Five Ideas

Situation: A company was launched on a single product with variations. Their R&D team has now developed several additional products which they are planning to launch. This will involve new product names and new customer segments. Having not done this before, the CEO seeks advice on managing multiple products, brands and market segments. How do you manage multiple products and segments?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The most important element is the plan – write it carefully and build from a solid base.
  • When working with multiple products or market segments, match your segment strategy for each segment to your product strategy for that segment.
    • Build a grid that shows all products and all segments where you wish to sell them. In each cell, determine both the decision maker(s) and their top purchasing priorities. This will help you to build your Product/Segment strategy and optimize resource allocation while increasing sales and marketing effectiveness.
    • It may also help you to fire problem customers who cost you money and attention and reallocate these resources to more promising opportunities.
  • Analyze the customer’s decision-making process for each product and segment. Make sure that your marketing and sales effort makes sense within their decision process and focus on what is workable.
  • When introducing a new product or idea, focus first on smaller segments and test the fit of your product or idea. This is low risk if you fail, and you can leverage what you have learned if you win.
  • Build a one-page strategic plan that covers your full company strategy. Each department compliments the company strategy with its own departmental strategy to support the company strategy.

Special thanks to John Maver of Maver Management Group for his contribution to this discussion.

How Do You Expand Your Business Model? Seven Recommendations

Situation: To date, a company has performed a single set of services focused on collection and delivery of a stream of raw data to its clients. The CEO wants to add a consulting service based on the expertise that the company has developed over the years. The CEO seeks input on both how to position this new service, and how to organize it, either within or separately from the current business. How do you expand your business model?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Consulting services can be offered at a premium to current services because the company will be offering analysis and recommendations for a solution, instead of just raw data. Intelligence is more valuable than raw data.
  • Offer the consulting service on a project rather than an hourly basis. For example, price a project at $10k for the consulting package instead of $200/hour for data collection and reporting.
  • To add weight to the consulting offering, provide final reports and recommendations as a professional, written document supplemented by a presentation.
  • Test the concept and early options for the consulting service with existing clients.
  • Create a new division for the consulting service so the customer sees it as an additional option and value that the company provides. This will change both the branding and image of the business.
  • To increase the opportunity for success, develop a full business plan for the consulting model.
  • Focus on the new consulting business with the same discipline as the current data business.

How Do You Maintain Company Culture as You Expand? Six Ideas

Situation: A company wants to open a satellite office in a lower cost geography where they can provide current services at a reduced cost to improve margins. In doing this, the company wants to maintain the same culture and controls on quality of work that they enjoy in their home office. They also need to accurately forecast revenue for the new office. How do you maintain company culture as you expand, and how would you forecast revenue for the new office?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Maintaining company culture is tricky as a company expands geographically. Assign one of your current managers, someone who buys into the company culture, to head the new office. Also maintain the same hiring and personnel management policies that you have at the home office.
  • As the biggest concern is cost efficiency, make sure that the office manager has clear objectives to realize anticipated savings.
  • Look for an incubator that can handle all the peripheral office details so your staff can focus on their work instead of managing facilities.
  • When it comes to revenue forecasting:
    • Given the lower costs associated with the new geography, look for opportunities to trade margin for longer contract commitment windows to improve revenue forecasting.
    • Both margin and delivery can be lumpy when opening a new location. Obtain a credit line to help you smooth the rough spots in your revenue stream.
    • Investigate deferred revenue options to spread revenue risk – right of first refusal on next generation projects in exchange for a lower cost per project to the customer.

What Will You Do Differently in 2015? Six Observations

As we begin 2015 more people are feeling upbeat about the economy than they have through most of the last six years. The dollar is at new highs against global currencies. The US is approaching energy self-sufficiency. However, some still see regulatory headwinds and downsides. What do you see and what will you do differently in 2015?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Over the last six years, software companies have seen large increases in outstanding credit to clients, combined with restrictions on clients’ credit lines available and fewer new purchases. We hope for a better year in 2015, and will focus on reducing outstanding credit to improve cash flow.
  • Cash continues to be king. B2B business sectors with good cash positions are solid.
    • If your product/service saves clients money and makes financial sense, you’re in good shape.
    • Raising money will continue to be a challenge. Investors have been focusing on accelerating deliverables, creating a difficult environment for entrepreneurs. The Wall Street Journal says that the share of people under 30 who own businesses has reached a 24-year low, referring to young entrepreneurs as an endangered species,.
  • What is your current planning horizon?
    • We continue to plan quarter to quarter. There are too many variables for a longer horizon. We pay up our credit lines, and cover multiple payrolls with safe bank deposits.
    • We are watching headcount and dollars in the bank.
    • We are communicating more with our best employees and bringing them into more decisions so that they won’t be looking elsewhere.

How Do You Bring in a General Manager? Four Recommendations

Situation: A CEO has hired an individual who is currently working on projects for the company. The CEO likes this person and anticipates that he could eventually become General Manager. There have been a few rough spots but, overall, objectives are being met. How do you bring in a new General Manager?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Transition the individual from their current responsibilities to GM in small steps. This will allow him to develop relationships and credibility with the rest of the team. These relationships and credibility are what he will need in the more senior position.
  • Coach the individual about any behaviors that you may observe, or which may be reported to you by others within the company, which are contrary to your culture. Understand, from the new individual’s perspective, what motivates these behaviors. Encourage the individual to develop alternative behaviors that are more consistent with your culture. Be open to the possibility that some of the behavior may be addressing flaws in the current culture.
  • Maintain open communication with your key managers who will be impacted as the new individual gains responsibility. As the individual gains authority within the organization, be clear that you support your new manager.
  • Your current culture is always in flux, and will continue to change as you bring in the new GM. This will create natural resistance as people adapt to the new situation. Be patient and stick with the plan. When others complain be honest and up-front that you support the new manager, and that everyone will have to adapt.