How Do You Join a Not-for-Profit Board? Seven Thoughts

Situation: A CEO wants to build network of highly placed contacts. One method that she is considering is joining a not-for-profit Board. What are good organizations? Is it reasonable to expect a quid pro quo? How do you join a not-for-profit Board?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Do your homework. Find out what the most influential Boards are in your community. For example, the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce is very active and includes in its membership many very well connected people.
  • Influential groups and boards will vary by community. In Silicon Valley, the Silicon Valley Association of Start-up Entrepreneurs (SVASE) is a good organization to consider. This and other Angel groups know small companies that need help. Others include the Sand Hill Angels and the Asian-American Multi-Technology Association. In other communities Chambers of Commerce or similar organizations are the movers and shakers.
  • Don’t count out Rotary, Lions, and similar organizations. All these organizations are struggling to recruit new members and some have movers and shakers.
  • Rather than thinking about the meetings, volunteer to join a committee. For example, volunteer to join the Finance Committee. Once the members get to know you, you may be invited to join the Board.
  • Raise money for an organization, this will bring invitations to join the Boards of other organizations.
  • Follow your passions in selecting an organization, you will be more enthusiastic.
  • It is reasonable to expect a quid pro quo? Yes, if you make a significant contribution and demonstrate your competence.

How Do You Work with a Resistant Employee? Five Points

Situation: A CEO feels overworked, fatigued and ready to retire! The core problem is a long-term employee who is constantly resisting the CEO’s the company’s strategic direction. How can the CEO alleviate this situation? How do you work with a resistant employee?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If this individual is valuable, try to work with him first.
    • Can you give him a different focus – another role within the company for which his talents are suited and where he will make a significant contribution?
    • For a change like this to be effective it must be offered and accepted with the condition that this becomes his focus and not your strategic leadership of the company.
  • How is it best to have this conversation?
    • First, clearly state the direction of the company.
    • Then ask a question: What do you want to be doing for the next 5 years?
    • You may be surprised by the response to the question. It may lead you to a win-win solution; or it may become clear that this individual needs to be doing something else.
  • Conduct the discussion in two stages – but without a lot of time between these two discussions.
    • “You are valuable but things have to change. I prefer that you remain as part of the team, but on the strategic front you have a choice – are you on board or not?”
    • If after consideration the answer is that he is not on-board then you must let him go.
  • Don’t blindside this person. Think of a Resurrection versus a Come to Jesus Meeting.
  • If it turns out that you must get rid of this person you will wonder: why you didn’t do this 6 months ago.

How Do You Optimize a Financing Pitch? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company is drafting a pitch for their next round of funding. They want to reach both current and a new set of investors and highlight the improvements that they’ve made since their last round of funding. How do you optimize a financing pitch?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Work on a quick demo of the site. This is critical for a software company. The site must clearly and quickly show what differentiates you.
  • When you sit down with potential investors, start your pitch with a catchy statement, e.g., “We’ve all heard about ‘pay it forwards’. I want to talk to you about ‘Job-It Forward’.”
  • Start the presentation with an overview and a simple illustrative explanation so that the audience instantly gets what you are doing. For example, “we’re about generating social capital and here’s an example of how we do this.”
  • Be careful not to drown your audience in detail. Limit yourself to 3 bullets per page. Use graphics rather than words as much as possible. Most people can only absorb a limited amount of verbal information, but they remember pictures.
  • If you’ve already started talking to potential investors, what are your results? What feedback have you received to date? Analyze this and adjust your presentation and pitch accordingly.
  • Can you show a potential funder ROI? For example, if you give us $X, we will generate $Y in terms of return. You want to demonstrate IMPACT! Those who will support you want to see the advantage of investing in you vs. other options available to them.
  • Include a slide showing sources and uses of money spent to date. Show how you will use the money that you wish to raise.

Can You Effectively Manage Your Team’s Emotions? Six Ideas

Situation: A CEO recently attended a workshop on awareness of employees’ emotions. The message was that to effectively lead, the leader must be aware of both their own and their team’s emotions, and effectively address these in all communications. How have others acknowledged employee emotions? Can you effectively manage your team’s emotions?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • All companies have both cultures and ways in which employees and managers interact. These are either intentional or accidental.
  • It is important to develop a competency model for any company – skills and behaviors that reinforce company culture and guide both hiring decisions and personnel evaluations. Behaviors should be defined by competencies, including both technical and soft competencies.
  • Once a company competency model is established, position descriptions will be variations of the company competency model.
  • A competency model will help you to script candidate interviews. This works whether you use a panel or individual interview format. Questions should address past behavior in specific situations that the individual has experienced. Provide each interviewer with a set of questions that will help the interviewer understand how the candidate expresses soft competencies. Post-interview, get together and discuss how each candidate’s responses compare with the company model.
  • Supplement your interview results with a psychometric test which scores and effectively measure the key soft competencies expressed in your culture. Pair the psychometric test with cognitive testing to assess a candidate’s technical competency.
  • Use similar questions for employee evaluations or coaching situations. The difference will be that in the case of current employees, you will want to have the employee refer to situations and behaviors experienced at work or working with customers or company partners.

Special thanks to Maynard Brusman of Working Resources for leading this discussion.

How Does Your Company Award Bonuses? Eight Considerations

Situation:  A company has lost six people since the beginning of year – about 7% of employees. Currently the company doesn’t pay bonuses but increases salaries annually. The CEO has been considering creating a bonus pool, distributed based on performance points earned during the year, and including a component for employee longevity. How does your company award bonuses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There is fierce completion for good software engineers. You will lose people unless you focus on culture and pay bonuses of some sort.
  • Based on reasons that people left you need to start developing and enhancing your company culture.
  • Don’t kid yourself. You already have a company culture. Hire a consultant to help you identify it so that you are developing it along lines that you desire instead of by accident.
  • Make it clear that bonuses are not entitlements but are earned. There should be clear guidance as to bonus criteria.
  • Check out the following YouTube – “RSA Animate – The surprising truth about what motivates us” to see what motivates knowledge workers who are expected to develop creative solutions. The bottom line is that it is more than money!
  • An effective bonus program must have a bias toward performance – the metric is key. Be careful about the way you create metrics and incentives and be wary of unintended consequences.
  • Pay special attention to the quality and skills of your 1st and 2nd line managers.
  • Besides bonus, equity and culture – plan for 10% attrition. In your industry, this may be the norm.

How Do You Hire Your First Employee? Seven Suggestions

Situation:  The CEO of an early stage company has identified a person to help her as an assistant. This will be her first real employee. Prior hires have been contractors who have been paid on revenue generated. This individual’s salary will be an expense without clear association to revenue. What guidelines do you suggest as she makes this hire? How do you hire your first employee?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Create a cash flow projection to make sure that you have the cash to afford an employee.
  • If you consistently expect 40+ hours of work from this individual, consider a salaried position which will give both of you more flexibility.
  • Paychex currently handles your payroll and benefits. Work with them to make sure that all labor law compliance issues are covered. Also, consider hiring a labor law consultant to help you avoid minefields.
  • Do a background check even if you have known this individual for a long time.
  • Consider working with a professional employment organization that can provide back-office HR support for you.
  • An employee handbook is unnecessary at this point. However, think through how you will want to handle issues that may come up including vacation, benefits and paid/unpaid leave like bereavement leave. Document these for inclusion in a future employee handbook.
  • Under the current health care law employers with less than fifty employees are not required to provide health benefits without paying a penalty. This may change as the law continues to evolve.

What Impact Will Rising Interest Rates Have on Business?

Situation: A CEO notes that the national debt has nearly doubled over the last 8 years and the Fed is talking about raising interest rates. It’s not clear what impact the debt, or rising interest rates will have. Has this impacted your business and how are you coping? What impact will rising interest rates have on business?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Impact on business and customers.
    • The prospect of either rising interest rates or taxes increases uncertainty – customers are taking longer to make purchase, expansion and other decisions.
    • Companies are not spending the cash that they have out of concern over possible future expenses or the possibility of a downturn. Large companies have trillions of dollars of cash on hand. Some of this is held off-shore because of the tax consequences of repatriating the funds.
    • Lack of consumer demand holds back investment in production expansion.
    • Feeling of loss of control.
    • More concentration of wealth in fewer hands.
  • Other impacts
    • More people, old and young, are opting out of the business economy.
  • What are you doing to cope?
    • More involved in collections to keep this under control.
    • Delayed payments from big customers are part of the problem – conservative financial management.
    • Manage liquidity and cash – cash is king!
    • Adjust lifestyle and delay purchases – for example buy smaller cars.
    • Scrutinize contract terms – especially AR.
    • Scrutinize our business model. For example look at subscription models or Great Game of Business models.
    • Utilize those who are normally unemployable but trainable for repetitive task jobs. They work hard and produce good work.

How Do You Test a New Service Delivery Model? Seven Thoughts

Situation: A company targets mid-sized clients with pricing that is similar to its competitors. They believe that their principal differentiation is their relationship with their clients. The problem is that this is also what all of their competitors claim. They are considering testing a new pricing concept – a monthly fixed fee that will provide a pre-negotiated set of services at a favorable discount, with a weekly presence in their clients’ offices. How to you test a new service delivery model?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This looks like an appealing concept. With this arrangement there is no clock ticking and the client may view your various services as a more open menu of options available to them.
  • Another company has a similar relationship with their CPA firm and have both enjoyed this and are using more services from this firm.
  • Just a regular presence in the office is worth the retainer.
  • Another appeal is that this allows regular participation in management and Board meetings.
  • Another CEO offers a similar program for her professional service company’s clients and have found it successful.
  • Since there appears to be strong support for this model within the group, what is the best way to implement this new offer?
    • Negotiate an initial monthly rate for a set level of services as a retainer without a clock.
    • Agree to a periodic review and adjustment of services and pricing – perhaps quarterly – based on the time and services that have been provided during the preceding period.
  • How do you sell this program to those within your own company who are skeptical?
    • Try the program with three clients on a limited trial basis and measure it.

How Do You Boost Morale in a Branch Office? Five Solutions

Situation:  A company started a new branch office last year. This office started with three people and has remained at that level with some turnover. Morale is low because the branch office team doesn’t feel supported by the home office. The CEO is concerned that this could kill the branch office if it is not fixed.  How do you boost morale in a branch office?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The problem is most likely the home office, as they assert. There have been few visits from home office personnel – particularly the company president. In addition, they are being criticized in weekly reviews for not hitting the same metrics as the company’s established operations.
  • Remediate this situation by scheduling weekly executive visits and monthly visits by the president until things are up and running and there is a track record of profitability.
  • Clarify your expectations to everyone – this is a new office running to different metrics until they establish themselves. Once they are established, they will run to the same metrics as everyone else. Coach the heads of other divisions that the new office needs support, not criticism, until they establish themselves.
  • Allow the branch office to bid low for market share until they are established in their new location for a period – at least 6-12 months. Create a different set of metrics for a start-up office, and review these during weekly sales meetings.
  • The role of management is to show the colors in the new location and manage peer feedback from established locations. Help them win! Establish start-up metrics like lunches with potential clients to establish relationships. Since the branch office is generating business for other locations, create separate general performance metrics from territory specific metrics for this office and show both in staff meetings.

How Do You Create Management Alignment? Five Suggestions

Situation:  Top managers of a company are all very experienced.  All want to drive the company – but each in their own way. Overall objectives are not significantly different but the path forward varies considerably among the managers. Is this situation common? Should the CEO be doing things differently? How do you create management alignment?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Strong differences among strong leaders are common. This is not necessarily a cause for concern or a problem. Rather, it means that you have a lot of options to help address opportunities or solve issues.
  • When you hire bright, talented people with good ideas, there will always be differences of opinion. This is healthy. You need this, particularly when sailing uncharted waters.
  • As CEO, sometimes you need a strong critic on your team to moderate your inclinations. Just because you are CEO doesn’t mean that you always have the answer. Rather, allowing the answer to come from the team strengthens the team as well as commitment to execution.
  • How do you leverage the strengths of this team to create the best future for your company?
    • First, assure that the broad roadmap is clear and that everyone agrees on this.
    • When addressing a choice, opportunity or challenge lay out the situation in broad terms. Allow all of the managers their say, and facilitate the discussion to identify commonalities and differences. Confirm the commonalities, and dig into the differences to understand the perspectives of each. Digging into differences can identify roadblocks as well as alternative options. Keep the discussion open instead of trying to drive toward a single, quick solution.
    • Summarize the options presented. If there are multiple alternatives, do a ranking exercise to see if one rises to the top. Be sure to credit the managers for their ideas and creative input.
    • In each situation there is a final decision maker. All must respect that after you’ve listened there will be a decision and that decision will be executed. Allow them to execute and focus on results.
  • Be consistent and always be who you are.