Situation: A company is enjoying a good year both adding new business and serving current clients. When business is good the CEO finds it difficult to focus on all of his initiatives. This is frustrating. How do you maintain focus on your top initiatives when it gets really busy?
Advice from the CEOs:
When times are good, many new opportunities arise. If you have too many initiatives, you lose focus and have difficulty achieving them. Limit your initiatives to 2-3 at a time, focus on them, get them done and done right. Then pick your next 2-3 most important initiatives.
Schedule time for your initiatives on your calendar. Honor this time commitment just as you would an important customer appointment.
You might try a daily prioritized list of 4-5 small things and one big thing and focus on these for the day. Keep track of other priorities on a separate To-Do List.
Hire an assistant to whom you can delegate the small things – including the background research on your big initiatives. This gives you more time to focus on the big things, and the important decisions within the bigger projects.
Create a planning calendar for your initiatives. Assess each initiative for level of effort required, determine specific deliverables, and the amount of time that it will take to complete the initiative. Next, prioritize the list and take on a small number at any one time. This will help you both to complete the initiatives that you start, and to complete more of them in a given time period.
Situation: A company has two businesses in different locations serving different sets of customers in two separate markets. The CEO is evaluating whether it makes more sense to have one umbrella web site with pages for each of the two businesses, or to create two complete web sites with different URLs. How many web sites should a small business have, and why?
Advice from the CEOs:
The first question is whether you call both businesses the same or different names. Many small companies have separate businesses at different sites, and just differentiate the businesses through division names. Moreover, because you use the same company name for both businesses, you want to make it easy for customers to find your web sites. This argues for at least a single splash page, listed under your current company URL.
There are many corporations with diverse, unrelated businesses. Generally, these corporations don’t have any problem having a general web site, with separate links to the individual division web sites where customers and partners can drill down to detail specific to each division. The advantage to this strategy is that by having one corporate site, the larger entity strengthens its own market presence.
Given that the advice of the group is to have a single splash page how do you construct it?
You want to prominently feature your company name on the splash page, but not to include much detail. Maybe just an overall positioning message that expresses your core values or a distinctive visual that shows what you do.
On the splash page, create two links with distinctive pictures and names that enable your customer to easily go to the side of your business that interests them.
Situation: A company allocates 10% of pre-tax profit to a Bonus Pool. Employees qualify for quarterly bonuses based on company and group performance, and for semiannual bonuses based on individual performance. Last year not all funds were paid out of the pool because some employees failed to hit performance targets. What’s the best and fairest way to allocate the excess funds in the pool?
Advice from the CEOs:
Why not let the pool be the pool? Employees will or will not qualify for bonus participation based on individual and group performance. The company determines who qualifies at each level and these individuals become the pool participants, splitting the full pool in proportion to their level of qualification and their salary.
Not all companies will do this based on pay and bonus level policies. For these companies there are options on what to do with unpaid bonus funds in the pool:
Leave the funds in the pool for future distribution;
Shift unpaid bonus to Retained Earnings; or
Retain a percent of the funds in the pool and shift the rest Retained Earnings.
Another consideration is whether to use discretionary or metric criteria to determine bonuses. Some companies use only or primarily metric criteria, others use discretionary criteria, and some use a blend of metrics for one portion of the bonus with the remaining portion discretionary. The rationale behind discretionary criteria is to give managers the opportunity to recognize extraordinary contributions that fall outside the normal metrics.
Situation: Two employees within a small company are shifting roles. One is shifting from Operations Manager, a higher level position, to an engineering role in charge of production, with no reports. The second has been promoted from Customer Service Supervisor to greater responsibilities for purchasing and production scheduling. How should the CEO adjust the titles and compensation of these individuals?
Advice from the CEOs:
The Operations Manger is really shifting to a staff engineer position. Consider the title Senior Engineer or Senior Staff Engineer if the individual is comfortable with this. It conveys respect for prior experience while delineating this individual’s preferred responsibility. You may want to make adjustments to compensation over time by holding back on salary raises rather than by cutting salary right now.
The Customer Service Supervisor is moving into new responsibilities, and this may take time. In a sense this is a lateral move with potential for growth. Consider retaining the title of supervisor until this individual has demonstrated ability to perform these new duties. Salary adjustments and raises can be added as the individual grows in responsibility.
There is no problem having multiple titles and business cards. Many small companies do this. You can give the second person two titles: Customer Service Supervisor and Production Supervisor. This enables you to elevate this individual to manager of one or both areas as ability is demonstrated to take on additional responsibility and accountability.
Because both employees will be working in production, albeit in different capacities, monitor the situation closely to assure that conflicts don’t develop.
Situation: A company just hired an individual to fill a key position. The position has a steep learning curve, and requires an on-site presence so the CEO made sure during the interview process to emphasize that he wanted a 3-5 year service commitment. Two days after the new individual started he told the CEO that his wife and child are moving to North Carolina and asked whether he could he work remotely from NC. The CEO said this was not an option. The employee says that he will stay, but the CEO is concerned whether this individual will fulfill his verbal commitment of service. How should the CEO handle this situation going forward?
Advice from the CEOs:
Verbal commitments made during an interview process are difficult to enforce. Further, under California law once you have hired an employee, you cannot fire or let the employee go except for cause – performance or company financial adjustments such as layoffs.
What should the CEO say to the employee at this point about the situation?
Thank him for his honesty. Let him know that if the situation changes you would appreciate knowing as soon as possible. Assure the employee that you will not fire or otherwise penalize him for giving you this notice.
Is there anything else that the CEO can do to protect his training investment?
As the employee moves from training into productive work, make it one of his responsibilities to thoroughly document the position and responsibilities. If he eventually leaves, this may reduce the learning curve of his successor.
Situation: When an early stage company was founded, the CEO made vague promises of stock ownership to new employees. Some original employees have asked whether and when they will receive ownership. Should the CEO offer stock ownership, and what is the message to employees?
Advice from the CEOs:
The first question concerns company policy on ownership. For example, what do the founding owners think about expanding the ownership pool? It is important for the founders to have this discussion and agree on official company policy on ownership. This can then be communicated consistently to employees.
Investigate practices for similar companies in your industry. If you find that there is a size at which companies typically start to diversify ownership, then have a conversation among the owners as to what your company will do. You don’t have to follow the pack, but you may risk turnover if your policy is significantly different from the industry norm.
Employee stock ownership is a double edged sword. Employee shares only receive a true value in a liquidity event – sale of the company or an IPO. Absent a liquidity event, employee stock ownership can complicate corporate decisions, and there’s also the question of the value of an employee’s stock if the employee leaves.
If you decide not to expand ownership, what’s the best way to update earlier promises of ownership?
Tell the story: stock ownership was one option that we considered. We looked at industry practice, and here’s what we found. We determined that at our size there are few advantages to broad employee ownership, and several potential disadvantages to additional owners including tax consequences. Therefore, we decided that we could achieve our objective more effectively through our profit sharing plan.
Situation: Sales technique is constantly evolving. Based on research completed by the Sales Executive Council, this evolution has accelerated since 2008. The implications for selecting, training and retaining top sales reps are significant. How has sales evolved in the last four years?
Advice from Michael Griego:
A 2009 study by the Sales Executive Council (SEC) – Replicating the New High Performer– studied 6,000 international sales representatives from 90 companies comparing top sales performers with core sales reps across 44 attributes.
The study found that Challenger sales reps represented the largest cohort (39%) of the most successful sales reps, followed by Lone Wolf (25%), Hard Worker (17%), Reaction Problem Solver (12%), and Relationship Builder (7%) sales reps.
The Challenger sales rep is best suited for a complex sales environment, while the Hard Worker is best for less complex enterprise sales or sales of off-the shelf products.
Identify the characteristics required for your sale. In addition, identify the mix of sales people currently on your team – from young, eager people just out of school to seasoned vets who can be realigned to current methodologies.
Selection should focus on the prior experience of the candidate. What have they have sold in the past? Ask for details of sales situations. How do they usually open a sales conversation? How did they adjust their sales pitch to different audiences? Were they hunters or farmers? Top talent reps can deftly go both ways.
Training involves reinforcing sales fundamentals plus the modern application of provocative consultative selling where salespeople provide true insight and challenge customers well beyond feature/function/benefit selling.
SEC study results indicate that if you are involved in a complex sale you need to identify the challenges, acknowledge what is happening in your client’s market and the challenges that they face, quantify the implications, and position potential solutions for exploration; all of this occurs BEFORE you start selling your specific solution.
Retaining the best sales reps fundamentally takes good sales management.
Pay special attention to top performers, while attending to all your reps and treating them fairly.
Challenge them to be better in areas that will enhance their success.
Recognition is a great motivator. Make them an internal mentoring resource for the rest of the team.
Identify your core (average) players and train them to act like your top players.
If you do these things they won’t be attracted to the shiny objects dangled by head hunters.