Situation: The CEO of a company has a Director of Operations who aspires to more professional responsibility, but who is also hesitant to take on more work. This conflict in the mind of the Director poses a challenge for the CEO. How should the CEO work with this individual?
Advice from the CEOs:
Key managers in certain roles, for example operations and finance, are naturally more conservative in their outlook. Often this is desirable for the role and is characterized as protector behavior in contrast with the ambitious entrepreneur’s builder behavior. These complimentary behaviors are essential to a successful enterprise – the builder to push the envelope and the protector to assure that the company’s resources aren’t stretched too thin.
Take the time to determine the source of hesitation by asking questions. Is it because the individual is meticulous and precise, or is there something else behind the hesitation? If the former, then a plan of action will enable the person to assess whether the next level of responsibility is in line with his or her expectations. If there is something else, work with the individual to define what this is and whether it is a barrier to additional responsibility or a temporary situation that can be alleviated.
Because this individual aspires to additional responsibility, be precise in explaining the demands of the next level position and the performance that you expect at this level. Develop a plan and objectives that will demonstrate whether the individual is ready to take on additional responsibility or not. For the meticulous, precise individual the plan will serve as confirmation of what is expected and will help him or her determine whether they are ready for more responsibility.
Situation: A company faces dual challenges – assuring that payments are collected for work done and developing a business model that facilitates growth. How do assure that payments are collected to support your cash flow needs and that employees are focused on growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
It may be that the two problems are closely related. Ask whether your compensation and incentive system is focused on cash flow and growth. If not, you need to change it.
Restructure your compensation and incentive systems to create a direct link between profitability and compensation. Augment this with training. For example, if your engineering team isn’t good at assuring that change order costs are paid by their clients, teach them how to write statements of work to anticipate change requests and to include charges in the SOW. Then tie the team’s compensation to how well team members follow though in assuring that work is properly accounted for, billed, and payment collected.
Create simple procedures that are innate and complementary to team members’ natural behavior. The best way to do this is to involve them in the writing of the procedures.
Give them easy tools that take the guesswork out of negotiating change orders with clients. For example, if a client asks for faster delivery, give them a formula that ties delivery to cost::
Standard Delivery = 8 weeks at Price X
4 Week Delivery = Standard delivery price times Y
2 Week Delivery = Standard delivery price times Z
This turns client demands into a simple economic question – what is expedited delivery worth to you?
Hire a contracts manager to track contracts and change orders with authority to assure that change order costs are being billed.
Create “learning” teams to develop solutions. Allow the teams to speak to each other and to learn each other’s best practices. Supplement this with regular tutorial sessions to bring the whole group up to speed on new technologies.
Situation: A company wants to develop a better planning and execution process. Historically they have been poor at meeting goals and objectives. What are the most important factors that improve planning and execution in your company?
Advice from the CEOs:
Take the advice of Jack Stack in his book The Great Game of Business. When building a plan, do it as a company-wide exercise.
Make sure that all of your departments are involved, each has direct input into the development of its own goals, and each understands that they are fully accountable for the achievement of their own goals.
Also do this in open session, and assure that each department has the input of other departments whose activities are critical to the completion of each goal.
This assures that different departments are working in alignment and not against each other.
Finally, make the process interactive and add some fun so that everyone is engaged.
Milestones and meetings are critical. Each department develops quarterly goals to support the plan, and department heads meet bi-weekly to monitor progress and prevent conflicts. Revisit the plan on a quarterly or semi-annual basis to adapt as necessary.
Focus the plan on one-year performance – with quarterly objectives – but forecast financials and broad metrics out 3 years to assure that the 1-year plan supports long-term objectives.
Situation: A company has received an inquiry from a large client requesting that they dedicate a significant portion of their staff to that client. The company hasn’t done this in the past, and the CEO seeks advice on the advisability of this choice. Would you dedicate significant staff to a single client?
Advice from the CEOs:
Provided that the terms offered by the client are favorable, the proposition may make sense. However, there are certain terms that you may want to assure are included in the contract:
In return for your dedicating choice staff to this project, ask for a substantial upfront payment – perhaps 50% of the total contract – to reimburse you for the opportunity costs that you incur committing your resources to the project.
Insist that the contract allows interchangeability of personnel if circumstances prevent initial personnel from continuing with the project.
Internally, work to assure that this project does not adversely impact your culture.
Talk to other companies that you know who have had similar arrangements with large clients. This will give you an understanding of the benefits and pitfalls of the arrangements.
Do everything that you can to assure that this project does not distract from your broader business strategy. Cash from the project may be nice, but if it inhibits your overall business strategy it may not be worth it.
If the employees assigned to this project are not happy with their assignment, the project may lead to unwanted turnover.
Situation: A company’s sales process is currently ad hoc with a 20% close rate and an unpredictable pipeline. The CEO wants to develop an organized sales effort. How do you mature from an ad hoc to an organized sales effort?
Advice from the CEOs:
Use the same discipline that you use to develop and bring new products to market to develop and engineer an organized sales effort. Start with a clean slate. Develop a full business plan and process to support your sales. Set projections and milestones, assign responsibility and accountability, and hold regular meetings to monitor progress and adjust your tactics.
Utilize the company’s knowledge of the market and your customer base to better understand your sales efforts to date. For example:
Look at your sales history, and look at the cases where you have closed business. Are there commonalities or patterns among clients with whom you have won new business?
Similarly, look for patterns in situations where you did not close new business.
Look for a sweet spot which characterizes business deals that you’ve won. If you find that in past efforts there is a segment where your close rate is higher – perhaps among clients of a particular size or in a particular industry – hire a sales executive who has a history of success in this segment of the market. This will improve your close rate and provide a base from which you can expand your sales efforts in a planned and orderly way.
Determine your most important market differentiation – what makes you special – and validate this with current and past customers. Make sure that your differentiation is as important to clients as it is to you. If it isn’t find out why clients chose you rather and your competition.
Is your sales process reactive or proactive? Until you truly understand your market, it is reactive. Once you understand where your sales efforts are most effective, improve your knowledge of this segment of the market and focus both your sales and marketing efforts here to boost your results.