Situation: A company has been advised to augment their Board of Directors. The principal objective is to access mentorship and advice, particularly in the areas of gaining critical mass and marketing. How do you select and pay Board members?
Advice from the CEOs:
If the principal needs are mentorship and advice in growth and marketing, pursue an Advisory Board first. Compensation for Advisory Board members is much lower and saves the need to purchase expensive Directors and Officers Insurance for Board Members. If, in the future, you decide to expand your Board, you can elevate your best Advisory Board members to your Board.
Offer Advisory Board members one-year service commitments. Particularly if the company is early-stage needs may change rapidly.
As to specific members, select Board members who will help you hold the company to its vision and mission, including a member who offers financial advice and experience for the CFO, a resources and benefits expert, and industry leaders. Align these selections with the business model of the company.
If your patent portfolio is a critical asset, consider an attorney with experience in infringement issues – as distinct from expertise in IP.
Compensation for Advisory Board or BOD members need not be uniform. Key advisors often are compensated more than strategic advisors. Enthusiasts may serve as advisors for free.
Stock compensation for Board members may be as low as 1%, pre-funding. They will be diluted as you go through successive rounds of funding. You may offer your chairperson more than regular members.
Situation: A company is about to launch a Beta version of their web-based software. The CEO strives for perfection. What is sufficient for launch, and can the company tolerate imperfections in Beta version? When is “good enough” enough?
Advice from the CEOs:
Many successful software companies – think Microsoft – have realized that finishing the last 10-20% of a new release can be as expensive and time consuming as the first 80-90%. The challenges are often greater and it’s difficult to prioritize the final pieces. So they release when the software is 80-90% complete, prioritize the final pieces based on user feedback, and focus on quick response to user feedback.
You really have no idea how users will experience a new web-based program until you hear it from them. They will tell you what does and does not need to be fixed. They may even be able to help you fix it! Craig’s list stinks from a pure GUI perspective, but is highly popular and successful.
Get the Beta program out ASAP. What you perceive as imperfections may not appear as problems to young Beta users, and may in a way add a quirky appeal to the user experience.
Find a customer or group of customers who will pay for the program. Only this proves its actual worth. There can be conditions for a Beta release and discounts, but if nobody is willing to pay, where is the value?
Consider releasing your Beta version in a college campus environment and invite both participation and feedback. College students are very web-savvy, more tolerant of Beta programs, and crave the opportunity to contribute.
As an additional bonus, when you are ready to launch, college students are great at helping you generate buzz and early adoption because they talk to so many of their friends from both college and high school.
Situation: A company’s client is furious at the service they received from the company, It turns out upon investigation that the source of the client’s difficulty arose from their own actions, not from anything done by the company or its employees. How do you tell a client that their assumptions are wrong?
Advice from the CEOs:
Ask open-ended questions in an attempt to “clarify your understanding” of what happened. You want the client to answer these questions so that they explain the situation to themselves. Always allow them to save face in this process. Some people are better at this technique than others.
Try to understand the client’s experience of the problem as opposed to focusing on the problem itself. This may reveal more deep-seated challenges facing the client that are just being expressed through the current situation.
Email communications often complicate these conversations. Call or visit to let the client know that you are responding personally to their concern. The best communication is person-to-person through conversation. Let them vent. Peel back the onion through questioning to reveal the core problem.
Be honest. Not negative but simply honest. Listen to gain understanding and repeat the facts, as stated by the client, to assure that you properly understand their perspective. If you need to present your own perspective, and it differs from the client’s, do this in a neutral, unemotional tone.
Sometimes you will find a win-win in these discussions, and sometimes you won’t.
Situation: A company has a long-term employee who recently joined a new church. Based upon the guidance this individual is receiving from their new minister, they have begun to evangelize at work, upsetting both co-workers and clients. Both employees and clients have spoken to the CEO with a request that this behavior be stopped. How do you respond to preaching at work in a compassionate, legal and appropriate manner?
Advice from the CEOs:
You need formal guidelines that are not discriminatory and do not impinge on freedom of speech. Augment the employee handbook – with appropriate legal advice – to specify what is and is not appropriate in communicating strongly held beliefs at work. Use neutral language, addressing political, religious and other strongly-held beliefs. Specify a line that divides appropriate from inappropriate communication. Communicate these guidelines to employees and manage to them.
Conduct internal discussions and training as necessary to communicate to all employees what is and is not appropriate expression of strongly-held beliefs. Emphasize the need to respect the beliefs of all employees. Clearly spell out the line that divides appropriate from inappropriate expression of beliefs.
As situations arise, be aware of the impact that they are having on the team. Address individual situations one-on-one, referring back to the employee handbook and training and discussions that occurred in employee group meetings.
Be particularly careful if you feel it necessary to terminate an employee for repeated violations of company policy in this area. See legal advice to avoid wrongful termination suits.