Author Archives: Sandy

About Sandy

Publisher, Ceo2Ceos.com Adjunct Instructor, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

How Do You Transition from Boss to CEO? Three Insights

Situation: The head of a small service company wants to become more strategic – more like a CEO. Ideally, he wants to create a small samurai team to help him expand.  He prefers working with a range of clients to develop creative, out of the box solutions. How do you transition from boss to CEO?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The eMyth Revisited by Michael Gerber is a valuable primer on how to bring in more clients and revenue. The critical question that this book helps to answer is “what do I want to build?”
    • The book walks you through the critical questions that will help to answer whether your true ambition is to be a Picasso with helpers or a company. The answer may be either, but how you build each is different.
  • The more that skills can tied to a tangible outcome the easier it is for clients to hire a company. Quantify past successes. Make it easy to justify hiring your team.
  • To add to your pipeline:
    • Help friends help you. Make it easy for them to refer you. This can be simple: YouTube videos or improving the company website to highlight past successes.
    • The company web site can’t be just OK – it must be the all-important credibility builder that the company needs. Recreate the site to wow the visitor and tell the company’s story. Make it fun and compelling.
    • Participate in groups or forums that your targets attend. Create presentations, webinars, etc. Establish the company as an expert with the answer and as a trusted resource.
    • Also present to professional organizations to establish expertise and credibility.
    • Testimonials are powerful – particularly if backed by metrics.
    • Collaborate with people with similar depth of experience who can help develop the pipeline. Offer them a cut of total job revenue.

How Do You Maintain the Passion for Your Business? Six Thoughts

Situation: The CEO of a company is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the passion that she had when the business was young. Day to day work feels like having a monkey on her back with too much time spent on sales and business minutiae. Too little time is spent on strategy and growth. How do you maintain the passion for your business?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look at what you like and don’t like – delegate what you don’t like.
    • Delegate activities which are inappropriate for a top executive – like answering the telephone when others are present to do this.
  • Get everybody in the same boat – get them rowing in unison.
    • Delegate more responsibility – with the understanding that others will make mistakes. When they do, they must understand their responsibility for repairing them.
    • Prioritize tasks as they are delegated to reduce conflict or confusion.
  • Strengthen relationships with key suppliers and customers. This is a strategic move to reduce future risk to the company.
  • How did you get the monkey off your back?
    • Ask managers and employees for their input – have them develop solutions. If they push back that they don’t know how or don’t have the resources, let them know that their job is to provide solutions, not just to identify problems.
    • This takes time and patience, but if the CEO is steadfast this can yield results in a surprisingly short period of time.
  • Reduce time spent on sales. Become the closer – the only person who can do that little something to close a sale.
    • Have the others do the heavy lifting our qualifying the customer, developing the solution, crafting the proposal and presenting this to the customer. Limit the CEO’s involvement to reviewing the proposal prior to presentation, and to acting as closer ONLY if sales can’t do the job themselves.
  • Learn to take time off – develop other interests. This is the first step in being able to take longer periods of time off.

How Do You Maintain Focus on Quarterly Objectives? Three Ideas

Situation: The CEO of a service company is focused on growth, which is driven by new contracts. This, in turn is driven by new sales contacts per week. Sales staff are paid on commission. The CEO wants to assure that quarterly objectives are met to grow the company. How do you maintain focus on quarterly objectives?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Track and publish progress against weekly, monthly, quarterly metric objectives and key drivers.
    • Post charts around the office to maintain staff focus on objectives.
    • Put up whiteboards that show individual metrics as well as daily “top 3” focus items.
  • Identify key market sectors where focus will pay off for the company.
    • It’s OK to take a generalist approach as the company develops a new market sector. This helps to learn the dynamics of that sector.
    • As sector market penetration grows, develop functional or sector specialties.
  • Identify and focus on the gaps to company success.
    • Monitor and generate incentives to increase sales activity. The more fun that is involved in this, the faster the company will close the gaps.
    • Focus marketing on developing more prospects. Brainstorm creative marketing approaches that will generate prospects. Create a competition to develop the best new ideas with incentives or prizes to celebrate the most successful ideas.
    • If additional resources are required, currently beyond the company’s budget, investigate adding commission-driven contract resources with strong incentives for identifying new prospects and landing new clients.

How Do You Gain Control of the Company? Three Steps

Situation: A CEO founded his company with a partner. The partner is no longer deeply involved but retains a voice in company strategy and finances. The CEO wants total control. It has become complex trying to run the company with an absent partner. How do you gain control of the company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Get a formal company valuation as soon as possible. The expense is paid by the company or split 50/50 between the CEO and founding partner.
    • This exercise will provide the information needed to run the company. It is a much more sophisticated exercise than simply valuing current company assets.
    • It will provide a good third-party valuation upon which the CEO and partner can negotiate a buyout of the partner’s interest or place a value on a silent partnership arrangement.
  • Once the company has a valuation, how is the conversation started?
    • First ask what the partner wants. His response will help frame the discussion.
    • It’s OK to let the partner know that the current arrangement is not working for you.
    • As silent partner, instead of a salary the partner just gets checks – monthly, quarterly or whatever – based on net profits (EBITDA – Earnings before interest, taxes, distributions and adjustments).
    • The CEO’s salary is included in the expenses of the business.
    • If it is too painful to initiate the discussion on your own, hire someone to help you.
  • Once the CEO has control of the company, create an organization chart, including the roles and responsibilities of the key positions in the organization.
    • First, decide what you do as CEO – or want to do.
    • For the other roles, either hire employees or consultants to help.
    • The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber includes an example of how Thomas Watson did this as he founded IBM.
  • This process can have surprising results. Another CEO doubled the size of the company after buying out his founding partner’s position. The partner turned out to be one of the top inhibitors to growth.

How Do You Choose Between Opportunities? Six Points

Situation: The CEO of a software company has been presented with two opportunities by a large customer – international expansion to support their sales and creation of a data warehouse facility. The company has the option of pursuing either or both. The customer is not offering up-front cash to support either opportunity. Should they pursue either or both? How do you choose between opportunities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Keep pursuing both opportunities and establish a series of decision points which will yield either a Go or No-Go decision on each. The big question is to determine how either will support company growth.
  • The customer is interested in both opportunities so ask them for assistance such as: removing barriers, client referrals, or some form of cash or investment.
  • For either opportunity to succeed requires a high level of internal buy-in and support from the customer.
  • If the company can afford to be aggressive now, this is a great time to move.
    • Look carefully at the ROI on each opportunity under different scenarios.
    • Do background work with potential clients to validate each market opportunity.
  • Specifically to International Expansion
    • Buy-in from the customer’s head of international sales is essential – without this it will be difficult to establish a solid relationship with the international sales team. Lack of this support will be a No-Go sign.
    • Can the customer provide office space, access to their infrastructure, administrative support, assistance in gaining necessary licenses to do business, etc. during start-up?
    • Could this venture be undertaken through a joint venture with an established international company? This would save start-up costs and allow validation of the opportunity before risking the company’s investment.
    • Execution will require a large-scale effort – both time and money. Include both in the Go/No-Go calculation.
  • Specifically to the Data Warehouse Facility
    • A competitor’s right of first refusal on this business is a barrier. However, the opportunity may be viewed as too small for the competitor. Is it possible to buy rights from this competitor?
    • Ask the customer to transition their customers to your company and its product.

How Do You Expand Your Market-Base? Six Suggestions

Situation: The CEO of a service company needs to expand its market base due to concerns that a significant service and referrals partner may decide to stop working with them. A break-up would have significant impact on salaries, effort and focus. The company’s priority is to expand client growth to minimize the impact of a break-up. How do you expand your market base?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • To expand or build a market requires a champion. Someone like the company’s founder who has the passion and contacts to build new business.
  • Second, incentives must be established to reward success bringing in new clients. These incentives must have teeth – no success, no incentive. No safety valves.
  • Third, create a plan to support the new business development – including marketing, event attendance, etc.
  • Initially, be selective and target just a few highly desirable new clients to test and refine the client attraction model before expanding to the broader potential client audience.
    • Build a set of case studies of services and results for new clients.
    • Track and prove out the profitability and workability of this model.
  • How should the effort to expand the market base be constructed?
    • Start with preparation. Research the current prospect list to assure that they are good prospects. Also look at the current company culture – do the company’s strengths align with what is needed to attract and serve new clients?
    • If the research shows that a significant number of prospects are different from current clients, think of this as a new channel. Create a different business unit to specialize in serving these clients. Hire a team to focus exclusively on the new client group, with proper incentives tied to achievement with these prospects.
  • Another company had a similar choice. They created a program to increase their market base and went after it with full focus. It took five years to accomplish vs. the two years that they had planned. Nevertheless, the results have been worth the effort and expense. If the company believes in the model, invest in it.

How Do You Incentivize Employees to Document SOPs? Six Observations

Situation: The CEO of a specialty component company wants to standardize documentation of company procedures covering sales, production and ISO documentation. This will take time and effort, and employees are concerned about accountability for poor results. How do you incentivize employees to document SOPs?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Are employees are being asked for accountability without being empowered or rewarded for performance? Currently, there is nothing about employee performance that is directly tied to:
    • Longevity,
    • Dollars in raise, or
    • Share of the bonus pool.
    • Everything is determined at the CEO’s discretion.
    • Why would anyone want more accountability if they feel that they have little control over their jobs or future at the company?
  • To increase accountability and drive, employees must be given control over the factors tied to retention, pay and bonuses.
  • To create an effective system for employees to document standardized SOPs they need:
    • Incentives that are under their control to achieve the objective – creating standardized SOPs.
    • Objectives that are achievable with clearly stated rewards for performance.
    • Performance evaluations tied to clearly stated objectives, discussed with and agreed to by each employee, which drive raises, bonuses and rewards.
    • The messaging about these changes must be delivered with energy and passion. Employees must feel excited by this opportunity.
  • Understand that this may cost 10-15% in increased overhead but will boost the value of the company way beyond the cost.
  • Employees need to know the vision for the company and must be empowered to achieve the results to fulfill this vision.
    • The why behind the desire for standardized SOPs is just as important as the incentives created to achieve them.
    • The why must be clear, simple, and must be understood by the employees for everything to work.
  • To further motivate the team, involve them in designing the incentive program.
    • Ask what they want. Maybe it’s something as simple as a fun day with the team.
    • If they aren’t asked, the danger is that they will not respond to the incentive offered. Money is not the only, and in many cases is not the most effective incentive.

How Do You Free Up More of Your Time? Four Observations

Situation: The CEO of a successful small software company is snowed under by day to day tasks. She wants to focus more of her time on business and infrastructure development. However, the company’s departments are not strong enough to run without her supervision. How do you free up more of your time?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The first priority is to develop infrastructure that will allow the CEO to focus on strategic development.
    • To build this the company needs the right people to do the work.
    • Look at the daily task list and develop or hire new managers to oversee day-to-day non-strategic functions.
    • For example, offload payroll and back-end accounting to a bookkeeper.
  • Look at the gaps between where the company is now and where you, as CEO, want to be in terms of your time and responsibilities:
    • In addition to a bookkeeper, hire an experienced executive assistant – to keep you focused as CEO.
    • The company is growing rapidly. It is time to hire a human resources manager.
  • The company’s cash flow projection for the coming year indicates a substantial surplus.
    • Use this surplus to hire infrastructure.
    • In front of key clients, keep the impression that you are available to them; however, this is primarily for client relations. The CEO doesn’t have to do all the work demanded by clients.
    • Use the lawyer / rainmaker model. The rainmaker maintains key client relationships; however, the rainmaker has staff do 90% of the work.
  • The 7 States of Enterprise Growth Model indicates that the company is now in what’s called a Wind Tunnel. The critical activities in a Wind Tunnel are:
    • Letting go of methodologies that no longer work and acquiring new methods that do work, and
    • Hiring and training additional staff.

How Do You Keep a Company Afloat Short-term? Three Points

Situation: The CEO of a service company continually finds the company short of cash. They have just hired a new accountant, but it will take time for this individual to understand the financial situation and to generate recommendations to improve cash flow. How do you keep a company afloat short-term?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Point #1: This isn’t just a question of controlling costs; the company needs to build the infrastructure to succeed.
    • If there isn’t someone on the team in a position of authority, who the CEO can trust completely, hire this person. The CEO can’t control all risks.
    • While the company has shrunk over the last two years, it is still a substantial company and needs professional management. To grow effectively, professionals are required in key leadership positions. If necessary, hire experienced outside talent
    • Look for teachable moments as challenges arrive. The CEO, instead of solving a problem, should work with employees and mentor them through discovering and implementing solutions.
    • How to communicate this to current staff?
      • Put the story together. Be able to make a clear statement to them, including the current situation and future possibilities for which the company must prepare.
      • Generate charts and metrics to support key points.
      • Use senior staff as the mouthpieces to present the story to the rest of the organization. Once they are onboard, have them help craft the message. Don’t underestimate the CEO’s authority. This is business, not a popularity contest.
      • Let others make mistakes – it is part of the learning process – no matter how critical the situation.
  • Point #2 – Return to the company’s roots.
    • The faster everyone accepts that a focused approach is the only way to survive, the faster the company will turn around. Reestablishing company presence in key markets with a new model that speaks to their desires makes a lot of sense.
    • Be very clear as to what flat-rate service pricing covers. Include this in the signed customer agreement. Don’t allow costs to creep up or it will kill the profitability of flat rate jobs.
  • Create an infrastructure nimble enough to adapt as market conditions change. Identify what really works and focus on this.

How Do You Transition to New Management? Four Insights

Situation: The CEO of a small technical company is in the process of handing off responsibilities to a new President who lives in another state. The CEO and President have known each other for a long time and have a strong relationship. The CEO will hand off several key responsibilities immediately, while retaining financial and HR because of the President’s location. How do you transition to new management?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Most of the current hand-off plan concerns non-technical areas. The next logical area to delegate is Customer Support.
    • Establish a trigger process for new requests for support that keeps key parties informed and meets customer needs on a timely basis.
    • Think about bumping up Customer Support to a more proactive Customer Relations function. This is important during economic downturns when trade show attendance is low.
  • Next in line are Installation and Installation Planning, since the new President will already have Installation Support.
  • Think about Technical Support. This could be combined with Customer Support and makes sense because many customer support questions come through technical support.
  • Beef up the financial function to support future growth. Growth brings new complexities into the picture. Consider handing this off to a part time professional who can provide regular updates of the company’s financials. A professional can also look at the structure of the books and suggest changes that will provide more insight into company operations, opportunities for savings, and sources of funding to support planned growth.