Category Archives: Leadership

How Do You Create Consistency in a Business? Six Suggestions

Situation: A CEO feels like he is on a roller coaster ride with unpredictable revenue and processes month to month. His ideal outcome will be to be able to go on vacation for 4-6 weeks, and have the business running better when he returns than when he left. Have you managed to achieve this? How do you create consistency in a business?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Make your managers live up to their titles.
    • Insist that they go to each other to solve problems first, instead of always asking you.
    • When they ask a question, answer how to solve it – but don’t give them the solution.
    • Require them to present solutions rather than problems.
    • Be willing to spend money on their solutions.
  • Answer all questions with questions.
    • Ask them for their recommendation.
    • Keep asking until they come up with the answer.
  • You should not be doing jobs or tasks that are really your employees’ responsibilities.
  • When you start to delegate, it hurts for a while but it will work itself out.
  • What has been the impact on other companies when they’ve made these changes?
    • Businesses have become more diversified.
    • CEOs are focused strategically vs. tactically.
    • Businesses are more successful and profitable.
    • CEOs enjoy coming to work again.
  • How do you work with younger workers, millennials?
    • Allow flexibility – where appropriate – on hours and how they do their jobs.
    • Responsibility will vary by pay level – with the understanding that higher pay equals more responsibility and most likely longer hours.

Should a Start-up Focus on Team Dynamics? Four Thoughts

Situation: An early stage company is wrestling with team dynamics and coordinating the achievement of critical milestones. The strategic picture seems to change on almost a daily basis. New employees who have big company experience want to see formal job descriptions and role definition. Older employees are jealous of the attention that newer, more highly qualified employees are receiving. Where should the CEO be focusing. How should she be handling these challenges? Should a start-up focus on team dynamics?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • At this point, the company is in start-up stage. The most critical issue isn’t team dynamics, it’s getting a product to market and demonstrating that you can sell it. If you don’t have a product, you don’t have a company.
  • Your top 4 areas of focus for the next 3-6 months should be:
    • Get the product out.
    • Close 3-4 good customers – preferably customers that you can reference.
    • Securing the funding – partnership or investor – that will get you to your next key milestones or to positive cash flow.
    • Build your organization and keep planning.
  • As an early stage company, distinct roles and job definitions make no sense. Your strategic picture is currently very dynamic. You need good people who can flexibly wear several hats and fill diverse roles.
    • If employees with big company backgrounds press you on job descriptions and role definitions, tell them that as a small company you must be quick on your feet, and that you need them to fill flexible roles. As you grow beyond 35 employees then roles will start to become more clarified. Ask for their patience.
    • If they continue to struggle with loose role definitions, then they aren’t the right people for an early stage company.
  • Employees who started with you early were great for the beginning. However, they may not be the best for you long-term. They may feel hurt as newer employees with deeper expertise and resumes start to replace them. In the interests of the company, the game is not longevity with the company; it’s about quality and putting the most competent people in the most critical roles.
    • If you are playing pick-up basketball, you play with whoever comes along.
    • If you decide to form a team and to compete, you need quality players. Some of your pick-up players won’t make the cut and need to go find another pick-up game.

How Do You Revamp Your Sales Team? Seven Solutions

Situation: A company is faced with the imminent departure or retirement of several key sales personnel. This presents the opportunity to rethink and rebuild the sales team. What is the best way to take advantage of this opportunity? How do you revamp your sales team?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The timing is good. Take advantage of this opportunity!
    • You’ve identified the next generation of sales leadership. Now determine their role building the future.
    • This is an opportunity to reset your vision for the next 3-5 years.
  • The task of the new sales leaders is to learn the products, customers, and processes. One of the best ways to do this is in the role of sales engineer.
    • Be the listener first – become the solutions person.
    • Use existing company personnel as resources to develop closer relationships with key people within the company.
    • Have existing staff can introduce them to current customers and point them toward new opportunities. Focus on impeccable customer service.
  • What are the immediate priorities for the new sales leaders?
    • Do what must be done.
    • Observe experts on the job.
    • Listen and learn.
    • Ask lots of questions.
    • It’s scary, but don’t worry – just do it!
    • Let others assist.
    • They will make mistakes – it’s called learning.
  • Be sure to build an approach and team that can support both your existing core business and build new opportunities.
  • You need to replace the capabilities of those who will be retiring, and at the same time bring in new opportunities for future growth. This includes sales hunters who are good at finding new customers and helping them define their unique needs.
  • What fears or concerns do you see in the new leaders?
    • Fear and concerns regarding short and long-term roles.
    • Focus on the near term. The President is focused on the long term. Focus now on visiting customers, being introduced to them, and learning about them.
  • Are you fully focused on marketing of your services?
    • What is your Sandbox? What is your Value Proposition? What is your Brand Promise?
    • Define these and let the definitions guide your development of the sales leadership as well as the search for additional personnel.

How Do You Facilitate Management Change? Four Suggestions

Situation: Historically the management of a company has been family and a few long-term managers who’ve grown with the company. Some of these managers have reached their limit. Over the last couple of years, the company has added new, high capacity management. Who do they do with existing managers who can’t keep up? How do you facilitate management change?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is why packages exist. Employees, even key managers are not forever. As a company grows both its needs and culture must grow. There comes the time in the life and growth of most every company when certain managers are unable to accommodate this growth or adapt to the changing culture. You may well find that these managers are not very happy and no longer feel at home. Whatever the case, it is better that they move on.
  • Who creates the package?
    • You or your HR manager come up with the outline.
    • Get professional advice if you have none in-house.
  • Is there a moral issue – our commitment to our employees?
    • If an individual is demotivated, they are not contributing – this solves the moral issue.
    • If the individual is terminated amicably this can be for the best – for both parties.
  • How do you ease the pain of separation, both for the individual and the company?
    • Packages can be adapted to the situation.
    • Take the example of a manager who has made important contributions in the past, and who has good relations with others in the company, but doesn’t have the skills to adapt to the next level. Include a generous term of job search assistance. If the separation is amicable, offer them space, computer and a telephone to facilitate their job search. This can ease the separation.

How Do You Have a Fierce Conversation? Six Factors

Situation: A valuable tool for CEOs is Susan Scott’s book Fierce Conversations. This includes challenging conversations with staff. Scott characterizes Fierce Conversations as being robust, intense, strong, powerful and passionate. These are the traits that a leader must bring to challenging conversations instead of avoiding them. How do you have a fierce conversation?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The first step is to master the courage to interrogate reality. This means confronting the difference between “ground truth” or reality and official truth or what we or others wish to believe. There is often a difference between the truth that we want others to see and reality. Jim Collins calls this confronting the brutal facts of our situation without losing faith in our ability to deal with it.
  • Be here, prepared to be nowhere else. The conversation must be your only point of focus when you are having it. Choose a location where you won’t be interrupted or distracted. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by texts, phone calls or anything else.
  • Tackle your toughest challenge today – you gain little by putting it off for another day. Prioritize your challenges, and tackle the most difficult ones first. Handling these will make the most difference.
  • Obey your instincts – but remember that instincts are subjective and must be verified through reality checks. Trust your gut, but verify it objectively with evidence.
  • Take responsibility for your emotional wake – what he or she will remember after the conversation. Keep the focus on factors that the other party can control, and offer to assist. But be sensitive to how you deliver the message and how the other party responds. Don’t leave more of a mess than you had before the conversation.
  • Harness the power of silence – silence slows a conversation and increases your chances of making it meaningful.

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 Evaluate Business Opportunities? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company is planning for growth and is considering several business opportunities. None are fully baked, but broadly speaking the CEO is interested in a list of pros and cons that will help her team to evaluate the opportunities before them. What questions should the management team be asking? How do you evaluate business opportunities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Which of the opportunities do you find exciting? Which opportunities ignite your passion? Which opportunities would be exciting to pursue on a daily basis? Use this to create your first cut.
    • When you meet with your team, prompt discussion by asking: why do you come to work each day? What drives you now?
    • Now look at each of the opportunities that you are considering. Which opportunities best reflect your answers?
  • Rank the opportunities in terms of probability of success. For each, do a SWOT analysis – how does each address your current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? How could each make the company stronger or address potential threats that you foresee?
  • Which opportunity provides the best segue to your long-term strategic opportunities over the next 2-3 or 3-5 years?
  • On a personal basis, how important is power and authority to you? What about the personal and work time that is available to you? What is your role, as CEO, in each opportunity? For each opportunity, does this role reflect your personal priorities? Finally, what is your ideal opportunity, in personal terms?
  • Once you have evaluated all of your opportunities – including your personal ideal opportunity – perform a weighted scoring of the opportunities to test your assumptions. Among the opportunities available, which is closest in score to your ideal opportunity?

How Do You Recruit an Outside Director? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company’s current directors are all insiders. The CEO wants to bring in an outside director for greater perspective, someone who can help the company grow to the next level. What should they look for?  How do you recruit an outside director?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look for an individual at a company in a similar market segment that is the revenue size that you want to be and which is selling to the same customers that you do. You want their sales process to be similar in type and complexity of sale but non-competitive with your company.
    • This can be an inactive founder or past employee who has been in GM role with P&L responsibility.
  • Write a list of the needs that you want this person to fulfill. Use this to evaluate prospective candidates.
  • Is it OK to hire a stranger?
    • Before you speak with a candidate, research their background and reputation.
    • You want someone who can provide information and a perspective that you don’t have now. During the selection process you will get to know the person.
  • Consider a high level individual from a company that has been a top customer. This individual can help you understand how you are viewed in the market, and how you can enhance your positioning and competitiveness.
  • Have lunch with a local recruiter who regularly recruits directors for companies. Get their perspective on how to select an outside director and what to look for in a candidate.

How Do You Manage Multiple Priorities? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company has developed a number of initiatives and priorities which are important to the success of the company. All of the initiatives are daunting.  What do they need to do to get all of these accomplished? How do you manage multiple priorities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start with corporate level objectives and set these independently from your initiatives. Pick your top corporate goals and objectives – financial, performance, and so on. Once this is in place, rate your initiatives in terms of how they help to meet your company objectives.
  • Create an initiative list. Measure the upside and risk for each initiative. Based on the results of your analysis classify each initiative: critical, important, or nice to have. This, plus alignment between initiatives your corporate objectives will indicate which initiatives are most critical to company success.
  • Every company needs long and short term goals. Use these to align and prioritize initiatives. Only and your team you can tell what is important and importance is a matter of your strategic focus and objectives.
  • They key to accomplishing multiple objectives is focus. Focus on your top 2-3 initiatives first – if you can reasonably handle this many. Once these are accomplished, focus on the next 2-3, and so forth.
  • Look at your competitors – where are the opportunities in the marketplace. How will your initiatives make you more competitive?
  • What does your leadership development plan look like? If you plan to add new leadership, include in your thinking a transition plan to new leadership, taking into account your multi-year timeline.