Category Archives: Leadership

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.

How Do You Train New Employees? Five Suggestions

Situation: A young company is in the process of hiring new employees. Good customer service, including excellent communication skills and empathy are the most important qualifications. Good follow-up skills are more important than educational background. How do you train new employees?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Training new employees may be putting the cart before the horse. The first task is to solidify the company’s business model. The next task is to determine what roles and positions fill that model. Only then can the company determine how best to train employees.
  • Build an organizational chart for a $1 million company.
    • Who will the company serve?
    • What are the positions and roles?
    • This is future that the company will be building and determines how to select and train people to fill the positions.
    • Suggested Reading: The eMyth Revisited by Michael Gerber – a guide to envisioning the future of the company and how to build it.
  • A word of caution. As CEO, you don’t want to be training people like yourself. This is both difficult and risky. You may be training future competition. 
    • As an alternative, think of a series of distinct roles or functions that make up the business, then select and train different individuals to handle each role. It’s difficult to find people who can do it all. It’s much easier to find people who can bring in new clients, establish and nurture relationships with partners, network to develop a referral base, or counsel new clients on alternative solutions to fit their needs.
    • Organizing this way means training and creating experts in segments of the business, but nobody knows the full business the way that the CEO does.
  • Each position within the company will need individualized objectives and performance evaluation criteria. What are the key metrics for each position? This helps to build efficiency.
  • Think about both one-time and recurring income models. This may call for different employees or at least a different sales activity to build each business segment.

How Do You Choose Between Strategic Options? Four Points

Situation: The founding CEO of a technology company is considering options for the future. The company is doing well, with two options for future development either within or outside the company. How do you choose between strategic options?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Domain expertise is less important than business experience, P&L experience, and fund-raising success. A diversified background and successful experience as a CEO are as important as specialty industry experience.
    • Continue to pursue all options for the time being. See how the new opportunities mature before making final choices, and either split time between the options or assign good managers to oversee each.
    • Ownership agreements should be based on cash investment of the parties – not time and effort.
  • Option #1 – Focus on the primary company.
    • A challenge is that most of the Board members just see the numbers, not the dynamics of day-to-day operations. They don’t know the CEO’s contribution.
    • Assure that the Board understands the CEO’s contribution and is rewarding the CEO appropriately.
  • Option #2 – Focus on New Opportunity #1.
    • Is this option more like a product or a company?
    • Consider this option as a product incubator rather than a single product company – producing and spinning off a series of ideas for development.
    • This can be done either within the primary company or as an outside effort.
  • Option #3 – Focus on New Opportunity #2.
    • Software development can be self-funding. Compared with manufacturing, software is inexpensive to develop and requires little investment to scale and sell once the code is written.
    • The trick is to rigorously focus on market opportunity while minimizing cost.
    • Watch staffing commitments. Use scarce resources to lock up irreplaceable capabilities. Hire or offer equity only for significant contributions such as IP development. For labor, use consultants, independent contract arrangements, or look for what can be outsourced.
    • Like Option #2 this can be done either within the primary company or as an outside effort.

How Do You Balance the Demands of Work and Family? Five Views

Situation: A CEO struggles to balance time and responsibility commitments to his business with demands of his family. This is not an uncommon struggle for executives. The question is: what strategies are effective to address the needs of both. How do you balance the demands of work and family?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • One Member: It takes a plan to find a solution.
    • Decide what you want and write a business plan to get there.
    • What relationship do you want with your soul mate? Make this part of the plan.
    • Have a conversation and test whether your and your spouse’s long-term visions are complimentary.
    • Don’t take on additional work – this is good both for family relationships and the role as CEO.
  • Another Member: My spouse and I talk about this a lot – particularly around time.
    • We have agreed on how the week is carved out – family time/work time.
    • We agree to honor each other as we are – not how we want the other to be.
    • Watch work commitments because – long-term – your spouse and children more important and more lasting than work.
  • Another Member: I’ve lived through the same issues.
    • I probably erred on side of family vs. career. The benefit is that now, I can’t get enough time to play with my kids. It’s great!
    • Attention to children is very important during the early years. While infants are not as capable of communicating as they will be later, the basic emotional and learning patterns – as well as affection patterns – are created early in life. It’s like the foundation of a building – not much to look at from the street, but it allows the whole building to stand.
  • The same mind that developed your business can solve this.
    • Stay open to solutions.
    • Make a choice.
    • This is uncomfortable, but not bad. The struggle proves that you care.
  • View your spouse as somebody who cares enough about herself so that she thinks she deserves a class act from her mate. Isn’t this what you want in a mate?

What is Your 3-Year Plan? Six Suggestions

Situation: A founding CEO wants to cut back to 1-2 days per week with someone else overseeing day-to-day operations. Her timeline to accomplish this is 3 years. Currently she splits her time between engineering and sales support, managing operations, overseeing the CFO and managing the company. How do you accomplish this transition? What is your 3-year plan?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Advertise for and hire a General Manager/engineer who can understand the company’s applications and develop unique solutions.
  • Advertise for and hire an understudy for the sales person. This could be someone in their 40s who is experienced, and who can act both as the sales person’s back-up and develop additional accounts to diversify the business.
  • As the company continues to grow it will take more time and effort to manage all the activities. Plan the company’s organization chart and infrastructure to account for this.
    • Be careful not create an infrastructure during good times that is unsustainable during down times.
  • As the new GM gains familiarity with the company, this individual will and should start to take control. This automatically means that the founding CEO will have to agree to release some of her control. Prepare for this.
  • Consider several alternatives for the GM:
    • Super President – $400K.
    • GM with engineering talent – perhaps a consulting or engineering sales background. Hire at $150-200K and develop into the President.
    • Given the 3-year lead time this individual could be a Technical Lead or Project Engineer. The objective will be to develop a very talented person into the GM or President. This alternative opens a larger pool of talent, at lower initial cost.
  • Where are these people found?
    • Trade association contacts.
    • A high-quality engineer that another CEO won’t be hiring over the coming months. Talk to friends and industry contacts.

What Are Your Five- and Ten-Year Plans? Five Points

Situation: A CEO is considering her exit strategy between five and ten years out. She wants to do what is best both for her, the company and her employees, assuring that both personal and company needs are met and the company is ready for transition. What are your five- and ten-year plans?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The personal side and the company’s future are closely linked. The solutions and strategy must fit both the CEO’s priorities as well as those of the company. By looking at the CEO’s role, the current and future needs of the company, and any changes that need to be made, the CEO is preparing for an eventual exit.
  • The CEO must decide what lifestyle she wants – both as she prepares for eventual exit and as she prepares the company to continue under new leadership.
    • She must decide what she wants to do with her time in an ideal world. What will make her happy as she prepares for the future?
    • This must be considered both for herself and her business partners. Have conversations to align both business and personal expectations.
    • Conduct a strategic planning retreat on the future of the company as well as the transition of leadership.
    • Have a talk with significant others to align personal expectations.
  • What changes in leadership are necessary to implement the plan? What are the key roles and who will fill them? What is the succession plan for each key role? Are current personnel in place to fill these roles, or is additional hiring and training necessary?
  • Consider an ESOP or a virtual stock program to enhance employee incentives and sense of ownership in the company’s future.
  • Decide what exit means on a personal level.
    • Transitioning from founder to leader gets the CEO more involved in the company.
    • Meditate on priorities and engage in ongoing discussions with key personnel to jointly plan the future.

What is the CEO’s Job? Is It for Me? Four Recommendations

Situation: A CEO wants to significantly grow his company, either to prepare for an IPO or to become an interesting takeover target. However, he struggles with delegation. When responsibilities are delegated, the job isn’t done to the CEO’s satisfaction and he ends up doing the work himself. He asks: what is the CEO’s job? Is it for me?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In order to grow the company to the desired level, it is necessary to hire competent people and delegate. The most important position will be a COO with deep experience organizing people and functions.
    • The CEO’s role is to provide the vision and strategic objectives for the company. The COO’s role is to assure that the right people are in place or hired to do the work necessary to realize the vision and operational objectives.
    • The CEO-COO relationship will be pivotal. If there are specific ways that the CEO wants to see things done, these must be clearly delineated in discussions with the COO.
    • The role of the COO will be to organize the company to reach the growth objective.
  • Hire a competent, talented HR person to plan the organizational development road map, and the positions that must be filled in stages to reach the goal.
    • The growth plans of the company are ambitious. Absent significant change, growth will be limited to a fraction of the current objective.
    • Working with the COO and HR person, build the organizational chart for the size company that the vision imagines. Fill the chart with current personnel where the fit is appropriate. Determine where the gaps exist and build a plan to hire these people in stages.
    • The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber provides an exercise to accomplish this.
  • Hire a high-level assistant to help in areas where the CEO finds it difficult to let go. This will be another key relationship and will be important to learning how to let go.
  • Hire a CEO coach.
    • This will likely be an individual with significant experience who has achieved the growth envisioned by the strategic plan.
    • The CEO Coach will help to draw lines between delegating and micromanaging and will help the CEO to learn to effectively delegate to qualified people.

How Do You Reprioritize Your Time? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company delivers specialized consulting services. The founder CEO is also a lead consultant. As the company has grown, the CEO has struggled to prioritize her time as she shifts from consultant to leader. How do you reprioritize your time?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look at the skill sets required to run the company and compare this with the skills of current staff. While the company has excellent consultants, do some of these people also have experience in business development or management?
    • Prioritize the skill sets needed and focus hiring efforts on those that can’t be filled by current employees.
  • If the CEO is also the chief rainmaker, then a top priority is hiring a manager/leader. The next level of development within the company will require a level of management.
  • Accept that the company can’t get an A+ grade on every project or detail. Learn to accept a B when this is enough. It will do.
  • Recognize that as priorities shift, vacuums will develop. Identify what will be missing. For those vacancies:
    • Write job descriptions for the roles.
    • Replace the leader’s roles with flexible teams instead of individuals.
  • Reapply financial resources to fund the transition as incentives for individuals to take on new work and responsibilities.
    • Look at profit-sharing models. Use profit sharing to facilitate the shift in priorities by adjusting payout incentives.
  • Anticipate the risks within the plan. Think through these thoroughly and develop contingencies.
  • As CEO, you will not be able to do everything that you do now. In your new role you won’t want to do everything you do now. Your view and responsibilities will change.