Category Archives: Leadership

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.

How Do You Stay Focused When It’s Busy? Five Points

Situation: A CEO and his COO find it difficult to focus on core tasks when business is booming and everyone is busy. The company is small but has been very successful. However, the pressure of simultaneously attending to key customer relationships, training new people, and formulating plans is overwhelming. How do you stay focused when it’s busy?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If the CEO and COO are doing a mix of corporate and project tasks, the first step is to delegate so that top staff focus on strategic areas rather than execution.
    • Over the next week, keep a record of what the CEO and COO are doing. At the end of the week sit down and determine which activities were corporate activities, and which should have been delegated to staff.
    • As an example, training of new personnel should be a key role of someone else. The CEO and COO will be involved, but only tangentially. The bulk of onboarding should be handled by staff.
    • Similarly,restrict sales activity of the CEO and COO to high level discussions and decisions.The rest should be handled by sales staff.
    • What must the CEO and COO be involved in?  Intellectual property development, high level decisions about new service offerings, high level decisions on business expansion opportunities, and occasional oversight of company operations.
  • It is important to focus. The first priority should be the company’s principle revenue stream.
  • The second priority should be new service offerings which are central to efficient delivery of the primary revenue stream.
  • Meet with top staff and develop a five-year vision. The order of priorities that are developed will determine where to focus.
  • In the process of developing priorities, ask the following questions:
    • What do you love and what do you need to love?
    • Analyze the comparative importance and urgency of each activity of the CEO and COO. Which require top level input, and how much? Which are better delegated to staff?

Can Outside Board Members Help a Struggling Company? Four Thoughts

Situation: The CEO of a family-owned company has struggled to align family members with the business plan. When difficult decisions must be made, established personality patterns and family history hinder consensus on what should be done. The CEO seeks advice on whether the addition of one or more outside Board Members can help to build consensus. Can outside Board members help a struggling company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The CEO of another closely-held company brought in an outside Board member two years ago. This has added considerable focus to the Board discussions. The addition of a fresh and respected perspective has helped to clarify decisions and reduce conflicts among the founders.
  • First, have a conversation with the team. Give them the opportunity to straighten out things themselves. Present the addition of an outside Board member as an option. Get their support. This will make the addition of an outside Board member a company decision, rather than the CEO’s.
  • The experience of other companies is that compensation can range from free – a retiree who wants to help – to expensive. Arrangements and expense will depend on what the company leadership wants to achieve.
  • Investigate SCORE – a well-established source for outside board members for small and family businesses.

How Do You Identify Key Managers? Three Suggestions

Situation: A software service company wants to expand operations. Their business model is to build clone offices that operate like the home office in new markets, much like a franchise operation. The founder CEO is struggling to identify key managers who can manage remote offices. How do you identify key managers?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The key managers must be individuals who are business savvy, not talented engineers. The key managers must understand:
    • Management – with a proven management record;
    • Basic accounting;
    • Recruiting and hiring;
    • How to manage an office;
    • A bonus will be experience in a similar field, but this experience does not substitute for the above four critical requirements.
  • Looking at current employees, is there the bandwidth within the current team to help bootstrap new remote offices?
    • For example, is there a key senior manager who can become Director of Franchise Operations? In this role, the DFO will serve as a resource to the individuals opening new offices.
    • As this individual’s focus switches, an important question will be who replaces this individual in their current role?
  • It will be beneficial if the individuals who are chosen to lead new offices have at least some experience in sales. This will help to quickly build new customer bases for the remote sites. However, a new site manager must have balanced experience. While sales will be part of the responsibility these individuals must also be able to build and oversee the other critical functions necessary to build viable remote sites.

How Do You Give Back to the Community? Nine Suggestions

Situation: A company has done very well providing goods and services to the local community. In the process they have made good money for the owners and employees. Still, they are aware that they only serve a portion of the community in which they operate. How can they reach out and benefit members of the community who do not necessarily require their services? How do you give back to the community?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • When employees have children or children of friends who are selling fundraising items, like Girl Scout Cookies, make a large purchase. Give the cookies away as gifts to clients and key contacts.
  • Conduct educational sessions to help the community become more versed in and aware of the products or services in which you specialize. These won’t be sales or marketing presentations but rather information sessions with no sales pitch attached. Talks can be given at schools, community organizations, or other venues that seek speakers.
  • Create a gift-matching program for employees. Make a gift to your favorite charity and the company will match your gift.
    • Try a fun variation on gift-matching: “Make Joe Pay!” Make a gift to a charity, and Joe, the CEO, will match it 3 to 1!
  • One company has a policy that employees are not to pressure other employees into supporting their or their kids’ fundraising. Instead, the company steps in and does this.
  • Work with the Angel Tree Foundation. Set up a Christmas or Holiday Tree prior to the holidays. Employees or others pick cards, and then buy a gift for someone in need within in the community.
  • Support national charities, e.g., the Heart Foundation or Cancer Society.
  • Create a formula-based program whereby based on company profitability or some other metric the company creates a donation pool. Have customers vote on the charities to be supported from this fund.
  • Encourage management and employee involvement on Boards of community organizations. Create guidelines and allow them paid time off to participate.
  • Create a mentor program. Contact the local school system and ask about clubs or classes at local schools that the company can sponsor or mentor.

How Do You Plan for Succession? Four Points

Situation: The CEO of a family business seeks to create a succession plan. One family member has expressed an interest in taking the reins of the company but has failed to take the initiative to demonstrate that he is prepared to take on this role. Another family member is now demonstrating both interest and initiative. How do you plan for succession?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • How should this situation be approached?
    • Do not view this situation competitively, but rather from the standpoint of what is best for the whole family because many family members stand to benefit from the ongoing success of the business.
    • Whatever decision is made, the successor will need support and assistance understanding both the financial and business sides of the company. This individual must also be aware of conflicts and challenges that face the business.
  • What else should be done to prepare for succession?
    • Given that there are two individuals interested in becoming CEO sit down with each individual and negotiate a clear boundary statement on what you, as CEO, can and can’t do, as well as what can and cannot be expected of you, as CEO, as the succession decision is made. This understanding should be documented in writing and signed, signifying understanding by both the CEO and the candidate. Each candidate should have their own signed agreement with the CEO.
    • In a family business, the CEO, as guarantor of the company, may be faced with a different level of financial risk than other family members. Both candidates for the CEO position must understand that if they accept this position, they also accept this risk.

How Do You Transition from Doer to Leader? Four Suggestions

Situation: The Founding CEO of a professional services company has always been deeply involved as a service provider and rainmaker in addition to his role as CEO. As the company has grown he sees the need to spend more time as leader of the company instead of being a doer. What can be done to facilitate this transition, and what expectations need to be created? How do you transition from doer to leader?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Another CEO removed himself from day to day business development activity by bringing in a new rainmaker. These were the adjustments made to facilitate the process.
    • During the first year he worked with the new individual in a team or partnership role.
    • Compensation was results-based. Discussion of equity consideration was deferred until the individual proved herself.
    • The CEO moved himself out of the individual contributor role except as needed to support the new rainmaker’s efforts.
    • All of this was accompanied with clear communication to clients: “this adjustment will provide better service to you; here’s my number if you need help.”
    • Rainmakers are a different personality type. To be most effective, they must be able to say “my team.” Allowing this will ease the transition and improve the relationship.
  • Create teams to deliver solutions that have traditionally been provided by the founder.
    • Identify skill sets behind the roles that are being delegated.
    • Build an organization that will fill these roles.
    • Participate in team meetings, but as an advisor rather than as principal decision-maker.
    • Adapt role and behavior in phases to ease the pressure of the change on both the CEO and the team.
  • How does the CEO manage his own expectations as well as those of the company as he makes this transition?
    • Delegation initially takes more time and effort than doing the work yourself. Be patient and let the investment pay off.
  • Larry E. Greiner of USC was an expert on the study of organizational crisis in growth. Per Greiner’s model, the company is currently at stage one – moving from principal and founder to initial delegator. It may be a useful to study this model.

How Do You Structure a Small Company Board? Five Suggestions

Situation: A small tech company’s Board of Directors is made up primarily of founders and advisors. The CEO wants to know how other companies structure their Boards. Concerns include increasing accountability of management, obtaining an objective view of company operations so to counteract group-think, and accessing opportunities for strategic alignment. How do you structure a small company Board?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In a small company, the fewer the number of board members and owners, the better. There are two considerations: control of the destiny of the company and complexity of the transaction in case of an investment or buy-out opportunity.
  • It is important to differentiate major from minor shareholders, including incentive-based owners.
  • What are the advantages of a Board of Directors?
    • Sounding Board – a group that can help management evaluate product and market opportunities.
    • Accountability – Board meetings provide an opportunity to assure that leadership and management are focusing on the best opportunities for the company.
    • Exit – knowledge of the industry, ties and introductions to potential acquirers.
  • Given new Federal regulations, the proper role of a Board has changed. Key responsibilities of Boards include:
    • Oversight of Corporate Governance.
    • Fiduciary Responsibility – to the shareholders.
    • Work with local or regional experts on Board role and structure. Experts can provide introductions to potential Board members that fit the company’s needs.
    • Good Board members will want Directors and Officers Insurance coverage.
  • Consider developing an Advisory Board, to compliment a stronger Boards of Directors.
    • Look at the key talents that the company is missing internally.
    • Ask friends, business partners and associates who they know who can add these talents.
    • Before kicking off a formal Advisory Board, start with informal discussions. Consider a facilitated dinner to share ideas.
    • One company has eight outside advisors who each receive 1/8 of a percent of the shares of the company for three years of service. The share offer required for service may be a function of the eventual forecasted exit value of the company.

Special thanks to the late Bill Rusher for his insight and contribution to this discussion.

How Do You Hire Foreign Personnel? Four Observations

Situation: A rapidly growing US software company has an office in Europe. Prospects for key positions have been flown from Europe to the US for interviews. Two or three good prospects have withdrawn their applications before the company could make an offer, citing cultural incompatibility as their reason. How do you hire foreign personnel?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Cultural incompatibility can be an evasive non-response. It is important to dig deeper, perhaps with the assistance of a European-based consultant, to determine what the candidates perceived as the incompatibility. Do this with the candidates that have already rejected the company. Identifying the deeper reason will help to pre-screen future candidates before flying them to the US for interviews.
  • It is important to have a local leader. This appears to be the individual that the company is attempting to hire. The local leader will then do the hiring for the local office. Employees work for their managers and with their peers and will decide on whether to accept a position based on their feelings of compatibility with these individuals.
  • Given that the company is attempting to hire the leader of the European office, review and approval of the candidate by the CEO is important. Here are options to explore:
    • Spend some time studying the culture of the country in which the office is located (European countries vary according to local culture) and adapt the interview style so that it is more compatible with this culture.
    • Hire a European that the CEO trusts to do the recruiting, screening, interviewing and selection a final set of candidates. Ask this individual for their input on the best way of facilitating a meeting with the CEO. For example, instead of flying candidates to the US, once several candidates have been identified travel to Europe and instead of conducting formal interviews, have dinner with each of the candidates. This reduces the tension and makes the interview more congenial. Consider taking the head of HR with along and both of you having dinner with the candidates and their spouses. Again, this will reduce the tension in the meetings, and you will have two viewpoints on the candidates.
  • If, after trying the suggested alternatives, it continues to be difficult identifying a good European candidate, an alternative is hiring an American – someone with solid experience managing offices and operations in Europe – to oversee the European operation.