Category Archives: Leadership

How Do You Improve Internal Processes and Procedures? Five Approaches

Situation: A CEO’s company has experienced margin erosion due to designs that did not transfer well to manufacturing, and inefficiencies in the transfer process between design and manufacturing engineering. He wants to transform the culture without losing technical performance while meeting cost targets and delivery timelines. How do you improve internal processes and procedures?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Reinventing the culture of a workforce is an organizational design challenge.
    • The heart of the challenge is understanding the motivations and desires of the individuals involved – particularly the natural leaders within the groups.
    • Learn this is by speaking with them one-on-one, either as the CEO, or through individuals with whom they will be open and trusting.
    • Once their emotional drivers are understood, design accountability and incentive solutions that will align their personal reliability and accountability drivers with their emotional drivers.
  • Tailor the language of communication with the organization so that it responds to the emotional triggers discovered during the 1-on-1s. For example, if there is a negative reaction to sales within the engineering teams, use a different term like client development.
  • Expose the designers to the “hot seat” that gets created when their designs produce manufacturing challenges. The objective is for the designer to see the manufacturing group as their “customer.”
    • Involve manufacturing engineering in design architecture meetings. Do this early in the process so that they can communicate the framework and constraints under which manufacturing occurs and suggest options that will ease manufacturability.
  • Shift from individual to team recognition on projects. Instead of recognizing the contributions of the design component or the manufacturing component, recognize the contributions of the team of design and manufacturing engineers that produced a project on time, on budget, with good early reliability.
  • To kick off the new process:
    • Identify some of the waste targets.
    • Involve individuals who are known to be early adopters.
    • Have them look at the problem, develop and implement a solution.
    • Deliver ample recognition/rewards to these individuals.
    • Next use these people to mentor the next level of 2nd

How Do You Transition to a New CEO? Four Strategies

Situation: A company founder was advised by her Board to help them hire a CEO with more experience to run the company. This new CEO is now in place. As the founder gains more experience, the Board has indicated its willing to consider her as CEO. How do you transition to a new CEO?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Become the fire hose! Build a tight relationship with the new CEO and together build the future strategy that will enable you both to win.
    • Others will focus on past issues. Keep your approach and advice positive. Position yourself as a partner, not an adversary. Emphasize your supportive and collaborative capacities.
    • Become the new CEO’s go-to person: trustworthy, objective, knowledgeable, reliable. Nurture the development of chemistry with the new CEO.
    • When the new CEO asks what needs to be done, produce the plan. Leverage your knowledge and expertise to become his greatest resource.
  • Enlist the CEO’s support of one or more of the focused strategies that are already in play within the company. Build the support of the Board and focus on boosting company value to 2x sales. The Board won’t forget who produced the original initiatives.
  • You have more power than you imagine – both with the Board and the new CEO – due to your knowledge of the marketplace and the business. Use it wisely.
    • While there is a new CEO, the company has already been profitable and company operations are clean. The Board will remember this.
  • How do you boost the chances to eventually be named CEO by the Board?
    • Tie yourself very closely to the new CEO – be this person’s more important resource. Build and cement your position as his most important ally within the company. It will help you to gain his support for implementing your ideas.
    • Segue your relationship with the Board members to become the company’s next CEO.
    • At the same time, grow your successor within the company so that you will be ready to move up to CEO when the opportunity arises.

How Do You Expand Your Large Client Base? Six Strategies

Situation: The CEO of a service company sees that 20% of their business is serving large corporate customers. These accounts have proven to be more profitable than smaller clients. Their objective is to increase the large corporate client base from 20% to 60% of their business. How do you expand your large client base?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Emphasize the differences and unique talents of the firm in comparison with the competition. Trust in the company’s abilities and act like a big-league firm.
  • Top shelf prices for services are not an issue for large clients; in fact, they expect quality firms to have high prices. Find the “clinch” price – where the client says, “you’re expensive, but because of your special talents you’re the firm that we will choose.” Compliment this with the firm’s ability to utilize lower cost outsourced services to offer an appealing overall cost of services. Clients will pay a premium for top shelf when they need it but will like the fact that routine needs can be met within their budgets.
  • Use the lessons from Blue Ocean Strategy to create advantages for the company’s services that existing firms don’t or can’t offer because of their structures and cultures.
  • Highlight the company’s high-touch culture, with great personal service. This provides a welcomed relief from the typical client experience with service firms.
  • Create buzz around the company’s leadership. Focus on speaking opportunities. Enhance the references to the company’s leadership on the company web site, including a listing of upcoming speaking engagements that are open to potential clients or individuals interested in the company’s expertise.
    • During speaking engagements to local groups on topics of high interest, build an educational library of edited flash content that hits the high points of the talks – not the full talk, but the most important 2-3 minutes on a given topic.
    • Add a library of these short videos on the company website.
  • By charging premium prices for select services, while sourcing research and expertise from personnel in lower cost geographies, the company will generate additional profit. Allocate some of these profits to community outreach to further enhance the company’s reputation and buzz. Be the firm that gives back.

What are the Key Points to Make in an Investor Presentation? Three Views

Situation: A CEO wants to raise money to expand the company. Target investors will be private equity investors with a minimum investment threshold of $10 million. What are the key points to make in an investor presentation?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • To demonstrate the company valuation, and the potential increase in value to investors, calculate the EBITDA trend for the last 3-4 years and project it out for the next 5 years.
    • The valuation is the whole company – not just the investment piece.
    • Show the increase in exit valuation with and without the target investment. Show impact.
    • Show revenue and EBITDA on the company’s current trend and what this will become with the investment.
  • An alternate view: Don’t focus on valuation. The company is profitable and growing. Pitch the plan and the financials associated with the plan. Let the potential investor come back with an investment proposal and terms. KISS – Keep It Simple Silly – take all the risk out.
  • There are periodic Shake the Money Tree events in Silicon Valley, sponsored by SVASE – Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs. Start attending these.
    • Ask for advice – not money. There is an adage in Silicon Valley is that if you ask for money you get advice; whereas if you ask for advice you get money.
    • There’s a subtle difference between the two asks. The point is that potential investors don’t just want to invest money. They want to be involved in the decisions as to how the company spends that money. By asking for advice, a potential investee demonstrates that they respect the opinions and input of potential investors and will listen to them.

How Do You Construct a Deal to Expand? Three Areas of Focus

Situation: A CEO has an opportunity to combine with another business to expand their market geographically. A lead to work with the current owner to manage the transition has been identified. A second option is to bring in a new manager from the outside to manage the transition and the expanded business. How do you construct a deal to expand?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Basics that are needed prior to initiating negotiations:
    • Define what the seller wants – both financially from the sale and in terms of ongoing involvement in and support of the business.
      • Without a lengthy transition period, the value of the business is not significant. The value is in the current owner’s relationships – both with clients and his team. It is critical to retain both.
    • The other big question is what the seller wants personally.
      • Is it legacy? Is it the opportunity to transfer knowledge?
      • The seller knows the CEO’s company and approached them about a sale. Play on this.
    • Are there potential complications to the deal?
      • Do any non-compete clauses exist with other companies?
      • Do other agreements exist that impact the value of the acquisition?
  • What other aspects of the deal does the group recommend?
    • Within the new organization, put the current owner under the recommended lead. This gives the lead more prestige and demonstrates trust. It also raises the bar for the lead.
    • A bonus is that the current owner and the lead get along. This will facilitate the current owner’s mentoring of the lead – like the child that he wishes would have taken over the business.
    • The current owner is a savvy businessperson, and the existing relationship between the seller and the lead will facilitate his ability to pass this knowledge on to the lead.
    • The current owner’s key assets are his connections and knowledge of the business. This will include subtle aspects to the business of which only the current owner is aware.
  • The option to bring in an outside office manager potentially complicates the situation.
    • Bringing in an outside office manager to manage both the lead and the current owner is the worst case – the most likely to blow up.
    • This arrangement puts the current owner two reports away from the CEO.
    • With an additional person involved, the personal dynamics become more complex. Keep it simple.

How Do You Create Consistent Business Operations? Seven Thoughts

Situation: A CEO is concerned that business operations are inconsistent. Employees are always coming to her for answers instead of working things out themselves. As a result, the CEO is continually focused on operational details as opposed to strategic direction. How do you create consistent business operations?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Make managers live up to their titles.
    • Require them to go to each other to solve problems first, instead of always asking the CEO.
    • When they ask a question, don’t give them the solution, but advice on how to solve it.
    • Require them to present solutions vs. 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.
  • When one starts to delegate, it hurts for a while but will work itself out.
  • The CEO should not be doing “regular jobs” that are really employees’ responsibilities.
  • How has implementing these suggestions impacted other companies?
    • Businesses have become more diversified.
    • CEOs are focused strategically vs. tactically.
    • Businesses are more successful and profitable.
    • CEOs enjoy coming to work again.
  • Create a sales intern program.
    • Hire 4 sales interns for $10-15/hour – with the offer that after 3 months there will be full time jobs for those who prove they can sell.
    • Have the top 4 sales staff design the intern program – call response scripts, responsibilities, etc. – subject to CEO review and approval.
    • Assign one intern to each of these 4 sales staff in mentor/mentee relationships. This will demonstrate the capacity that each has as a sales manager.
  • Should younger workers be handled differently?
    • Allow flexibility – where appropriate – on hours and how they do their jobs.
    • Responsibility will also vary by pay level – higher pay equals more hours and more accountability.

How Do You Improve a Business Model? Four Observations

Situation: A CEO is in conversation about combining with another company. One option is for the other company to absorb his company. What are the pros and cons of this option? Are there other options that will better serve both owners and employees? How do you improve a business model?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The company has a great model today. The option under consideration looks like a double compromise – it alters both the company’s strengths and its fundamental business model.
    • The company’s strength is lean and mean – moving from a hourly/fee-based model with high utilization to a salary-based model, as the option on the table proposes, will change this. It also changes the dynamics of who will work for the company.
    • The magic of the current model is that it attracts top talent by offering them the best of two worlds: high individual billing rates with ready access to billable hours. Over the long term this has also made it very profitable.
  • Explore an alternative – how does the company transform its existing business model while retaining its strengths – lean, mean, low overhead – while transforming the model so that it builds “products,” perception, and recognition for the company?
  • A longer-term alternative is to look for a financial acquisition of the company. It has good net margins, good cash flow, and even spins out cash. This is valuable to a financial buyer.
  • What is the role of the CEO right now? Another CEO was asked “Do you have a job or a company? What happens if you leave? If the company dies, you have a job. But it may not be necessary to change much to become a company.”

How Do You Bring Children into the Company? Seven Observations

Situation: The CEO of a company is looking at her succession plan. The preferred option, from a family standpoint, is to groom one of her children to eventually become the CEO. A concern is how current key employees will react to this plan. How do you bring children into the company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • As preparation for a key role at the company, have your child gain experience at a company that has been where the business is today but has grown to a higher level. Learn from them what they went through and what they would change were they to do it again.
  • How did Peter the Great become the greatest leader of Russia? As young man, and son of a czar, he apprenticed in England and Holland – in ship building and other important arts that were scarce in Russia. He was able to leverage what he learned to help build the country when he became czar.
  • Have them develop the leadership qualities and maturity that they need to run this company in another company – where there is the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Bring this wisdom and experience back to the company. It will help gain the respect and loyalty of company employees.
  • Have them take on tasks which are not comfortable – for example, sales. Don’t underestimate the value of being able to visit a new customer. This is the key role of the principal of any company.
  • A parent/child relationship can be difficult in business. It can get tense when business, money, survival of the company and making payroll are on the line.
  • The son or daughter must be aware that in a new role one doesn’t start out in control. This may be achieved in the end, but it is not the starting point.
  • An option, once experience has been gained in another company, is to have the individual start a new branch of the company in a different location. This will provide a valuable learning experience and will demonstrate both capacity and success to company staff.

How Do You Manage Through a Difficult Period? Six Solutions

Situation: The CEO of a company is wrestling with issues concerning change orders and high labor and materials cost. To get back into good financial shape, they are considering options including reduction in estimator time and selling equipment; however, either of these could gut the business. How do you manage through a difficult period?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • It is critical to get on top of change orders. This is potentially a big profit-loss swing for the business.
    • Does everyone understand what’s happening?
    • If the answer is yes, teach them more about the business nuts and bolts so that they can help develop solutions? Share a portion of the savings in the form of spot bonuses for those who develop solutions.
  • Take a lesson from The Great Game of Business. Let employees know about the challenges and challenge them to help develop solutions.
    • As an example, look at change orders and the percent of change orders that are not correctly completed, approved and invoiced as a critical number. Let’s say that 50% of change orders are not completed, approved and/or invoiced correctly. The objective for the year is to reduce this to 25%. Calculate the value of lost billings from the past year. If this can be reduced by half, the value will be $X. If the company can meet this objective, consider making half of $X available for distribution as gifts or prizes.
    • To support this, allow each new project to design its own minigame to reduce the number of incomplete and uninvoiced change orders.
    • The idea is to have the project and inside teams design the minigames and come up with ways to reduce incomplete and uninvoiced change orders. They will learn new ways of being more efficient from this process. This is the long-term benefit to the company.
  • If it is necessary to reduce staff, cut early instead of later. This is painful but laid-off employees can be hired back on a contract basis as necessary.
  • A common solution during a difficult period is to cut back to core, reducing overhead as a survival strategy, and focus on winning as may bids as possible to rebuild the business.
    • Look at all departments and the gross margin that each produces minus the overhead that each requires. Focus cutbacks on those that are not positive.
  • Increase annuity contracts – contracts with major companies that are growing and frequently require the company’s services.
  • Transfer equipment to a separate corporation. Lease it back as business requires. This increases cash flow flexibility – for example, don’t make lease payments when cash is tight.

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.