Category Archives: Leadership

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.

How Do You Balance Core and New Businesses? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company has built a solid core business and wants to expand its product portfolio by adding new business. Core functions can serve both existing and new business, reducing overhead on individual businesses. What pitfalls must the company avoid? How do you balance core and new businesses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • New business activity cannot impact core business. The core business is the company’s bread and butter. It is important to make this clear to both employees and clients and to structure the handling of new business opportunities accordingly.
  • From a staffing standpoint, new business opportunities cannot impact marketing, service and operations staff supporting the core business. New business development activity and operations cannot result in a pull from their focus on the core business. This separation may be facilitated by placing the staff supporting new business in separate facilities, or in an area separate from the staff supporting core business.
  • In the case of support functions that will serve both existing and new business, recruit and hire staff to support the new business to assure that both existing and new business receive proper support.
  • Hire a new person, one with experience and contacts, to develop the new business opportunities. Look for a sales person who can bring in significant new business. This will pay for the individual quickly.
  • How does leadership communicate these changes to staff?
    • Meet with key managers to identify potential concerns. These may include impact on company culture and client focus. Use the responses gathered to develop a communication plan to allay employee concerns.
    • As new business opportunities are added, it will be necessary to bring in new, experienced personnel. Previously, the company brought in experienced personnel to build the current business. Be open and up-front about this and explain that as the company grows there will be new opportunities for existing employees.
    • The company’s objective is to improve the quality of the organization and to raise the boat for all. Current owners and managers will automatically benefit from the efforts of new people to expand the business.
    • Building new business opportunities as separate businesses diversifies the company and reduces the risk of overdependence on existing clients and key vendor relationships. This enhances the job security of current employees.

How Do You Choose Between Opportunities? Five Thoughts

Situation: A growing technology company is faced with several opportunities. The CEO is too busy to devote the time to analyze each of these. In addition, the CEO wants to develop her staff so that they can take on more responsibility and mature into a full organization. How do you choose between opportunities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Everything starts with a strategic plan for the company. Either the CEO or an outside consultant should coordinate a strategic planning session to develop and rank the opportunities facing the company. The ranking exercise is best done as an open departmental or company-wide exercise so that everyone is involved in the process. This helps to build consensus and commitment to the opportunities developed.
  • Once the opportunities have been identified assign one to each of the employees that you want to develop. Each of the employees will be the champion for that opportunity.
  • Ask each champion to develop a business case and plan for their opportunity. This will include a development plan and ROI analysis. Allow each champion to access all company resources as they develop their plans. Set a deadline for all champions to complete their plans.
  • Once the plans have been completed, reconvene the group that participated in the strategic planning session and have the champions pitch their plans to the group. The group will provide feedback and suggestions for each plan. At the end of the session repeat the ranking exercise based on the new information developed and presented.
  • This will provide a wonderful training opportunity for the champions as well as valuable insight into their talents and potential for future development. In addition. Because the strategic planning sessions will be conducted as a company-wide exercise, they will act as team-building exercises and excite everyone about the potential facing the company.

How Do You Transition to New Leadership? Four Perspectives

Situation: The CEO of a professional service company is reaching retirement age. The plan for years has been for a key field manager to take on this role; however, neither the CEO, the founder nor most employees feel that this individual is up to the job. What can be done to either better prepare the key manager for the new role, or to demonstrate that this is unfeasible? How do you transition to new leadership?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • For the long-term benefit of the company, it is important to create a situation that will either prepare the field manager to succeed or provide the Company with a back-up plan for ongoing leadership.
  • If the CEO and founder are concerned about this individual’s ability to succeed, then coordinate a plan with the founder and then meet with the key manager.
    • Let the key manager know that the owners plan to sell the company in 3 years.
    • This can be an internal sale – the CEO and founder sell their shares to the key manager – or the owners will look for an outside buyer to buy out all current owners.
    • See how the key manager responds.
    • If the key manager expresses an interest in buying the CEO’s and founder’s shares, then require this individual to make the same level of financial commitment that the CEO and founder have made.
  • Another CEO experienced a comparable situation with an individual who was both underperforming and a significant shareholder.
    • This CEO created a very public vision of what he expected this individual to achieve – in positive terms. The CEO also put an outside hire in a similar role to create a performance comparison. The result was a significant increase in performance by the inside individual and a successful transition to additional responsibility.
  • If the key manager is to be put on a track that leads to the CEO role there will be two challenges: assuring that this individual can acquire the skills to succeed and assuring that the individual can demonstrate successful leadership within the Company. To meet these challenges, take the following steps:
    • Make a public announcement of the plan to transfer the mantle of leadership to the key manager;
    • Raise the bar of expectations for the key manager to demonstrate his or her leadership capacity;
    • Define a full program of training to provide the key manager with the skills to lead the Company;
    • Ideally, allow the key manager to prove his or her mettle through a highly visible responsibility – like growing a key market segment – so that he or she gains the respect of the others.
    • Require the same level of financial commitment that the CEO and founder currently bear, so that everyone knows that the key manager has “skin in the game.”
    • Put the key manager on the same compensation program as the CEO and founder, as this will become his or her compensation program on becoming CEO.

Is the Glass Half-full or Half-empty? Five Recommendations

Situation: The CEO of a product and service company has seen her company struggle for several years. While the overall market has turned around, her company has not. She is tired of barely staying afloat and not making the kind of money that she a decade ago. Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • What keeps you from hitting the numbers? Creating a forecast, budget and objectives allows you to establish a reward system for meeting and exceeding objectives. Once there is an upside, then not hitting the numbers means that a manager misses the upside and the financial rewards that accompany this achievement. This is often consequence enough, particularly if others are hitting their numbers and getting performance bonuses.
  • The glass is half-full. The past few years have been difficult. Review what the company accomplished during an extended recession. Look at how the company fares versus local competitors. Review positive changes that have been made and take credit for these. This will provide energy to move forward.
  • Given the company’s successes, sit down with the management and show them what the company has accomplished. Celebrate. Use this opportunity to set goals for next year. A good place to start is to set a bottom line profitability objective before taxes.
  • To be a great manager requires more than just a revenue and profitability target. People rally around a vision and a culture that they aspire to and want to enjoy. The role of the leader is to create this vision and culture. Do this, and revenue and profitability will take care of themselves.
  • Two more thoughts on whether the glass is half full or half empty to check your bearings:
    • What is your passion? If you love what you’re doing, what else would you do?
    • If you were doing something else, would you be making more money or enjoying more success?

How Do You Plan for Retirement? Three Strategies

Situation: The CEO of a family business is anticipating retirement in the next two years. Currently, there is no succession plan. Other family members do not seem interested in running the company. What steps should the CEO be taking? How do you plan for retirement?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • To set the stage for your successor, make sure that you are being paid adequately for your job. If you are being paid less than some of your key employees, nobody else will want your job. Raise your salary to a point where it is appropriate for a CEO, and so it is attractive enough to entice a qualified successor. This will also help attract a buyer should you decide to sell or merge the business. Raising your salary will also help your bottom line if your company is an S Corporation.
  • Once you identify a potential successor, bring this individual into the business as soon as possible so they have an opportunity to understand the business fully and can receive on-the-job training from you. 
    • Understand the numbers and red flags that give you the information and authority to run the company and the respect of your employees. Teach these to your successor so that this person has the same overview of the company that you command.
    • Look at what skills your successor needs to be CEO and start mentoring that person on those as soon as possible.
    • You may need to delay your planned retirement so that you have time to select a successor and prepare that individual to take on your responsibilities. Your current 2-year plan may not work, at least without compromises.
  • Without a management succession plan, the company may not bring in as much in a sale or merger as you expect. It is important that you improve the numbers to maximize the value of the firm if you choose to sell or merge the business.
    • Look at your current range of projects. Focus on those which are most profitable to you and emphasize these. You may be able to reduce staff and expenses by being more focused.

How Do You Manage Family in a Business? Three Approaches

Situation: The CEO of a family-owned business finds it difficult to hold family-member managers accountable. They are responsible for significant portions of the business; however, family dynamics make it hard to supervise them. How do you communicate that their responsibilities affect both the business and the family? How to you manage family in a business?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The first issue: Why have they not been asked for accountability to date? If you don’t ask for accountability, then don’t expect them to take this on by themselves.
  • Assign one family member responsibility for developing the marketing and sales strategy for the company.
    • Change the compensation from salary to salary plus commission. Over a 6-month period, reduce the base salary to half of what this individual currently earns and tie the rest to success increasing sales.
    • Assign this person responsibility for analyzing the markets that you serve. Are there areas that the company has not tapped into yet? What can you do to make your web site up more effective at driving sales? How can you use exclusivity on select products to your advantage?
  • When was the last time that the principals of the business met to figure out what to do?
    • Set the stage: we have split the business into two divisions and have separated the financials. This gives us more flexibility as we develop the business.
    • Show them the trends of each business.
    • Show them that if the current trend continues the business will be unsustainable in X years.
    • Facilitate a discussion that will start to generate solutions.
    • If the others do not respond:
      • Tell them that you appreciate their attendance at today’s meeting.
      • Tell them that you will meet in another two days as a team. Until then you expect them to think things over and to come ready to share their ideas.
    • Do not hold the meeting in your office or conference room. Secure an off-site neutral location with a white board.
    • If you are uncomfortable facilitating this meeting hire an outside facilitator. Ask for the input of the others in selecting a facilitator and follow their recommendation. If you work with a facilitator, start with your own dilemmas to set the tone.

How Do You Scale with Scarce Talent? Four Factors

Situation: A software company relies on in-house expertise to both position itself and come up with unique solutions to clients’ problems. The CEO wants to significantly scale up the number of clients served per year. The challenge is that it is difficult to find software engineers who are experienced in a wide range of code languages. How do you scale with scarce talent?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start by looking at the load carried by your current employees. Do they have the capacity to significantly increase the number of clients that they serve? Do you have sufficient back-up to serve existing and new clients should something happen to a key employee? It’s one thing to have ambition to expand, but another to assure that you have the capacity to serve both existing and new clients.
  • Take a close look at your org chart.
    • What happens and where are the exposures when you double the current service volume? Where will the greatest stresses occur? These are the first areas in which you should start to build redundancy.
    • From an HR standpoint, you need a leadership development plan that extends down your organization chart. Use the stress analysis just mentioned to identify the areas in greatest need of additional resources and leadership development.
  • Look for areas where you can off-load current responsibilities to support staff to increase the capacity of your current talent. This increases potential capacity as well as the overall value of the company.
    • The lack of redundancy may prove to be detrimental to your ability to attract new large clients. Large potential clients and partners will use whatever means they have at their disposal (including stealth visits to your offices by local reps) to vet your organization before they make a commitment to you.
  • New client and partner relationships are like new product introductions.
    • A few early adopters will jump on your opportunity.
    • Many of the most established clients or partners will sit on the sideline to monitor the experience of early adopters.
    • If you trip in your service delivery early in your scale-up, most of the remaining targets will be slow to support your offering.
    • Count on the first two years of building additional clientele to be very intensive. It will distract you from many of the functions you perform today, unless you have additional personnel to support this.