Category Archives: Leadership

How Do You Balance Multiple Businesses? Eight Thoughts

Situation: A company has had one primary focus for the last few years. They are now developing another capability which takes significant attention from the CEO. How do you balance multiple foci, while maintaining a balance with family life? How do you balance multiple businesses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Find people you trust and delegate – ask them for help. Give them lots of leeway – just ask for updates.
  • Prioritize your weeks – big boulders and small rocks – decide weekly how you will focus. A week is a good planning time frame.
  • Identify and come to grips with your situation – the brutal facts – this will help you to prioritize.
  • Set boundaries based on time, relationships, priority – have realistic expectations of what you can accomplish. Set others’ expectations on when you will respond to their calls, emails, etc.
  • Compartmentalize your time for full concentration and focus. Focus on one thing at a time instead of multi-tasking.
  • Eliminate non-value added “stuff.”
  • Avoid letting others impose their schedules onto yours.
  • Use exercise time to refresh your endorphins, clear your head and give you time to reflect on priorities.

How Do You Make The Best Use of Your Board? Eight Thoughts

Situation: A private company has a Board of Directors that functions more as an Advisory Board than a traditional Board. For example, they do not have the power to fire or replace the CEO. The CEO wants feedback on how to interact with the Board, and how to work with them between meetings. How do you make the best use of your Board?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Decide what you want from the Board, and clearly communicate this to the Members.
  • Treat the Board as a single entity – not as individuals. Avoid politicking individual members between meetings. Use the Board to drive decisions.
  • At your next Board meeting have a discussion with the Board:
    • Let the members know that you are concerned about whether you are using them effectively as a resource.
    • Lay out strategic elements to be dealt with over next period, and ask for their advice.
    • For example, if you are moving into a new market you need advice on how to succeed. Are they the right group to provide this advice? If not, what other expertise should be added to the Board?
    • Consider having this conversation in a special session of the Board.
  • Bring in expertise – if your industry has shifted, adjust the make-up of the Board to reflect the new realities. If you need to raise capital, look for expertise in this area.
  • Eliminate less productive members from the Board.
  • If you are looking at a new market, build an Advisory Board that is knowledgeable about this space, but who are not necessarily customers. Consider retired executives from companies in this market.
  • Additional needs that you might want to address either through your Board or an Advisory Board:
    • Financial expertise in new markets.
    • Where should you partner to make a complete offering or to supplement your offering?
  • Another CEO has a similar Board situation. In this case, the CEO makes it clear that Board members are expected to:
    • Make connections.
    • Assist in bringing in business.
    • Members are expected either to produce or they are off the Board.
    • Meetings are driven to a specific agenda with expectations of deliverables.

How Do You Recognize Employee Performance? Four Points

Situation: A company instituted employee awards two years ago. These include an annual President’s Award, at choice of the President, and a Peer Award which is awarded monthly by peers for outstanding achievement.  Recently, management recognized a team within the company with an award for a significant team contribution – a company-paid trip to Las Vegas. This caused resentment among some of the other employees.  How do you recognize employee performance?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are two benefits to employee awards – the award itself, and, more significantly, the employee being recognized among his or her peers. Transparency within any award system is important.
  • There does not appear to be anything wrong with the award to the team. However, it is important to communicate to the company that awards are proportional to the benefit that the employee or team has created for the company.
  • Since there has been a mixed response, a message to the company is appropriate. The best way to do this is a brief company meeting, with telephone access to those who are remote. Here are some key points to cover:
    • Make the theme of the meeting employee awards.
    • Recognize the team that received the Las Vegas award and use the meeting to update the company on your rewards policy. Detail the policy, how awards are recognized, and that rewards are commensurate with the level of benefit gained for the company.
    • Deliver the full message in a positive tone.
    • Schedule 1-on-1 telephone conferences with individual remote employees who are not able to participate in the meeting.
    • Optional – follow-up with an email detailing the awards policy.
  • The complaints that you heard meant that the company did the right thing. A little jealousy isn’t bad if it shows that the company will reward hard, productive work.

How Do You Counteract the Dog Days of August? Three Ideas

Situation: A CEO knows that his employees have been working hard and have been productive all year. Now that we’re coming to the end of the summer, he’s concerned that in the past he has seen an energy drop every August. What can be done to increase the voltage? How do you counteract the Dog Days of August?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Anoint a “Champion of Fun.”
    • The Champion of Fun should be an employee – not management.
    • This may be a team of two people who focus on different things – one for small, day to day activities, and one for big events, like a Habitat for Humanity day.
    • Provide a budget for the Champion. Allow discretion to create excitement around the office or workplace. This includes posters announcing events and other ways to make the most out of each event or activity planned.
    • If out of office activities are anticipated, encourage employees to involve family members if they wish. Maybe a picnic and softball game at a local park, or an early evening of go-kart racing.
  • Create a sense that your employees have some control over their environment. This adds energy.
    • Circulate an Office Depot catalogue and give each employee a budget that they can spend to dress up their space.
    • It’s amazing how much a small investment like this can rejuvenate people and the overall atmosphere.
  • Bring in lunch as a surprise a couple of times during the month. Take some extra time and let people enjoy each other’s company. This is for deepening personal connections, not for lunchtime business discussions.

How Do You Structure a Transition Proposal? Three Insights

Situation: A CEO is transitioning her role in a company that she founded to new ventures, while maintaining a part-time commitment to the company. The company seeks a proposal as to how she will split her time and what compensation she wants during the transition. The CEO seeks guidance on the focus and content of the proposal. How do you structure a transition proposal?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This sounds like a set of half-decisions.
    • The CEO envisions a transition from the current position to a transition position to a new position. The more likely scenario is that the CEO will go straight to the new position. As soon as one new venture starts to solidify, this will demand 100% of the CEO’s time.
    • Given that this is most likely the CEO’s priority, the important question is what the company wants and needs from the CEO. Deliverables, time commitment and compensation should follow these needs.
  • Another approach is to look at an exit package, including a long-term consulting retainer. For example, full salary for 6 months with a retainer for another 6 months. This will allow the CEO more freedom and flexibility to pursue the new ventures.
  • The current negotiation is just a starting point. Here are the things to consider in the proposal to the company:
    • Does the CEO need income from the current company during your transition? Will a new venture benefit from financial or professional assistance from the company?
    • If the CEO is not fully engaged with the company, leadership will likely want the CEO out sooner than later.
    • The company mostly will want a non-compete and the ability to use the CEO as a resource as needed.

How Do You Manage Internet Use by Employees? Six Suggestions

Situation: A CEO notes that the company’s employees surf the Internet during work – some excessively so. The CEO has visited other companies and noted very different behavior around surfing. Does your company monitor or manage employee Internet use? How do you manage Internet use by employees?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The first question to ask is whether your company culture allows or does not allow surfing during work.
    • Do you want it to or not?
    • Based on your desires for the company’s culture, set a policy that works for you.
    • If you want to more tightly control surfing, look at Surf Control software which allows you to create surfing rules, and allocate time allowed to surf.
  • Create and communicate your policy. It’s OK to let employees know that you’re not comfortable with what you’ve observed and that it’s time to set boundaries.
  • Act quickly, keep the message positive – for now – but make clear the consequences of inappropriate behavior in the future.
  • Don’t create double standards. Furthermore, a free-for-all atmosphere is corrosive.
  • Once you set your policy, if it is necessary to deal with a chronic and unresponsive offender, let everyone know what action you’ve taken and why.
  • Different companies around the table have created varying policies consistent with their cultures.
    • Company 1: Surfing during breaks and lunch is OK, as long as sites are appropriate.
    • Company 2: Surfing is OK – on your time and with our equipment – as long as you ask.
    • Company 3: As long as you are productive, we don’t monitor your surfing. Caveat: it is important to define and measure what is meant by “productive.”

How Do You Delegate Yet Stay Informed? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A CEO wants to push project ownership down to lower levels of the company. This is not happening unless the CEO pushes. How do you delegate yet stay informed as you push authority down the organization chart?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The company needs systems and guidelines to clarify on what and when the CEO wants to either have input or hear back, and what can happen without the CEO’s knowledge.
    • Set levels of approval – dollar impact or decision type – and clarify what decisions can made at what level, what decisions need higher level approval and at what level, where they must inform you, and where you must sign off.
    • Similarly, establish regular reporting and meeting schedules, along with guidelines as to what is to be reported – again by budgetary impact or decision type – and assure that this reporting takes place.
  • “The Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack describes a company which has implemented these systems with astounding results. It provides a template and describes in detail how the system is implemented and what bumps they encountered along the way.
  • Invest more time in setting roles and responsibilities for your direct reports.
  • Keep reporting systems aligned across the company.
  • Expect over time to adjust levels of authority as individuals grow in responsibility and accountability.
  • Most importantly, lead by example. If a team member comes to the CEO for guidance on a project, refer them back to the proper manager for advice.
  • 2015 Top ranked software systems to manage projects and processes from selected searches:
    • Capterra: Microsoft Project, Basecamp, Atlassian, Wrike, Podio
    • Insider.com: Smartsheet, Mavenlink, Wrike, Posoda, Metier
    • PC Magazine: Zoho Projects, Teamwork Projects, LiquidPlanner, Workfront, Wrike

When Are You Dominant and When Do You Facilitate? Three Keys

Situation: For a CEO to lead effectively, she or he needs to be able use both dominant and facilitative modalities of leadership. James Church, in Navigating the Growth Curve, ties the use of each mode to the growth stage of the company. A CEO asks whether the use of each modality is purely a question of growth stage, or whether there are situational guidelines for the use of each modality. When are you dominant and when do you facilitate?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The Dominant Mode is appropriate when there is an immediate situation with a clear desired outcome; whereas the Facilitative Mode is appropriate when fixing a broken system that produces issues, or to increase team communication and contribution. As examples:
    • The Dominant Mode is appropriate when there is an immediate issue to be resolved, with clear legal implications and a clear response based on established policy.
    • The Facilitative Mode is appropriate when you want to develop and institute policies and procedures to handle issues ahead of time, or to establish guidelines for action. In these cases you want both input from the team as well as buy-in to institute the resulting decisions.
  • Strategic Planning shifts from Dominant to Facilitative Mode as the organization grows and becomes more complex. Early on, strategy needs to come with a single, decisive voice. In larger companies strategy becomes a group exercise because there are many moving parts and teams.
  • Another way to think about this is that Dominant is appropriate when “the buck stops here,” and will shift from CEO to managers for specific decisions when you reach a stage where the managers are now dominant. Facilitative becomes appropriate when managers and employees – those below the level of company or division leader – need to make the decision instead of the leader.

How Do You Hold High Performers Accountable? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company has a key employee who is a high performer; however the company has not developed a good accountability structure to direct this person. The CEO wants to add additional accountability to cover everyone, both current employees and new people as they are hired. The system should be fair and apply to all. How do you hold high performers accountable?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • High performing employees are essential assets to a company. They thrive on meeting and exceeding expectations. However they need to recognize and accept accountability for the inevitable mistakes or misjudgments that will occur.
  • Lay out the challenge, and ask your high performing employee, and this individual’s manager, to help design the system for monitoring accountability around results.
  • Within position descriptions, include not only the role and expectations within the description, but also expected progressions for development. These should be objective, measurable and based on specific skills or capabilities within the development progression. Gather input from current employees as you create position descriptions, so that they reflect the experience of employees rather than idealized generalities.
  • Set your expectations for new employees appropriately. Expect perhaps 60% of optimal performance early on. As new employees gain understanding of the company and their roles, coach and expect them to increase their performance over time. Provide training to assist their development.
  • James Fischer, in Navigating the Growth Curve, argues that expectations, for the CEO, management and employees, change as a company grows from start-up to a large firm. If a company is small, it doesn’t want the same structure or processes required to operate a 250 person company. Too much structure stifles creativity and growth if applied to small, nimble companies. Institute a level of structure appropriate to the size and stage of the company.

How Do You Focus Managers on Growth? Five Suggestions

Situation: Two key managers of a company are too busy with day-to-day activities to focus their planned 40% of time on growth. The company has hired personnel to relieve some pressure on them, and a new ASP (Application Service Provider) is improving customer out-reach. How can the CEO take pressure off these managers so that they have time to grow the business? How do you focus managers on growth?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Small companies grow through their early stages with everyone wearing many hats and doing everything. The company is now larger than this and it has to stop. Managers need to focus their responsibilities where you need them to focus and stop doing less important tasks.
  • Have you gone over key responsibilities and expectations for the two managers? Do they have clear objectives and deliverables? If not, focus on this.
  • Brainstorm with them how they could free-up time to focus on growth.
    • Do this in a meeting. Your plan is 10% growth. Ask for their ideas on how to grow the business, and develop a plan to put their ideas into action. What help or resources do they need to meet this plan?
    • Three heads better than one to ask core questions – let them come up with the answers.
  • Design processes to address needs and responsibilities.
    • Rank implementation of options in terms of impact to the company and financial results.
    • Given the ranking, implement programs sequentially – most relevant and easiest first.
  • Taking orders by phone is clerical. This should not be a manager’s prime focus.
    • Have a clerical person answer the phone, and train them over time.
    • Limit the manager’s direct involvement in phone orders to critical situations.