Category Archives: Manufacturing & Operations

How Do You Manage Employees Expenses? Three Thoughts

Situation: A company does not pay a lot of employees’ expenses but does pay mileage expenses for sales people and a car allowances to the sales manager. Sales people are paid 20% base and 80% commission. The CEO is interested in how other companies handle employee expenses. How do you manage employee expenses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If you pay mileage, require that employees receiving mileage allowances to keep a log of business mileage:
    • They should track where they went, with whom they met, what the mileage was, etc. To assist employee compliance while respecting employee time, make it simple using Excel spreadsheets or an online tracker.
    • Don’t pay any mileage expenses without submission of proper documentation.
  • Fire a thief. If you catch an employee cheating on their mileage expenses, let them go. This is an important example for others.
  • For car allowances – ask CEOs of other local companies in markets similar to yours what their policy is. If it turns out that your policy is overly generous, consider cutting or reducing your allowance.

How Do You Assure Consist Reliable Service? Six Solutions

Situation:  A company has remote employees who are on a wide variety of schedules. Retaining great employees is a challenge, and with this consistent service due to turn-over. How do they improve the relationships that they have with remote employees? How do you assure consistent reliable service?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Guarantee employee income for a period after they lose a client and as you seek another assignment for them. Limit your exposure by setting hurdles – an employee must have served the company for X time to qualify for this benefit.
  • Create your own “down time” bank. Say you pay an employee $10. Give them $9 and put $1 into a bank so that you can pay them once they lose their current client. The fact that their bank is limited to the amount of these contributions creates an incentive not to draw down the bank.
  • Offer a paid day off per month of service.
  • How do you shift your business from commodity to specialty, as a value add business?
    • What Peace of Mind features could you provide to your clients to create added value and stickiness? For example, can you provide a portal into your system so that clients can access information on the services that you’ve provided, or enhance their ability to communicate with their own clients? What about access to time schedules, account notes, etc.
    • Look for a solution that will shift the industry.
    • Look at menu driven packaging and pricing options. Examples include discount pricing for purchase volume commitments or iPads for a significant level of investment.

What Incentives Do You Offer Your #2? Six Thoughts

Situation: A CEO’s “Number 2” is returning from maternity leave. He sees a role for her helping him grow the business and wants to give her an incentive for taking on that role. What is an appropriate incentive? What incentives do you offer your #2?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Remember, first, that your #2 is a person with a new baby. Remember what it was like when you and your wife had your first child. How did your priorities change? How did your wife’s priorities change?
  • Never make her choose between child and job – you will lose. Offer her lots of flexibility. For example, allow her flexibility in hours to accommodate the needs of her child. This will mean a lot to her.
  • Find out what is important to her – what does she see as her role and goals. Be sensitive to the possibility that the birth of her first baby may have changed her priorities.
  • Here’s the message: “You’re valuable and I want you on my team. I appreciate your responsibilities with a newborn. How can we make this work for both of us?” Build a role around this – not an incentive program.
  • Many Silicon Valley and other urban families need two incomes. Work out something that works for her.
  • Have a Plan B in case it turns out that her priorities no longer align with yours.

Can You Effectively Manage Your Team’s Emotions? Six Ideas

Situation: A CEO recently attended a workshop on awareness of employees’ emotions. The message was that to effectively lead, the leader must be aware of both their own and their team’s emotions, and effectively address these in all communications. How have others acknowledged employee emotions? Can you effectively manage your team’s emotions?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • All companies have both cultures and ways in which employees and managers interact. These are either intentional or accidental.
  • It is important to develop a competency model for any company – skills and behaviors that reinforce company culture and guide both hiring decisions and personnel evaluations. Behaviors should be defined by competencies, including both technical and soft competencies.
  • Once a company competency model is established, position descriptions will be variations of the company competency model.
  • A competency model will help you to script candidate interviews. This works whether you use a panel or individual interview format. Questions should address past behavior in specific situations that the individual has experienced. Provide each interviewer with a set of questions that will help the interviewer understand how the candidate expresses soft competencies. Post-interview, get together and discuss how each candidate’s responses compare with the company model.
  • Supplement your interview results with a psychometric test which scores and effectively measure the key soft competencies expressed in your culture. Pair the psychometric test with cognitive testing to assess a candidate’s technical competency.
  • Use similar questions for employee evaluations or coaching situations. The difference will be that in the case of current employees, you will want to have the employee refer to situations and behaviors experienced at work or working with customers or company partners.

Special thanks to Maynard Brusman of Working Resources for leading this discussion.

How Does Your Company Award Bonuses? Eight Considerations

Situation:  A company has lost six people since the beginning of year – about 7% of employees. Currently the company doesn’t pay bonuses but increases salaries annually. The CEO has been considering creating a bonus pool, distributed based on performance points earned during the year, and including a component for employee longevity. How does your company award bonuses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There is fierce completion for good software engineers. You will lose people unless you focus on culture and pay bonuses of some sort.
  • Based on reasons that people left you need to start developing and enhancing your company culture.
  • Don’t kid yourself. You already have a company culture. Hire a consultant to help you identify it so that you are developing it along lines that you desire instead of by accident.
  • Make it clear that bonuses are not entitlements but are earned. There should be clear guidance as to bonus criteria.
  • Check out the following YouTube – “RSA Animate – The surprising truth about what motivates us” to see what motivates knowledge workers who are expected to develop creative solutions. The bottom line is that it is more than money!
  • An effective bonus program must have a bias toward performance – the metric is key. Be careful about the way you create metrics and incentives and be wary of unintended consequences.
  • Pay special attention to the quality and skills of your 1st and 2nd line managers.
  • Besides bonus, equity and culture – plan for 10% attrition. In your industry, this may be the norm.

How Do You Test a New Service Delivery Model? Seven Thoughts

Situation: A company targets mid-sized clients with pricing that is similar to its competitors. They believe that their principal differentiation is their relationship with their clients. The problem is that this is also what all of their competitors claim. They are considering testing a new pricing concept – a monthly fixed fee that will provide a pre-negotiated set of services at a favorable discount, with a weekly presence in their clients’ offices. How to you test a new service delivery model?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This looks like an appealing concept. With this arrangement there is no clock ticking and the client may view your various services as a more open menu of options available to them.
  • Another company has a similar relationship with their CPA firm and have both enjoyed this and are using more services from this firm.
  • Just a regular presence in the office is worth the retainer.
  • Another appeal is that this allows regular participation in management and Board meetings.
  • Another CEO offers a similar program for her professional service company’s clients and have found it successful.
  • Since there appears to be strong support for this model within the group, what is the best way to implement this new offer?
    • Negotiate an initial monthly rate for a set level of services as a retainer without a clock.
    • Agree to a periodic review and adjustment of services and pricing – perhaps quarterly – based on the time and services that have been provided during the preceding period.
  • How do you sell this program to those within your own company who are skeptical?
    • Try the program with three clients on a limited trial basis and measure it.

How Do You Boost Morale in a Branch Office? Five Solutions

Situation:  A company started a new branch office last year. This office started with three people and has remained at that level with some turnover. Morale is low because the branch office team doesn’t feel supported by the home office. The CEO is concerned that this could kill the branch office if it is not fixed.  How do you boost morale in a branch office?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The problem is most likely the home office, as they assert. There have been few visits from home office personnel – particularly the company president. In addition, they are being criticized in weekly reviews for not hitting the same metrics as the company’s established operations.
  • Remediate this situation by scheduling weekly executive visits and monthly visits by the president until things are up and running and there is a track record of profitability.
  • Clarify your expectations to everyone – this is a new office running to different metrics until they establish themselves. Once they are established, they will run to the same metrics as everyone else. Coach the heads of other divisions that the new office needs support, not criticism, until they establish themselves.
  • Allow the branch office to bid low for market share until they are established in their new location for a period – at least 6-12 months. Create a different set of metrics for a start-up office, and review these during weekly sales meetings.
  • The role of management is to show the colors in the new location and manage peer feedback from established locations. Help them win! Establish start-up metrics like lunches with potential clients to establish relationships. Since the branch office is generating business for other locations, create separate general performance metrics from territory specific metrics for this office and show both in staff meetings.

How Do You Manage Cash Flow Gaps? Nine Suggestions

Situation: A company has a significant monthly payroll, and business is growing. Accounts payable collections are 90-120 days. Their challenge is to finance the gap. They have tried, but can’t get their bank to provide financing. An SBA loan will help. How do you manage cash flow gaps?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look for private non-bank financing.
    • Your AR is safe, low risk, and from reputable companies.
    • Non-bank financing offers better rates than banks, with access to cash from the lender on reasonable notice.
  • Investigate Lendingclub.com. They offer business loans up to $300K at 5.9%. Lendingclub.com operates by spreading the risk over thousands of investors.
  • Talk to lots of banks – not just those with whom who’ve worked in the past. Given your cash flow needs and good credit history, if you offer to shift all of your business to another bank you may get a more positive response. Once you have talked to other banks, let your current bank know your plans. They may become more responsive.
  • Change your service policy so that you give your best service to customers who pay you fastest. Once the purchasers at companies with whom you work learn about this, they will pressure their AP people to speed their payments to you.
  • Put more focus more on services which pay up front.
  • Going forward switch as much business as possible to ACH payments.
  • Offer customers early pay discounts – 1% net 10 or ½ of the Lendingclub.com rate to your biggest clients.
  • Befriend lower level employees in client companies. Particularly those with whom you have regular business contact.
    • They can tell you how to get to the top of the AP pile.
    • Let them teach you their company’s practices.
  • Plan finances going forward so that you can finance the gap yourself.

Category: Finance, Operations

Key Words: Payroll, Financing, Accounts, Payable, Bank, Lendingclub, Non-Bank, Service, ACH, Payment, Early, Pay, Discount

How Do Small Companies Outsource Infrastructure? Eight Ideas

Situation: Start-ups and early-stage enterprises are typically both resource and talent constrained. The CEO of a start-up asks how others successfully outsourced infrastructure cost effectively and when they were early-stage so that they could focus on critical success factors and improve their opportunity to succeed. How do small companies outsource infrastructure?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In the early stages of company development, outsource everything possible and focus our efforts only on the key functions.
  • In order to focus on the most important things first, decide what must be accomplished and when. Set priorities, establish key milestones and create a timeline to measure achievement. Celebrate your successes!
  • Identify the most important strategic foci within your business model and outsource everything else.
    • For example, use outside data centers instead of developing these yourself.
    • With the increase in Cloud-based options, early stage companies can do without the IT infrastructure that they used to need. Just be careful to safeguard your intellectual property!
  • Attend relevant meetings and functions to learn about existing and available capabilities. Look for local networking opportunities relevant to your market.
  • Incubator sites have developed in a number of high tech centers. These are designed to cover infrastructure needs at a reasonable cost so that founders can focus on product and service development.
  • Hire a virtual assistant – you can find these locally using a Google search.
  • Take advantage of lower cost labor and enlist younger, less experienced labor to manage databases and clean records.
  • Set up a wiki for information. This exchange is free and you can tailor it to your needs. It is permission-based; you can find it at pbwiki.com.

How Do You Set Up an Office in China? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company has an opportunity to build an office in China. Their principal objective is to reduce their cost of providing services. A partner company has offered them space in its existing office in China. What is your experience working with Chinese culture? How do you set up an office in China?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Hire someone in your US office with an engineering background who is fluent both in Mandarin and in the subtleties of Chinese language and culture. Fluency in Chinese language and culture is particularly critical when you are dealing with difficult process issues.
    • Investigate local organizations such as the Silicon Valley Chinese Engineers Association. Through these organizations you may find candidates for this role who are also excellent engineers and additions to your team.
  • Employee loyalty issues in China will be more challenging than in the US. Chinese employees want to build their resumes as quickly as possible and perceive that job-hopping will facilitate this, just as was the case during the dot.com boom in Silicon Valley.
  • Offer a significant carrot to Chinese employees – after X years of work for us in China, you get Y months of work, at our expense, in our US office. This is a much sought-after experience for Chinese employees.
    • Be prepared to deal with departure soon after return to China, or employees declining to return to China at the end of their US stint.
  • Build a stronger process documentation system than you need in the US to assure both that work is done to your standards, and so that you can easily replace talent lost to turnover.
  • Have a recruiting program based in China to fill your personnel needs.
  • You will experience a culture clash when it comes to the value placed on equity and in understanding the meaning of a contract. For China in its current state of development, neither term is well-established by US standards.
  • Time tracking is not clean cut in China and vacation time needs differ. An example is the month of February for Chinese New Year.