Category Archives: Manufacturing & Operations

How Do You Negotiate Contract Terms? Three Recommendations

Situation: A company has secured a significant new contract with a new, large customer. The customer sent over their standard, non-negotiable contract which includes the right to cancel orders anytime, even if the company has invested significant funds preparing product against those orders. How does the company respond? How do you negotiate contract terms?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Before you sign the contract talk to the customer about restocking or cancellation fees in cases where you have already invested irrecoverable funds against the customer’s orders. See if they will adjust their purchase order clause or offer language to cover unrecoverable costs.
  • If the customer says that they cannot change the contract, ask for an addendum or side letter of understanding that will protect you from loss of sunk costs against cancelled orders.
  • If the customer will not bend on any contract language, you can go ahead and sign the contract and then take care of your needs as they submit purchase orders. Create a stamp that you can stamp on their purchase orders defining your protections. Each PO is a new contract that supersedes the general contract.

How Do You Create HR Using Outside Resources? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company started small with everyone wearing many hats including the person in charge of HR. They wish to create a more formal HR structure with professional advice, but don’t yet want to hire a full-time HR professional. How do you create HR using outside resources?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • One company outsources their full HR function. Services include:
    • Putting records in order and maintaining them.
    • Developing different hiring packages for different levels of employees.
    • Recruiting.
    • Keeping the company and employees updated on compliance regulations.
    • Coordinating on-boarding and training.
  • There are several national HR and personnel outsourcing companies that can help. Examples include Paychex and ADT. There are also a large number of local providers. Network with your business peers or check out your local Chamber of Commerce to learn who these providers are.
  • What about training?
    • Outsourced HR professionals can organize training for formal certifications and some aspects of job skills training.
    • Training in company culture should be done by company leadership. Outsourced HR can organize schedules for this. The key point is that company leadership is the face of the company and the foundation of company culture. This can’t be effectively outsourced.
    • In some cases, training can be done via video. Outsourced HR can help to plan and coordinate creation of the videos, and can then schedule video training for new employees.
  • Have your in-house person join an HR roundtable to embellish their own training.

How Do You Create Consistency in a Business? Six Suggestions

Situation: A CEO feels like he is on a roller coaster ride with unpredictable revenue and processes month to month. His ideal outcome will be to be able to go on vacation for 4-6 weeks, and have the business running better when he returns than when he left. Have you managed to achieve this? How do you create consistency in a business?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Make your managers live up to their titles.
    • Insist that they go to each other to solve problems first, instead of always asking you.
    • When they ask a question, answer how to solve it – but don’t give them the solution.
    • Require them to present solutions rather than 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.
  • You should not be doing jobs or tasks that are really your employees’ responsibilities.
  • When you start to delegate, it hurts for a while but it will work itself out.
  • What has been the impact on other companies when they’ve made these changes?
    • Businesses have become more diversified.
    • CEOs are focused strategically vs. tactically.
    • Businesses are more successful and profitable.
    • CEOs enjoy coming to work again.
  • How do you work with younger workers, millennials?
    • Allow flexibility – where appropriate – on hours and how they do their jobs.
    • Responsibility will vary by pay level – with the understanding that higher pay equals more responsibility and most likely longer hours.

Should a Start-up Focus on Team Dynamics? Four Thoughts

Situation: An early stage company is wrestling with team dynamics and coordinating the achievement of critical milestones. The strategic picture seems to change on almost a daily basis. New employees who have big company experience want to see formal job descriptions and role definition. Older employees are jealous of the attention that newer, more highly qualified employees are receiving. Where should the CEO be focusing. How should she be handling these challenges? Should a start-up focus on team dynamics?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • At this point, the company is in start-up stage. The most critical issue isn’t team dynamics, it’s getting a product to market and demonstrating that you can sell it. If you don’t have a product, you don’t have a company.
  • Your top 4 areas of focus for the next 3-6 months should be:
    • Get the product out.
    • Close 3-4 good customers – preferably customers that you can reference.
    • Securing the funding – partnership or investor – that will get you to your next key milestones or to positive cash flow.
    • Build your organization and keep planning.
  • As an early stage company, distinct roles and job definitions make no sense. Your strategic picture is currently very dynamic. You need good people who can flexibly wear several hats and fill diverse roles.
    • If employees with big company backgrounds press you on job descriptions and role definitions, tell them that as a small company you must be quick on your feet, and that you need them to fill flexible roles. As you grow beyond 35 employees then roles will start to become more clarified. Ask for their patience.
    • If they continue to struggle with loose role definitions, then they aren’t the right people for an early stage company.
  • Employees who started with you early were great for the beginning. However, they may not be the best for you long-term. They may feel hurt as newer employees with deeper expertise and resumes start to replace them. In the interests of the company, the game is not longevity with the company; it’s about quality and putting the most competent people in the most critical roles.
    • If you are playing pick-up basketball, you play with whoever comes along.
    • If you decide to form a team and to compete, you need quality players. Some of your pick-up players won’t make the cut and need to go find another pick-up game.

How Do You Facilitate Management Change? Four Suggestions

Situation: Historically the management of a company has been family and a few long-term managers who’ve grown with the company. Some of these managers have reached their limit. Over the last couple of years, the company has added new, high capacity management. Who do they do with existing managers who can’t keep up? How do you facilitate management change?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is why packages exist. Employees, even key managers are not forever. As a company grows both its needs and culture must grow. There comes the time in the life and growth of most every company when certain managers are unable to accommodate this growth or adapt to the changing culture. You may well find that these managers are not very happy and no longer feel at home. Whatever the case, it is better that they move on.
  • Who creates the package?
    • You or your HR manager come up with the outline.
    • Get professional advice if you have none in-house.
  • Is there a moral issue – our commitment to our employees?
    • If an individual is demotivated, they are not contributing – this solves the moral issue.
    • If the individual is terminated amicably this can be for the best – for both parties.
  • How do you ease the pain of separation, both for the individual and the company?
    • Packages can be adapted to the situation.
    • Take the example of a manager who has made important contributions in the past, and who has good relations with others in the company, but doesn’t have the skills to adapt to the next level. Include a generous term of job search assistance. If the separation is amicable, offer them space, computer and a telephone to facilitate their job search. This can ease the separation.

How Do You Enforce Meeting Attendance? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company has many meetings. Organizers calendar meetings on Salesforce.com. Despite this, participants show up late, and sometimes not at all. When the right people aren’t present they must re-schedule the meetings. This ends up wasting valuable time for managers. How do you enforce meeting attendance?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The answer depends upon your company culture and priorities.
  • If you have a production-focused culture, absence and tardiness may not be tolerable. Companies with this type of culture can take the following steps:
    • Call out late arrivals and absences immediately – the first time take them aside and explain that tardiness or absence is not excusable.
    • Called out repeat offenders on the spot!
    • One company has a policy that if you arrive late you stand for the period that you’re late. This has been very effective.
    • The example that you set reinforces desired behavior for the others.
  • In client-centered service organizations the rules may be different. Some companies feel that customer calls and meeting customers’ needs comes first, even if it means that the meeting starts without a key participant.
  • Match your meeting discipline to your culture.
  • The quality of meeting is dependent on quality of the meeting facilitator. Make sure that you have the right people leading the meetings to keep them on time and on topic. This may improve meeting timeliness.
  • If this is a challenge for your company, meet with those involved. Clarify the problem and confirm the reality of problem; then agree on the solution and gain their commitment to comply.

How Do You Change Suppliers for a Key Product? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company buys several important components from a single US supplier. They are considering an offshore source for one of these components which makes up a large portion of what they purchase from the supplier. Does off-shoring make sense in this case, and how do they mitigate the risk? How do you change suppliers for a key product?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The key consideration is the off-shore partner’s ability to reliably make the component at the price promised. If they can, why not outsource offshore?
  • The decision depends upon two additional factors: the amount that you stand to save by off-shoring your source, and the potential cost to you of inconsistent or unreliable components from the off-shore supplier.
    • If the cost of failure is high, a modest savings is less valuable. You may want to wait until you have higher volume and higher potential savings before looking at off-shore sources.
    • In the US, we assume – with some security – that a pilot run predicts a large run. Historically this has not been shown to consistently apply to offshore suppliers.
  • Can you afford to invest and potentially lose the amount that it would cost you to secure your first production order from the off-shore source?
    • If the answer is yes, invest the time and effort to visit the supplier, and secure resources to monitor their production – your own or a trusted partner’s. Your presence and interest are very important.
    • The principal challenge will be quality and consistency of raw materials, and varying age of production equipment used to produce your components.
  • Are you concerned that your current supplier might cut you off?
    • The CEO is not sure, but has identified this as a risk.
    • If this is the case, start now identifying second sources for other components made by this supplier – if only to keep them honest in price, quality and delivery.

Does It Make Sense to Promote a Relative? Four Perspectives

Situation: The CEO of a company has a niece working in the company on a project basis. The niece is has helped to develop a strategic plan and has performed well. She now wants to move from part-time to full-time and to receive a raise. Does it make sense to promote a relative?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If you are pleased with the individual’s work, don’t worry about the family relationship – go ahead and hire her. This is especially true if she can play a significant role developing the strategic plan and help you to improve your sales organization.
  • Give this individual a set of responsibilities, a budget, and a time line to do the jobs you want done.
    Evaluate her performance just as you would any other employee. Don’t compromise your standards for a relative.
  • This may offer the opportunity to improve your sales. Have your niece work and travel with your sales people as a systems engineer. This will allow her the opportunity to learn your products, customers, and process – and will provide you with valuable input on how your sales team is performing.
  • You are really addressing two problems:
    • What is your niece’s passion? Don’t make work for her simply because she’s related and available. The work must serve your and the company’s needs.
    • Do you have holes in your business? Put your best people on these If your niece is one of these people, then give her a chance but don’t play favorites.

What Are Appropriate Policies for Comp Time? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company is a professional organization with exempt employees who sometimes work extra time. Some employees are fine working 50-60 hours per week, others are not. The latter want comp time in exchange for the extra hours worked. What are appropriate policies for comp time?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • When weekend duty is called for based on company needs, one company swaps dates to give the affected employees time off during the week. On the other hand, if they need extra hours to get their normal job done, this is part of the job and does not merit comp time; particularly if other employees manage similar work during regular hours.
  • What about on call duty? If this is a regular part of the job, particularly if it is not frequent, it’s just part of the job. However, you may want to consider a spot bonus for special duty.
  • Do not allow employees to accrue unlimited personal time off – PTO. Start limiting what you allow them to rollover and give them time to use it or lose it.
  • Look at the individual, what is happening and their work processes. Help them to save time if their processes need to be improved.
  • People sometimes feel that they are “entitled” with no justification. Rate your employees A, B and C. Inform them of their rating, and the reasons for it during their regular reviews. In a tight job market C’s either upgrade their performance to B or A, or they become candidates for replacement.

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.