Category Archives: Team

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 Manage Culture as You Grow? Six Solutions

Situation: A tech company has grown to twenty people. The CEO is concerned that if they grow much beyond this their culture will start to change. The principal question is whether team leadership structure will remain tight and focused, while teams will continue to be flexible and have fun. How do you manage culture as you grow?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Other companies have grown to twice this size and continue to increase their number of employees.
    • One uses component owners as leads, with people under them. Leads are more technical than managers and aren’t expected to be superb managers.
    • They grow middle managers organically instead of hiring from outside.
    • If an individual’s plate is full, give them the ability to delegate work to an up and comer.
  • Active communication has number limits.
    • The optimal functioning group is 7-12; higher functioning teams are even smaller with 7-8 members.
    • Create flexible teams that maintain communication pathways and culture.
    • Consider using reconfigurable space.
  • When one company grew from 25 to 60, they noticed that at 30 people it became difficult to track people; they needed to develop systems and internal management tools.
    • Much more attention was needed on sales forecasting and expense elasticity. The solution was to study peaks and valleys and built a model that could function within historic peak /valley limits.
  • How do you maintain the contractor pool?
    • Keep a list and actively communicate with them about current and anticipated needs.
    • One company’s rule: consultants are 100% billable – functionally they are only able to realize 98%, but the rule keeps this number high.
  • Use contractor pools to supplement project tasks. If your primary differentiating focus is on successfully closing projects, focus contractors on ramping new projects.
  • Hire people who embody you and your culture. Hire in your own image.

How Do You Prepare for an Acquisition? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company is purchasing another company to expand its product offering. The CEO is concerned that the employees need to stay focused through the closing date. He is also concerned about retaining key employees both of his company and the company that he is buying. How do you prepare for an acquisition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Until the deal closes, don’t change anything about your current direction.
  • As you negotiate and move to close, be mindful of competitive bids.
    • This will help to keep the deal in place.
    • It may also open the option to put together the deal and then seek competitive bids to fund the deal through private equity groups.
  • Get three second opinions – learn what could go wrong with this deal so that you can plan and anticipate.
  • To assure that you retain key staff take the following steps:
    • Hire consultants: HR, financial, see what they recommend.
    • Offer key employers favorably priced options for a combined minority position in the company. This offers them an upside and will be an effective retention package.
  • What else can be done to retain key employees.
    • Let them know how this acquisition will position the company as the Dream Team company in your space.
    • Explain how this acquisition gets the company closer to a true exit strategy which will be financially beneficial to them.
  • If you can assure key employees that they will not experience any change in their job, title, responsibilities or compensation, retention may not be an issue.

Do You Merge, Sell or Revive a Business? Four Areas of Focus

Situation: A company is at a crossroads. They are no longer growing as they have in past years. The CEO is assessing alternatives including a merger, selling the company or restructuring. What are the essential questions to determine whether you merge, sell or revive a business?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Do you really have the information to determine whether it makes sense to merge, sell or revive the business? The questions to ask are:
    • Is your core competency important?
    • Do you have the talent required to revive the business?
    • How much of your business is from repeat customers?
    • Is your platform still being used by a significant number of companies, and are they likely to shift their software soon?
    • If the answers are favorable, then the only remaining question is whether you have the energy and inclination to continue.
  • Having developed a profitable business model, why would you give up control or ownership?
    • Tighten up the business by focusing on the basics and turn the company around.
    • Identify where you can make money, and
    • Determine which portions of the business need to be restructured or eliminated.
    • Essential questions are:
      • Do you have a clear picture of where the profitability lies within the business?
      • Do you have a clear statement of your key competitive advantage – your “Main Thing”?
      • Can you establish a pricing strategy that pays you fairly for the value you provide?
  • Look at bench time among current employees.
    • Identify, and fully utilize the most important contributors, perhaps by giving them additional responsibilities in other areas.
    • See that all retained employees are fully utilized.
    • Eliminate those who are on the bench the most, or transform them into contractors so that you only pay for active time.
    • Utilize contractors to fill the “full service” slots that are important to your service offering but which do not contribute significantly to your bottom line.
  • Most importantly, reformat your role so that you are doing that which you truly enjoy. Your own enthusiasm and passion are the most important long-term drivers for your business, and will be the most important motivators to your staff.

Must a Family Business Always be “Family”? Five Suggestions

Situation: The CEO of a business that has been in place for several generations is frustrated by the challenges of working with family members. Relatives are involved in top positions, but frequently place personal concerns above the priorities of the business. This leads to tense situations where other family members, not in the business, will intervene to support their close relatives without appreciating the conditions facing the business. Must a family business always be “family”?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • For the business to thrive, you must match skills and talent to available positions – not just the “best” family member fit for the position.
  • Understanding that it is difficult for one family member to communicate negative news to another family member, consider hiring a consultant or HR company to evaluate and be the go-between in determining best family fit, or family/non-family choices for open positions.
  • If the company involved unionized employees, and some family member employees are union members, this may complicate your choices. Seek outside non-union counsel to help you evaluate situations and navigate solutions.
  • Hire a professional facilitator to assist in running company planning meetings which involve family members. A facilitator can approach the situation from a neutral standpoint, and does not carry the personal history of brother-sister or close relationships within the company. Choose an individual with experience with family-owned companies who can build a company vision that goes beyond personal relationships and concerns. This individual can also help navigate the operational situations facing the company.
  • Look at both your organization and ownership structure versus applicable regulations and licensing requirements. This may present new alternatives for you to consider.

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.

How Do You Create Accountability? Four Suggestions

Situation: A CEO is concerned that there is insufficient fairness and accountability within her company. One manager is paid hourly and the CEO is thinking about shifting this person to salary plus bonus both to put them on par with other mangers and to create more accountability. How do you create accountability?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • What exactly are you trying to achieve? An operations manager is paid competitively at hourly rates, even compared to salaried employees. The issue is that this person has no responsibility for results as they relate to the P&L. Given this, the group consensus is that it is better to have this person on an incentive program that ties compensation to the performance results that you want.
  • One objective is that you want this employee to contribute more to planning, strategy or the company’s attempts to develop solutions to the challenges that they face. Have you spoken to the employee about your expectations? Does the employee realize that you want or value their input? Direct communication with the employee is important.
  • While the employee understands his responsibilities in the operations area, be sure that he is aware that he is also important to the profitability of the company, and managing operational expenses which are contributors to that profitability. Depending upon the individual’s background, he may need training about the links between expenses and the P&L.
  • Given these factors consider the following options:
    • Adjust the employee’s compensation by switching from hourly to salary. Make the base livable, but not comfortable, and tie the bonus (which will make the total compensation package comfortable) to the profitability of the business. This will have an immediate effect.
    • Clearly explain to the employee that you value his creativity and input. Give this person the freedom to contribute and make it clear that his contribution is expected. Early on encourage this and acknowledge contributions in meetings.
    • You may want to make this person a part owner of the business. This will have a long-term effect.

What is a Fair Revenue Split? Five Pieces of Advice

Situation: A professional services company is constructed as a network of members. The company’s contract specifies that if a member of their network goes to work for a client – even a client that the member brought to them – the client owes the company a fee of 50% of either the member’s salary or the annual consulting revenue paid to the member. This is onerous. What is the best way to respond? What is a fair revenue split?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This does seem like an onerous provision. It is unclear whether the bite is as fierce as the growl.
  • Consult a lawyer. If you quit the network and go to work for the client, what is the level of risk that the company will successfully sue, and what you can do to mitigate this risk?
  • If the offer from the client is appealing, quit or avoid using this company’s services. Given their cut to your revenue you will see a net gain in your own pay for services rendered.
  • If several members agree that this stipulation is onerous, team up and start your own network with better terms. This can provide you and the others with an annuity revenue stream.
  • Integrity in professional circles is everything. Whatever course you decide on, be up front.

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.