Tag Archives: Accountability

How Do You Fund a Start-Up? Four Suggestions

Situation: Early stage companies often find it difficult to raise funds from traditional sources. An experienced CEO wants to help certain new companies of which she is aware in two ways – assisting them in receiving funding, and then helping to assure that they reach key milestones.  What is the best way to profitably address this ambition? How do you fund a start-up?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Build relationships with a few select sets of local investors – venture capitalists, angels, and private investors – with whom you have strong credibility. For a retainer or fee, agree to bring them a number of new pre-vetted companies in the next year, and post-finding, help the companies to succeed and hit milestones. From the companies that you bring to funders, ask for equity in return for securing funding and providing guidance.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the person who will pay you – what do they want and how do you deliver this for them? Develop statistics from your past successes that highlight your capabilities. Don’t be shy about your accomplishments.
  • What are you passionate about? If the answer is development – linking technology entrepreneurs to strategic partners and then being an accountability partner to assure that milestones are met – this will be your focus and your pitch to both funders and tech companies.
  • Your value is linking the entrepreneur to the funding source and being an accountability partner.

Is It Wrong to Hire Family Members? Six Considerations

Situation: A small but very profitable business was founded and has been run for two generations as a family-owned and operated business. To boost performance, the CEO hired a general manager with a good background who is not a family member. The general manager has told the CEO that he feels that there are too many family members in the business. The CEO likes hiring people she trusts, particularly friends and family that she has known for a long time. Is it wrong to hire family members?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Don’t try to change what you’ve already done – plan for the future.
  • Acknowledge the GM’s idea. Tell him that you appreciate his suggestions. Suggest that he test hiring more non-family members to cover one of your low risk market segments. Measure the performance of this team versus the other teams within the business.
  • The challenge with family members is accountability and objectivity. The question for the family owners is whether they have the freedom to act in the interests of the company. Can they put family ties aside when someone is not serving the interests of the company?
  • The essential question for the family that owns the business is – what do you want to maximize? If it’s loyalty and longevity – keeping the family together, employed and in harmony – they can be good. If it’s profits and performance – family and friends can be difficult if emotional ties cloud business objectivity.
  • The upside to family is loyalty and trust. That said, family and extended family friends are different. The latter don’t have the same ties or sense of loyalty.
  • Can you keep employees for too long? Yes. Make sure that you evaluate all employees every year. Establish job and performance standards and make sure that all employees – family and non-family – are held to the same performance expectations.

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

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 Improve Planning and Execution? Three Factors

Situation: A company wants to develop a better planning and execution process. Historically they have been poor at meeting goals and objectives. What are the most important factors that improve planning and execution in your company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Take the advice of Jack Stack in his book The Great Game of Business. When building a plan, do it as a company-wide exercise.
    • Make sure that all of your departments are involved, each has direct input into the development of its own goals, and each understands that they are fully accountable for the achievement of their own goals.
    • Also do this in open session, and assure that each department has the input of other departments whose activities are critical to the completion of each goal.
    • This assures that different departments are working in alignment and not against each other.
    • Finally, make the process interactive and add some fun so that everyone is engaged.
  • Milestones and meetings are critical. Each department develops quarterly goals to support the plan, and department heads meet bi-weekly to monitor progress and prevent conflicts. Revisit the plan on a quarterly or semi-annual basis to adapt as necessary.
  • Focus the plan on one-year performance – with quarterly objectives – but forecast financials and broad metrics out 3 years to assure that the 1-year plan supports long-term objectives.

How Do You Gain Commitment to Plan Revisions? Three Thoughts

Situation: A company goes through an annual strategic planning process followed by an annual business planning process. At mid-year they do a review and correction. The challenge is that if the company is behind plan, the management team does not take ownership of plan revisions – it becomes “the CEO’s Plan.” How do you gain commitment to revisions in the annual plan?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Throw out your current process and start over.
    • The challenge is to gain more buy-in and accountability. This only comes if the targets come from those responsible for delivering them – both for the original plan and if any revisions need to be made.
    • Look at who you involve within the organization – can you drive involvement deeper to generate additional buy-in across the organization?
    • Hire an outside facilitator to guide you through the process instead of chairing the meeting yourself. This prevents the resulting plan from becoming “your” plan. It also changes the culture of the meeting as well as the buy-in.
  • If you use a bottom-up / top-down process, moderate the plan results with an eye to two realities:
    • Bottom-up input from the sales team is rarely more pessimistic than the CEO’s input. If it is ask what is happening.
    • Make sure that your top-down numbers are empirical and based on the best market research that you can obtain.
  • If your plans have consistently fallen short over recent years:
    • You may be baking the targets too high.
    • Consider building the revenue plan optimistically, but build the expense plan conservatively. This helps control expenses and attain profitability targets.
    • So that the two plans are not misaligned, review them more frequently – perhaps quarterly on a formal basis with monthly reviews – so that if your revenue plan is meeting targets you can adjust spending to support production and delivery.
    • It is common to have one set of numbers for sales and a different, more conservative, number for expenses. As long as you conduct frequent review and adjustment of the expense number to sales performance, this works. Many companies also use different targets for operations than what they present to the Board – with the more conservative numbers for the Board.

How Do You Leverage an Advisory Board for Biz Dev? Three Guidelines

Situation: A company has a high-powered Board of Directors. This Board is focused primarily on company strategy. The CEO wants to create a separate Advisory Board for technical and business development. How do you create and leverage an Advisory Board for technical and business development?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Be clear on the role and compensation of the Advisory Board.
    • Create a clear set of expectations to initiate the process, and refine these expectations in early meetings of the Advisory Board.
    • Early stage companies often pay out of pocket expenses for attending Advisory Board meetings, plus stock options. When business development is the focus, you may want to add a percentage of any new business brought to the company by the member.
    • More mature companies may add a stipend for Advisory Board service.
    • Not all Advisory Board members may be compensated equally, particularly if members receive a percentage of business that they help to create. You may also choose to compensate members differently based on their experience and influence.
  • Choose Advisory Board members carefully.
    • Go beyond personal contacts of the CEO and company officers. Look for individuals who are known and respected within the industry. You also want individuals who have exceptional contacts and who will agree to use them to benefit you.
    • Look for individuals who are highly positioned within target companies – for example a VP of Operations or of Business Development. Also look for individuals who have excellent relationships with personnel in target companies
  • Be open and clear about your expectations of individual Advisory Board members. Celebrate success.
    • Establish metrics that the members are expected to fulfill.
    • Record commitments made by Advisory Board members and include updates against commitments as part of Advisory Board meetings, as well as updates against metrics that expected of members.
    • Celebrate successes of Advisory Board members and note individual and team contributions whenever the Advisory Board meets.

How Do You Smoothly Transition Employee Roles? Four Suggestions

Situation: Two employees within a small company are shifting roles. One is shifting from Operations Manager, a higher level position, to an engineering role in charge of production, with no reports. The second has been promoted from Customer Service Supervisor to greater responsibilities for purchasing and production scheduling. How should the CEO adjust the titles and compensation of these individuals?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The Operations Manger is really shifting to a staff engineer position. Consider the title Senior Engineer or Senior Staff Engineer if the individual is comfortable with this. It conveys respect for prior experience while delineating this individual’s preferred responsibility. You may want to make adjustments to compensation over time by holding back on salary raises rather than by cutting salary right now.
  • The Customer Service Supervisor is moving into new responsibilities, and this may take time. In a sense this is a lateral move with potential for growth. Consider retaining the title of supervisor until this individual has demonstrated ability to perform these new duties. Salary adjustments and raises can be added as the individual grows in responsibility.
  • There is no problem having multiple titles and business cards. Many small companies do this. You can give the second person two titles: Customer Service Supervisor and Production Supervisor. This enables you to elevate this individual to manager of one or both areas as ability is demonstrated to take on additional responsibility and accountability.
  • Because both employees will be working in production, albeit in different capacities, monitor the situation closely to assure that conflicts don’t develop.

How Do You Increase the Strategic Focus of a Board? Four Guidelines

Situation: A company has a board which is uncomfortable with strategic issues. Faced with a strategic decision, they gravitate quickly to tactical issues. What can you do to increase the Board’s strategic focus?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Change the focus of your Board meetings.
    • Change the agenda of Board meetings. Start with a review of the Strategic Plan and progress toward meeting the objectives of the Plan. Over time, input to the Plan grows as Board members become more comfortable with the strategic issues addressed in the Plan.
  • Develop a Board Charter and annual objectives for the Board as a whole.
    • If you have an individual on the Board who models or nearly models the behavior that you wish to see in the full Board, ask this individual chair a Board subcommittee to work on the Charter. Devote time at Board meeting to discussion of the subcommittee’s recommendations.
    • Develop annual objectives for the Board, including both global objectives and specifically how you want individual members to contribute. Outline your most important expectations of the Board, what you need from them, and ask them to develop objectives to meet these needs and expectations.
  • Start to proactively educate your Board on how they can be most helpful to the company.
    • Gather benchmarking data from similar companies. Educate the Board on best Board practices.
    • Look at the best performing companies in your industry – preferably organizations that do not compete directly with you – and ask to attend their Board meetings as a guest. You may want to take one of your own Board members along. Look for practices that will augment your meetings.
  • Augment the Board with individuals who will help to steer it toward the strategic focus.
    • As you begin to bring the right talent to the Board, recommend the creation of Board subcommittees to work on key strategic areas. At meetings, after the Strategic Plan update, the Subcommittees can formally present their updates to the Board for discussion and consideration. Choice of subcommittee chairs is important to success.

Key Words: Board, Strategy, Tactics, Agenda, Charter, Objectives, Accountability, Best Practices

Is it Better to Grow by Building Existing or Adding New Functional Teams? Three Approaches

Situation: Sales at a small company have grown rapidly. They need to expand staff to keep up with demand and fulfillment. There are two options: expanding current functional teams in sales and service or adding a back office operations function. Based on your experience, which of these two options makes more sense for a company of fewer than 20 people?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Since the company is planning to grow from 10 to 20 people, create an organizational chart for what the company will look like with 20 people. From this back into what it looks like with 15, and then 10 people.
    • Look at how the positions work, and what talents you want to see in each position. Assess how well your current staff fills both current and anticipated talent needs.
  • The company’s key market differentiation is and will continue to be exceptional client service. Here are some of the questions to ask:
    • Are the back office needs of the sales and service teams similar or different?
    • If there is enough overlap, can one person, and eventually a team, supply the operational needs of both your client services and sales functions?
    • If there is little overlap, what specific needs are currently unfulfilled by each team? Is there enough work to justify adding more than one person so that each team manages their own operations?
  • One option is a matrix organizational structure which can work well in a firm of 10 to 20 people. Key factors include:
    • Establishing a company culture to compliment your strategy and objectives.
    • Establishing clear expectations of accountability and expectations to govern the model.
    • Matrix structures don’t always succeed. Ask whether your current people and culture are suited to a matrix organization.

Key Words: Growth, Staff, Demand, Function, Team, Sales, Customer Service, Organizational Chart, Talent, Matrix, Culture, Objectives, Accountability, People Skills