Situation: A CEO is concerned that the current management team is not mature enough to support planned growth. Sales skills are necessary to start an office, but there is a wide range of business acumen and people skills among the managers. How do you develop current managers to support growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
Company policy requires manager candidates to demonstrate competence in at least three of five areas: sales, technical skills, customer management, customer management, and business acumen. A coaching or mentoring process from senior management would be beneficial.
A minimum number of clients is required to start an office. There are important differences in the skills needed to grow and sustain an office. More evaluation of the managerial skills of manager candidates will help.
Another CEO shared story of a regional office with a manager who was technically competent but had poor business development skills. This created a growth issue. Clear, mutually agreed upon, written goals helped. Office growth requires good administrative performance as well as technical or sales skills.
Frequent group meetings with managers and a deliberate agenda help. There is merit in allowing the field people to contribute to the agenda, having a “round table” type of review, and peer dialogue. In addition to current individual weekly telephone conversations and quarterly operations reviews, there is an opportunity to modify the format.
Sometimes there is a double loss in taking a good individual contributor and making them a poor manager. For example, of a good salesperson may turn out to be a bad sales manager. The transition may not play to the person’s strength. A more rigorous selection process will help.
Another CEO shared a story of one of his plant managers who reached the limits of his competency and could not continue to grow the plant. He was moved to a support position and a new plant manager was hired. The former manager found new satisfaction in the support role and was successful sharing his knowledge and skill with the new manager and a broader audience within the company.
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:
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.
Situation: A CEO wants to schedule an off-site planning meeting with her top staff. She has heard about the potential efficacy of off-site meetings and is intrigued by the idea of taking her staff away from the office for a day or two to concentrate on planning. She is curious about typical agendas, time frames, objectives and who should be involved in the meetings. How do you plan an off-site meeting?
Advice from the CEOs:
Set the objective of the meeting in advance. Tell everyone involved the objective so that they are thinking about this prior to the meeting.
The staff involved depends on the objective of the meeting. Select participants to fit the need.
Include a team building event. One purpose of off-sites is to help the team or teams get to know each other better and improve collaboration.
Have an agenda for the meeting and meet without interruptions. Have participants notify key customers or contacts in advance, schedule back-up contacts if necessary, and don’t allow interruptions.
Hold the meeting during work hours. Options: one day, local for easy travel and return home; or two days, nice setting, dinner the first day, and late afternoon return home the second day.
Do you need a facilitator? This depends on the goal and organizer’s comfort with the topic of focus.
A speaker or educational component pertinent to the meeting goal.
Breakout and group discussions to think through important issues.
A team-building event.
Some fun – dinner or an evening activity that allows individuals to talk in a relaxed setting.
Examples of effective events:
Broad agenda – What can we do better?
All-hands meeting – prompts contribution by all.
Opportunity for CEO to communicate the company vision and involve employees in the planning process for the coming year or period.
Situation: A company wants to effectively position itself for a recovery. The CEO believes that it is time to sit down with his team and focus on those areas which will help them to emerge during the recovery not only stronger than they were when the recession started, but ahead of their competition. How do you create a value proposition?
Advice from the CEOs:
Creating your Value Proposition starts by analyzing and understanding your most important strength. Is it Product Leadership, Operational Excellence, or Customer Intimacy?
No company can succeed today trying to be all things to all people. Choosing one discipline as your most important strength is the choice of winners.
To set your Value Agenda, ask your team “How do we compete and win in our marketplace?” This is not a single discussion, but requires three rounds – best done as three different sessions.
o Round 1 focuses on understanding where you stand in your marketplace.
o Round 2 focuses on understanding what your customers perceive as your “unmatched value.”
o Round 3 focuses on building an operating model that enhances your unmatched value and helps to consistently communicate this to your clientele.
Once the three rounds are completed, formulate the top findings of each round into your Value Agenda for the company.
o A Value-Driven Operating Model gives your company the ability to deliver on your Value Proposition.
o Your Value Discipline is the combination of operating model and value proposition that will allow you to be the best in your market.
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.