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How Do You Manage Through a Difficult Period? Six Solutions

Situation: The CEO of a company is wrestling with issues concerning change orders and high labor and materials cost. To get back into good financial shape, they are considering options including reduction in estimator time and selling equipment; however, either of these could gut the business. How do you manage through a difficult period?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • It is critical to get on top of change orders. This is potentially a big profit-loss swing for the business.
    • Does everyone understand what’s happening?
    • If the answer is yes, teach them more about the business nuts and bolts so that they can help develop solutions? Share a portion of the savings in the form of spot bonuses for those who develop solutions.
  • Take a lesson from The Great Game of Business. Let employees know about the challenges and challenge them to help develop solutions.
    • As an example, look at change orders and the percent of change orders that are not correctly completed, approved and invoiced as a critical number. Let’s say that 50% of change orders are not completed, approved and/or invoiced correctly. The objective for the year is to reduce this to 25%. Calculate the value of lost billings from the past year. If this can be reduced by half, the value will be $X. If the company can meet this objective, consider making half of $X available for distribution as gifts or prizes.
    • To support this, allow each new project to design its own minigame to reduce the number of incomplete and uninvoiced change orders.
    • The idea is to have the project and inside teams design the minigames and come up with ways to reduce incomplete and uninvoiced change orders. They will learn new ways of being more efficient from this process. This is the long-term benefit to the company.
  • If it is necessary to reduce staff, cut early instead of later. This is painful but laid-off employees can be hired back on a contract basis as necessary.
  • A common solution during a difficult period is to cut back to core, reducing overhead as a survival strategy, and focus on winning as may bids as possible to rebuild the business.
    • Look at all departments and the gross margin that each produces minus the overhead that each requires. Focus cutbacks on those that are not positive.
  • Increase annuity contracts – contracts with major companies that are growing and frequently require the company’s services.
  • Transfer equipment to a separate corporation. Lease it back as business requires. This increases cash flow flexibility – for example, don’t make lease payments when cash is tight.

How Do You Plan for Expansion? Four Considerations

Situation: A growing company needs new space for operations and back office functions. They have grown steadily over the last two decades. Prospects for the future are positive. Options include expansion near their current location or to another, lower cost city. The CEO is also considering whether to sublease space or rent. How do you plan for expansion?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Consider whether the company needs to expand in one step or whether it is possible to expand in stages. Also consider whether functions will benefit by being close to the primary base or whether, using Internet and telecommunications, the new location can be remote. This requires a careful analysis of not only the company’s functions, but also the strength of the management team and the willingness of key managers to relocate.
  • There are trade-offs between subleasing and working directly with the landlord.
    • The landlord will generally offer market rates, but the company gets to determine the terms and term of the lease.
    • Subleasing can save money, but the company is then at the mercy of the priorities of the tenant from whom they are subleasing. When things get busy, the company may disrupt the operations of the tenant. In another company’s case this resulted in a forced move with 30 days’ notice at the end of their sublease term.
    • Consider the cost of both moving and having to re-outfit the space to meet the company’s needs against the savings from subleasing.
  • Consider leasing a larger space, one which is convenient and enough for the company’s needs, and then subleasing excess space until it is required. This may cost more short term, but it puts the company in charge of their own destiny regarding space availability and utilization.
  • Another option is to buy a building and sublease the excess space until it’s required for company operations.