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.
Situation: A company has a crowd sourcing solution which is co-creational. You ask a question and get multiple answers. The company then uses technology to select the best answers. The challenge is developing a business model. What parameters are predictable and dependable? How do you develop a revenue model?
Advice from the CEOs:
Revenue is always, in the end, a matter of value received – both potential and actual.
High dollar per click comes from delivering better responses, particularly if you can demonstrate higher sales conversion rates.
High value responses are valuable. If you can deliver these consistently, consider charging a subscription instead of pay-per-click. Pay per click is fine for attracting first-time users, but move to subscription for ongoing access.
Limit your initial audience to crowd source participants who have knowledge and experience – like CXOs on LinkedIn. Create relevant communities.
In addition to best practice answers, provide an opportunity for participants to share failures – experiences from which they learned. Simply Hired created an early, and lasting audience by creating a companion site called Simply Fired when they started. Based on the responses to this site, they created a Top Five Reasons for getting fired, with inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment at the top. This exercise helped them to create a lasting presence.
Make your site clean and show clear steps to a revenue model for users. This will take time and you won’t see results immediately. Over time it will pay off for you.
Situation: A company is actively marketing to prospective clients and also engages in networking. They want to assure that they are up to speed with current trends in marketing. What are best practices for following up on marketing or networking contacts? How do you best leverage networking?
Advice from the CEOs:
Timing is everything. A prospective client may or may not have an immediate need for your product or service, but may develop a need in the future. Assure that you have a program that provides ongoing follow up via:
Regular personal follow up
Initial follow up should be rapid. Ask for permission to follow-up and set the time frame when you meet a new prospective client. Ask how the prospect prefers for you to stay in touch. Do they prefer newsletters follow-up via social media, or personal follow-up?
Draft letter, email and social media communication templates ahead of time so that rapid follow-up is easy.
Use an electronic or print newsletter to stay in touch with prospects. Social media have become an increasingly important way to stay in touch with networking contacts.
Basic newsletters are usually 2-3 pages, or a one pager with links to see full articles.
Look at contact management software: for example Salesforce.com or ACT.
Basic sales and marketing subscriptions from Salesforce.com start at $25/user/mo. for up to 5 users, or $65/user/mo. for a complete customer relations management (CRM) system.
Quality of collateral is important. It is a face of your company. High quality collateral should have a consistent look and feel, and should remind the prospect why they were interested in you and your company in the first place.
Situation: A company wants to boost their marketing through the Internet. They have had a web site for years, but the site doesn’t bring in much new business. How do you optimize visibility for your web site, and how do you boost your Internet marketing?
Advice from the CEOs:
Among search engines, despite Microsoft’s efforts to boost Bing’s presence, Google is the elephant in the room. They host 65% of search engine traffic, and represent 75% of buying activity. Google writes the rules, others copy.
As an exercise to test your web presence, go to Google and search for your company and city. See whether you appear in the local directory. If not, have your web master put your address and phone number on each page of your web site. If you can’t find yourself or easily find your contact information, others won’t be able to find you either.
Use the Google External Keyword tool – just search and you’ll find it. This will help you to tailor your key words so that potential customers will find you. Another tool is wordtracker.com. Both will show you domestic and international hit rates over the last month on different key words.
What is the optimal number of words per web page? About 250. Put your key words in your titles, in the first sentence and the last sentence of the first paragraph.
The typical web user will form a lasting impression of your web site in the first 3 seconds. Can they find information easily? Is the layout pleasant? Is it informative? Does it have the information that they’re looking for?
Hitting high on Google searches counts. Only 20% of viewers will go to Page 2 of a search, and most only go 5 hits deep on Page 1.
Stay fresh. Change SOMETHING about your site at least monthly.
Thanks to Kevin Dean of WSI NetAdvantage for his contribution to this discussion.
Situation: A Silicon Valley company finds it difficult to find good candidates locally, and also to attract qualified distant candidates to the Bay Area. They want to explore hiring talented individuals out of local colleges and developing them within the company. What are best practices hiring right out of college?
Advice from the CEOs:
Hiring out of college or graduate school is a good way to find long-term hires who can grow into positions. It is less useful if your need is for experienced and tenured individuals who can immediately get up to speed in a position of significant responsibility.
As in any hiring situation, you should review your hiring process before you start to hire. Many companies hire locally based on who applies or who’s a friend of a friend, rather than making an effort to recruit the best candidates.
What is your infrastructure? Do you have a system for identifying candidates who best fit your culture and needs? Do you have personnel who can mentor a new college hire, or are you willing to devote significant time to this?
An alternative is to hire consultants to develop a recruiting process or to mentor the new hire in specific areas of development during their first year or two on the job.
One CEO sponsors an annual competition at Santa Clara University for papers in his company’s field. This has won him considerable support at the school, and gives him access to promising students, several of whom he has hired. An advantage of this program is that the company gets to know the individuals and the quality of their work before making a commitment to offer them either an internship or a full-time position.
Be cautious using candidate assessment tools with college hires. An individual’s profile may shift significantly once they start working because there is a significant shift in priorities once an individual leaves student life.
Situation: A CEO is evaluating her company’s employee review process and seeks input on alternative practices from other companies. What are best practices for employee reviews in terms of frequency, format and structure?
Advice from the CEOs:
Company A conducts annual reviews. They ask for written input from the employee, peers, and manager. The review is a sit-down meeting between the employee and manager.
Company B conducts formal annual reviews, with informal 6 month reviews. The annual review evaluates the employee’s performance on 15 key variables, and is prepared by the manager. The review is a sit-down meeting between the employee and manager
Company C does not conduct reviews. They have tried several formats over the life of the company, but found none satisfactory. Instead the company continually monitors key metrics on a green, yellow, red scale. As soon as yellow appears on a metric for an employee, the supervisor meets with the employee to discuss the situation and to formulate corrective action. The result is that reds do not occur.
Company D conducts annual reviews on the employment anniversary. They request written input from both the employee, and manager. The employee, manager and President meet over lunch, off-site. The objective is to communicate plus and minus points, taking a long-term approach in a conversational setting.
Company E conducts annual reviews, with quarterly self-evaluations. Both reviews and evaluations include a key question: “what can management do for me to improve my performance?” The review is a sit down meeting between employee and manager. Results of reviews are tied to quarterly profit sharing.
All companies agreed that, generally, in evaluating the options, the most important questions to ask are:
Why are we doing reviews?
What is the objective?
The answers to these questions help to evaluate review options.