Situation: A CEO has a staffing issue. The company has four product areas but only three strong leads. There are no back-ups for these leads. The CEO feels that the company can’t afford full-time back-ups and is concerned that the presence of back-ups may threaten the leads. How do you create an effective staff back-up system?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are two problems, not one.
The leads may not be great managers and may not even like managerial responsibility.
The company has one administrator with support from the leads.
The company’s vulnerability is having an effective lead leave and taking their key core team members with them. This would create a significant hole in the company’s offering.
Change the structure – put manager administrators at top and let the leads do what they love to do. Fit the jobs of the leads to their skills and talents.
Hire the best #2s that can be found to back up the effective leads. Replace the less effective lead with a new lead.
Replace current team members who aren’t as good with new staff. This will provide the funding for the new people.
Then separate managers from architects in terms of role. This does not mean a change of compensation, or necessarily even titles. It means aligning roles with talents. It will also mean that individuals will be happier in their roles and will be less likely to leave.
Don’t do this all at once, but in gradual stages to avoid panic and allow individuals the time to adapt to their new roles. Act as a coach adjusting the whole team to a new playbook.
Consider adjusting the compensation structure to retain the key leads.
A CEO wants to significantly grow his company, either to prepare for an IPO or
to become an interesting takeover target. However, he struggles with
delegation. When responsibilities are delegated, the job isn’t done to the
CEO’s satisfaction and he ends up doing the work himself. He asks: what is the
CEO’s job? Is it for me?
from the CEOs:
order to grow the company to the desired level, it is necessary to hire
competent people and delegate. The most important position will be a COO with
deep experience organizing people and functions.
CEO’s role is to provide the vision and strategic objectives for the company.
The COO’s role is to assure that the right people are in place or hired to do
the work necessary to realize the vision and operational objectives.
CEO-COO relationship will be pivotal. If there are specific ways that the CEO
wants to see things done, these must be clearly delineated in discussions with
role of the COO will be to organize the company to reach the growth objective.
a competent, talented HR person to plan the organizational development road
map, and the positions that must be filled in stages to reach the goal.
growth plans of the company are ambitious. Absent significant change, growth
will be limited to a fraction of the current objective.
with the COO and HR person, build the organizational chart for the size company
that the vision imagines. Fill the chart with current personnel where the fit
is appropriate. Determine where the gaps exist and build a plan to hire these
people in stages.
E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber provides an exercise to accomplish this.
a high-level assistant to help in areas where the CEO finds it difficult to let
go. This will be another key relationship and will be important to learning how
to let go.
a CEO coach.
will likely be an individual with significant experience who has achieved the
growth envisioned by the strategic plan.
CEO Coach will help to draw lines between delegating and micromanaging and will
help the CEO to learn to effectively delegate to qualified people.
Situation: A CEO recently attended a workshop on awareness of employees’ emotions. The message was that to effectively lead, the leader must be aware of both their own and their team’s emotions, and effectively address these in all communications. How have others acknowledged employee emotions? Can you effectively manage your team’s emotions?
Advice from the CEOs:
All companies have both cultures and ways in which employees and managers interact. These are either intentional or accidental.
It is important to develop a competency model for any company – skills and behaviors that reinforce company culture and guide both hiring decisions and personnel evaluations. Behaviors should be defined by competencies, including both technical and soft competencies.
Once a company competency model is established, position descriptions will be variations of the company competency model.
A competency model will help you to script candidate interviews. This works whether you use a panel or individual interview format. Questions should address past behavior in specific situations that the individual has experienced. Provide each interviewer with a set of questions that will help the interviewer understand how the candidate expresses soft competencies. Post-interview, get together and discuss how each candidate’s responses compare with the company model.
Supplement your interview results with a psychometric test which scores and effectively measure the key soft competencies expressed in your culture. Pair the psychometric test with cognitive testing to assess a candidate’s technical competency.
Use similar questions for employee evaluations or coaching situations. The difference will be that in the case of current employees, you will want to have the employee refer to situations and behaviors experienced at work or working with customers or company partners.
Special thanks to Maynard Brusman of Working Resources for leading this discussion.
Situation: A company has two key managers who battle constantly. Recently these battles have escalated. Both people are valuable, but this has become a significant distraction. What’s the best way to handle this situation? How do you deal with management infighting?
Advice from the CEOs:
Talk to the two people individually. Acknowledge company awareness of the situation and ask what’s going on.
Listen – make sure you understand what’s going on.
After you listen, coach. The message: I need you to step up. The company counts on you.
Both parties must feel empowered by the conversation.
Focus on behavior only, not the person.
Make sure that each feels validated but with clear direction to change behavior.
Acknowledge each individual’s value. Point out the problem, but make it clear that nobody is indispensable.
At the same time, be firm as to what is expected of individual behavior as well as individual performance. Set the expectation: either you act in a way which does not harm the company environment, or I will take your notice in 30 days.
If either individual can’t agree to this, then that individual is the problem.
Revert to guiding principles and values of the company. Raise the conversation to a higher level.
Establish what the individual wants from the company. Are their needs currently being met? What can be changed to better meet their needs?
An important end point of the conversation – because both are key players – is for each of them to value the other.
If, after providing time for the two to resolve their difference, they still can’t make peace with each other, you may have to make a hard decision.
Be careful – it may be necessary to take a different approach with each individual.
It may turn out that one individual is the instigator and the other is simply reacting to the first’s provocation. In this case, get a 3rd party to coach each of them.
Another company recently had this same problem.
The CEO sat each person down – talked about impact, big picture and what this does to their image in company.
Situation: A company has grown to five times the size that that were when they hired their last Vice President of Sales & Marketing, and are looking for a new VP of Sales & Marketing. What is your advice as they embark on this search? How do you recruit a VP of Sales & Marketing?
Advice from the CEOs:
Think coach as opposed to star player. You are a much larger company, and at this phase of growth you need an individual with good marketing skills combined with sales management skills. You need a brand builder.
Recently, another CEO went through a similar process. His mistake was hiring a person with deep domain experience, when what they really needed was a person with process/methodology experience in complex sales. In your case, consider an individual from a larger company in your industry, or an allied industry. Somebody with knowledge of similar technical sales processes to your company with similar complexity and similar lead flows.
Skip head hunters. Based on your knowledge of good companies in your industry use LinkedIn to find who’s who. You can look at three pools of candidates – those that you can hire away from these companies, those who have worked there but are out of work, and early retirees who have found that they now need to go back to work.
Research current salary ranges in your industry and plan to be competitive, both base and bonus target.
As this individual will be a doer-manager make bonus qualification a combination of personal quota and team performance (overall new sales growth vs. existing projects).
While another CEO agrees that you don’t need a head hunter, find someone who can organize the process – review resumes, perform screening interviews, schedule higher level interviews, follow-ups, etc. – and who will work on an hourly basis.
Have a job application and be sure to ask for the following:
Copies of last W-2s.
State on the application: falsehood is grounds for immediate termination.
Do or outsource formal background checks including verification of education and degrees.
Personally call references for your finalists. Ask these references who else knows this person and speak to them, as well.
Situation: A company’s CEO came from sales where she excelled in building relationships with important customers. As CEO she must adapt to new responsibilities. This seems to be working, but she misses her sales role as the face of the company to customers. She wonders whether this is normal. How do you adapt from sales to CEO?
Advice from the CEOs:
First, congratulations on your new role and responsibilities. It is clear that your Board saw your potential and has rewarded you with a new opportunity. You have a lot to feel good about.
Second, adapting to new roles is a necessary pain of personal growth. The company needs a different you now. Everyone in the room has gone through the same emotional trauma – and survived! You will, too, in your own way.
In your sales role self validation came from your ability to convert customers, satisfy their needs and solve their problems. As CEO, self validation must now come from managing, coaching and motivating others, not from doing the job yourself. Your new customers are internal as well as external. Many of the techniques that worked in sales can work in your new role. Look for potential wins and take pride in these just as you did in sales.
You are still the face of the company, but now in a bigger role. Enjoy this and leverage it for the benefit of the company. Take pride in team wins just as you did previously in personal wins.
You will never find someone just like you or who does the job the way that you would! Accept this, accept that others will add value different from your own, and that this has benefits. The more you can help others win the more success you will experience.
Situation: Most CEOs manage multi-generational staffs. While there are differences between baby-boomers and younger generations, it remains important to give younger workers meaningful guidance. What have you done to successfully mentor younger workers? If you are one of the younger workers, how have you been effectively mentored at work?
Advice from the CEOs:
Many have noted that, compared with baby-boomers, younger workers have higher levels of self-confidence. This enables them to be more accepting of constructive criticism and guidance. One company establishes individualized performance metrics to help younger employees monitor their progress. This helps them to chart and see their progress. Along the way, managers meet with them frequently to answer their questions about company processes and the rationale behind them.
In some cases, CEOs have found some younger workers have a tendency to short from the hip. They mentored them to communicate more thoughtfully and carefully using a team approach because they found younger workers to be more team-oriented than older workers.
Many forward thinking companies involve individuals from all levels of the organization in their planning processes. This addresses the desire of younger staff members to be included in high level decisions. Younger workers prefer this to being told to wait until they have more experience.
To help younger employees grow, one company breaks down job tiers into more levels or sub-levels, and offers incentives for reaching the next level of skills more rapidly. They also reset expectations more frequently.
Particularly in Silicon Valley many younger employees are swimming in debt. Some purchased houses on adjustable-rate interest-only loans and other creative financing solutions. As interest rates rise some will encounter difficulties. In anticipation of this, one company brings in external resources to offer counseling in personal finance. Some of the local financial services companies offer this as a benefit to company’s employees at no cost to the company.
Key Words: Multi-generational, Baby-boomer, Gen X, Gen Y, Millennial, Echo-boomer, Mentor, Coach, Self-confidence, Processes, Communication, Team approach, Involvement, Listening, Financial counseling, Patience
Situation: A company has been seeking additional engineers. Unexpectedly, three excellent candidates independently approached the company seeking employment. This opens the door to expand the department and also to create an additional layer of management consistent with the company’s growth objectives. Currently, in this small company all engineers report directly to the CEO. What are best practices adding a layer of management to the company?
Advice from the CEOs:
Remember that aspiration does not equal talent. There is a big difference between good individual contributors and good managers. The best predictor of managerial success is past successful experience.
You have a number of senior engineers who have been with you for a long time. Have any expressed an interest in management responsibility? Do any of them have a track record successfully managing teams? Similarly, evaluate your new candidates both in terms of both their ability to contribute as engineers and their prior management experience.
If you hire one or more of the candidates, start them at the senior engineer level. Let the company and the rest of your engineering team get used to them and observe the quality of their contribution.
Once you are ready to create a new level of management, make this an open process. Announce your plans to the engineering team, and ask them to approach you individually if they are interested. See who steps up.
When the time comes to make the promotion, how do you communicate this to the group?
If you’ve used an open process to evaluate one or more candidates for management, the group will already be prepared when you announce the new structure and promotion.
An important part of the message is that the company is growing and that there will be ongoing opportunities for talented engineers to earn promotions to management.
For those interested, start with small steps as leads in team projects. Who if effective at guiding their team? Who is a positive source of energy for the team? Who is helpful and goes above and beyond for other team members and for customers? How do they respond to team obstacles? Observe and coach them along the way.
Interview with Richard Owen, CEO, Satmetrix Systems
Situation: If you are not creating promoters of your product or service, you are inhibiting your own growth. Growth is challenging and if you don’t have positive word of mouth it becomes more expensive. How do you find and focus on your promoters?
Advice from Richard Owen:
Calculate and understand your “Net Promoter Score” – the percentage difference between “promoters” and detractors.” Promoters are those customers who would highly recommend your business, detractors have a negative perspective.
It is important to attend these two audiences – “detractors”, who create negative word of mouth, and “promoters” who create positive word of mouth. Detractors can be targeted for service recovery. At the same time, you must identify your promoters and find ways to get them to actively let others know about your business. Both negative and positive effects are being amplified today by social networks.
Understand what your business does that creates detractors and promoters. Gather and analyze root cause data to provide insights around the actions you and your team should take to change the balance in your favor.
Hold employees accountable by “stack ranking” the customer performance of each of your teams or employees. In part, this helps you to understand areas of strength and weakness and allows you to create individualized or group action and coaching plans. There is also a tendency for groups below the average to improve performance because they are being measured.
These are simple ideas, but making this work in practice can be a challenge. Setting up an effective system takes more leadership than leaders typically realize and is often counter to the short term realities of most companies. Success requires a long-term perspective and an external versus internal focus. And, of course, the right systems!
While the leadership of many mid-market companies are as sophisticated as that in large companies, mid-market companies lack the resources of large companies. A focus on action around promoters and detractors allows a company to get 90% of the value for 10% of the effort in customer experience management.
Situation: A CEO has not taken a vacation for years due to focus on the company. He knows that he needs a vacation and wants to take one. However, he feels guilty taking time off. How do you take a guilt-free vacation?
Advice from the CEOs:
For your general health, you need to take time off to refresh and recharge!
Think of the vacation as your CEO Test – have you created a team that can perform in your absence?
You may be amazed at the initiative that some will take given the freedom to do so. As a corollary, initiative is accompanied by risk and your employees may make some bad choices. Be patient. Congratulate them for taking initiative and coach to improve choices.
Stay out of touch. Don’t call in daily and see what happens. If and when you do call in, don’t solve challenges that come up – let your people solve the challenges. Keep a few notes. On your return see where you need to adjust procedures to allow employees to make independent decisions.
More than one CEO has found that taking 3-4 week vacations each year has had very positive results. The company actually performs more efficiently and with more energy upon their return than it did when they left!
To ensure that you take a vacation, schedule it in advance. Let everyone know that you are going to take it and Just Do It!
If you can’t take the time to plan a vacation, have your spouse or a loved one plan the vacation.
If you need to feel in touch during your vacation, take your laptop. You may never even use it, but it will be there as a security blanket. Once you are on vacation, let family and personal priorities rightly take precedence over your need to stay in touch.