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.
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 hired an employee one year ago. The employee is competent but slow. Even after a year on the job, other employees with similar skills and experience are able to complete the same job three times faster. What is the best way to handle this? How do you set expectations for an employee?
Advice from the CEOs:
The most important principle governing situations like this is clarity of communications. You must clearly express your expectations, and you must assure that the employee clearly understands your expectations.
Assure that expectations are clearly expressed. This means what you expect in terms of performance, and firm timelines for achieving minimum requirements. You also must assure that the employee understands the consequences for failing to meet minimum requirements. The best assurance is written confirmation that the employee understands what is expected.
Don’t be vague or nice about your expectations, performance requirements or the consequences for failing to meet minimum requirements. This risks sending the wrong message to the employee.
Put the employee on a performance improvement plan to meet minimum job requirements. Monitor and document for 30-60 days and then handle according to how the employee responds.
If the individual can’t meet the objective, but has potential value to the company, offer the person an appropriate position at the level that the new position pays.
Have a second person in the room when you deliver the message. If you determine that you have to terminate the employee and the employee elects to sue, this will help your case in a judicial action.
Situation: A small company wants to reduce costs by consolidating accounting and operational communications between remote divisions, with home office coordination. Can you more effectively reduce costs by consolidating services or is it better to set up parallel but complimentary accounting and operational communications in each division?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are a number of things that need to be considered, including:
Whether the existing legacy system is off the shelf with modifications or was custom designed for your operation.
Does the current system meet your needs, and do operators understand it? Is operational understanding diffuse or can only one or two people operate it?
How similar are the divisions in terms of product, customers and operations?
Do divisions serve distinct, non-overlapping customers with different product lines?
Are there important operational differences, for example are some divisions union, and others non-union?
On an ongoing basis, except for accounting, do divisions function as complimentary or distinctly separate businesses?
How complex are the product and pricing offerings? Could you consider a simple solution like QuickBooks or are there are complexities to your business model and accounting that the off-the shelf or web-based systems can’t address?
How much historical data from your current system is needed to support ongoing and future operations?
The simplest solution may be to run your current system off of a server, with multiple nodes connected to the system – a direct connection at your home office, and point-to-point lines connecting your remote offices. This will solve both your data transfer and communications needs.
Hire a computer consultant to set this up and assist you in establishing a link. It will cost some money, but will save you time and money in the long-run.
If you decide to change your accounting system, do so at the end of your current fiscal year. Trying to change accounting systems in the midst of a fiscal year creates an accounting nightmare for a small business.
Situation: The CEO has regular lunches with staff to foster communication and sharing of information. In recent months few employees are attending these lunches. Also, a negative tone is beginning to pervade the office, though the situation seems to improve when the CEO is present. How would you address this situation?
Advice from the CEOs:
The immediate priority is to correctly diagnose the problem. Is this a question of the CEO’s energy or the team’s awareness of plans for the company? Is there something else going on of which the CEO is unaware?
Meet with employees. Have an open and frank discussion with them about the future of the company.
Meet with the most valuable employees first. Share hopes and vision for the business. Express appreciation for their contributions and discuss plans for their continued growth. Next, ask open-ended questions about the company and seek their input on how to improve it. Listen to what they have to say.
Next are borderline employees. Again, share the vision and appreciate their past and current contributions, but be honest about expectations for performance. Then ask the same open-ended questions that you asked the first group and listen.
For underperforming employees, again appreciate past and current contributions, but be clear that unless they substantially improve performance, future employment isn’t guaranteed. Ask the same open-ended questions asked of the other groups and listen.
Be patient. Don’t try to develop all the answers immediately. Listen and learn what drives employees – particularly keepers. Involve them in developing programs to drive the future.
Situation: The Company has an off-shore business partner. Primary concerns involve team performance, process documentation and anticipating sales/marketing problems before they become issues. What have you found effective to monitor these areas?
Advice from the CEOs:
At the executive level, keep things simple – identifying the major goals and pieces of projects that are the make-break points.
Simplify the high level summary and make sure that all of the supporting activity is aligned with and supports key project or company goals. Some members manage projects with weekly or bi-weekly meetings.
The benefit of keeping it simple in your own mind is that you can always return to this simplicity when dealing with detail level queries from the partner. It keeps you grounded and on track.
One company uses project timelines that clearly show each of the teams where they fit into the project and how important it is for them to complete their portion of the project on time and to spec. Keep everything simple and direct.
Sales tracking and management is different from development projects. Drive monitoring off forecasts, pipeline, and achievement of metrics that track with the forecasts.
In working with your off-shore partner, organize your presentations so that the key points of emphasis are readily visible. Have back-up slides to show detail aspects of particular projects or initiatives, and be prepared to cover the details if needed. This will help to build confidence between you and your business partner.
Situation: The Company wants to be prepared in case of emergencies including water, fire, earthquake, and the possibility that owners or employees may have difficulty communicating or traveling to their offices for an extended period. What have others done to create an emergency response plan?
Advice of the CEOs:
One company developed a disaster recovery plan, including:
A communication plan.
Employees taking notebook computers home in the evening.
Data back-up and server restoration capabilities.
The plan was relatively easy to build and is summarized in a 4-page document in the possession of each employee.
What have others done to address emergency preparedness?
Daily systems back-ups.
If you use a web-based CRM, check whether they have a disaster recovery program.
Assuring that there are sufficient cash reserves to manage through 30 days with no invoicing or collections.
Drafting a full emergency plan is essential. Start simply:
Look at the obvious risks in your location.
For each that you identify, develop a back up or contingency strategy and put it in place.
Let the list of contingencies grow over time as you recognize more risks.
Start this exercise NOW.
Once you have a plan, drill the plan. Make sure that employees know what to do in a variety of emergencies so that they are prepared.
This can build the confidence that your employees will be able to handle emergencies.