Tag Archives: Company

How Does Your Company Award Bonuses? Eight Considerations

Situation:  A company has lost six people since the beginning of year – about 7% of employees. Currently the company doesn’t pay bonuses but increases salaries annually. The CEO has been considering creating a bonus pool, distributed based on performance points earned during the year, and including a component for employee longevity. How does your company award bonuses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There is fierce completion for good software engineers. You will lose people unless you focus on culture and pay bonuses of some sort.
  • Based on reasons that people left you need to start developing and enhancing your company culture.
  • Don’t kid yourself. You already have a company culture. Hire a consultant to help you identify it so that you are developing it along lines that you desire instead of by accident.
  • Make it clear that bonuses are not entitlements but are earned. There should be clear guidance as to bonus criteria.
  • Check out the following YouTube – “RSA Animate – The surprising truth about what motivates us” to see what motivates knowledge workers who are expected to develop creative solutions. The bottom line is that it is more than money!
  • An effective bonus program must have a bias toward performance – the metric is key. Be careful about the way you create metrics and incentives and be wary of unintended consequences.
  • Pay special attention to the quality and skills of your 1st and 2nd line managers.
  • Besides bonus, equity and culture – plan for 10% attrition. In your industry, this may be the norm.

How Do You Hire Your First Employee? Seven Suggestions

Situation:  The CEO of an early stage company has identified a person to help her as an assistant. This will be her first real employee. Prior hires have been contractors who have been paid on revenue generated. This individual’s salary will be an expense without clear association to revenue. What guidelines do you suggest as she makes this hire? How do you hire your first employee?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Create a cash flow projection to make sure that you have the cash to afford an employee.
  • If you consistently expect 40+ hours of work from this individual, consider a salaried position which will give both of you more flexibility.
  • Paychex currently handles your payroll and benefits. Work with them to make sure that all labor law compliance issues are covered. Also, consider hiring a labor law consultant to help you avoid minefields.
  • Do a background check even if you have known this individual for a long time.
  • Consider working with a professional employment organization that can provide back-office HR support for you.
  • An employee handbook is unnecessary at this point. However, think through how you will want to handle issues that may come up including vacation, benefits and paid/unpaid leave like bereavement leave. Document these for inclusion in a future employee handbook.
  • Under the current health care law employers with less than fifty employees are not required to provide health benefits without paying a penalty. This may change as the law continues to evolve.

How Much Do You Share with a Potential Acquirer? Nine Points

Situation: A company has been approached by a larger company that may be interested in acquiring them. The prospective acquirer is a current customer. Absent an extraordinary offer, the company isn’t interested in selling. Nevertheless, a conversation could be valuable. How much information about the company should the CEO share now? How much do you share with a potential acquirer?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The key term here is potential. At this point, there is no commitment, and you really don’t know the other company’s motivation. As you start this process, don’t share confidential details about your plans or prospects, or your pipeline. Just broad information. If things get serious, slowly open the kimono.
  • Make sure that you have an NDA in place covering anything that they ask you to disclose for this possible transaction.
  • Given your current situation, a standard offer probably won’t be appealing, so be open to a creative option.
    • Decide ahead of time what your price is. If they are in the ball park, keep talking.
    • For example, Say you want $XX. Would you be attracted to 50% of that now, 50% later? Under what terms?
  • Put a low valve on future payouts, particularly if you are not in a position to call the shots.
  • Be open and creative. You never know what can happen. You could sell to them now at the right price. Then, if the acquisition doesn’t work out, buy the company back in 2-3 years at a discount!
  • If you get into higher level negotiations, employee retention will be critical. Make provision for this as part of the deal.
  • Hire a disinterested professional negotiator you who you can trust.
  • If things get serious, bring in an investment broker to assist. It will cost you 5% but they are helpful in the negotiation and could bring in competing suitors to up the ante.

Is It Time to Hire a Marketing Manager? Five Considerations

Situation: A small company has always used guerilla marketing as its marketing modus operandi – trade shows, etc. Their VP Sales recently left. They feel a need for a marketing plan and hired a company to assist them in understanding how they are perceived by their customers.  Should they continue to outsource, or is it preferable to bring marketing expertise in-house? Is it time to hire a marketing manager?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • How well do you understand your customer profiles? It is important to characterize, segment and understand your customers before you can understand your marketing.
    • What is the company size of your typical customer? Small companies don’t spend a lot on big trade shows, other than perhaps sending a couple of people as attendees. Event marketing may be a more effective way to reach small customers.
    • The company that you hired should be answering these questions for you.
  • Marketing is about creating an environment in which people are aware of you and find you versus your having to go out and find them. Social media have fundamentally changed the marketing challenge, emphasizing pull versus push marketing – commercials, ads, billboards, etc.
  • An important role of marketing is perception management so that when a lead or need arises, your company is a natural answer.
  • Whether or not you hire a person, you need a marketing plan. Once you have a plan, you need a marketing budget.
  • The company is now at 35+ employees. Fischer’s growth curve research indicates that at this size you need a professional in the marketing position – someone with experience who knows the ropes. This person could be inside or outside.

How Do You Create Values, Mission and Vision? Four Ideas

Situation: An early stage company wants to create core values, vision, mission, and a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to guide the company and inspire employees for the next five years. What are the most important aspects of this process? How have other companies done it? How do you create core values, mission and vision?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • As the founding CEO of an early stage company, define yourself first. What are your skill sets and talents? Start from the beginning: why did you start your company? What motivates you and what do you want to build or accomplish? What are you passionate about? What really turns you on? You are the individual who, in an early stage company, must inspire your employees. What inspires you and what has attracted your employees to the opportunity presented by your company?
  • Create your business plan around your dream. If creating something exciting and new or making money is important, how can you make creating something exciting or making money living your dream? If the most important factor is something else, how can you achieve this living your dream?
  • The US Government is desperate for export opportunities involving high tech products which will employ Americans. The opportunities are in new innovations, not commodities. For example, solar panels are high tech but they have become commodities at least in their current configurations. Look for something that is unique and new – for example software that helps to increase the efficiency and security of the grid.
  • Entrepreneurship is not about having a steady income. It’s about creating something new. If what you develop works, you will make money. However, if you want a steady income – go get a job.

How Do You Manage Multiple Priorities? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company has developed a number of initiatives and priorities which are important to the success of the company. All of the initiatives are daunting.  What do they need to do to get all of these accomplished? How do you manage multiple priorities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start with corporate level objectives and set these independently from your initiatives. Pick your top corporate goals and objectives – financial, performance, and so on. Once this is in place, rate your initiatives in terms of how they help to meet your company objectives.
  • Create an initiative list. Measure the upside and risk for each initiative. Based on the results of your analysis classify each initiative: critical, important, or nice to have. This, plus alignment between initiatives your corporate objectives will indicate which initiatives are most critical to company success.
  • Every company needs long and short term goals. Use these to align and prioritize initiatives. Only and your team you can tell what is important and importance is a matter of your strategic focus and objectives.
  • They key to accomplishing multiple objectives is focus. Focus on your top 2-3 initiatives first – if you can reasonably handle this many. Once these are accomplished, focus on the next 2-3, and so forth.
  • Look at your competitors – where are the opportunities in the marketplace. How will your initiatives make you more competitive?
  • What does your leadership development plan look like? If you plan to add new leadership, include in your thinking a transition plan to new leadership, taking into account your multi-year timeline.

How Do You Make the Most of Changing Your BHAG? Eight Points

Situation: A company recently changed their BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to focus on premium customer acquisition, but as a small-to-medium sized company has a 3-year focus instead of the typical 10-20 year focus of a larger company. They want to make this a company-wide effort. How do you make the most of changing your BHAG?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • First, it is measurable and specific – grow to 10 times your premium current customer base in 3 years. Your marketplace is changing quickly, so a shorter-term BHAG makes sense. Call it your 10/3 Program or 10/3 Challenge.
  • Is it too shallow? No – this is something that people can rally around. It represents significant company growth.
  • What happens when you achieve the goal? Celebrate in a big way, and then set the next BHAG.
  • How do you create excitement? Every time you hit a milestone, bring in pizza, or conduct a special event. Celebrate.
  • Success = Change. What does that next milestone mean for the company and your capabilities? This isn’t just about new clients, but also includes scaling your delivery systems and customer service. Rally your non-sales staff around these important tasks.
  • Create milestones not just around sales numbers but also around timelines. Tie incentives to achievement of BHAG milestones.
  • Conduct a company meeting to announce the BHAG, and announce progress in future company meetings.
    • Progress against milestones.
    • Share pipeline data to maintain excitement.
    • Develop scale-up programs and share progress of non-sales departments as they ramp up services.
  • Think about building a competition around the goal. As long as this fits your culture it can add excitement to achieving both milestones and the BHAG itself.

Note: The term ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ was proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book entitled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.

How Do You Recruit a VP of Sales & Marketing? Seven Thoughts

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:
    • Criminal records,
    • 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.

How Do You Make Time for Priorities? Eleven Recommendations

Situation: A CEO is building a new company. She has a small, highly qualified team, and much of the work is hands-on. In addition, there is fund raising to support the venture. The CEO also makes time for exercise and keeping in shape. With all of this on her plate she is getting overwhelmed. How do you focus on priorities in an early stage company? How do you make time for priorities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Maintain your exercise and health – this makes everything else easier.
  • Decide on your strategic platform. This creates a larger conceptual framework and helps to clarify priorities.
  • Identify the gating items. Focus effort here and spend scarce resources strategically to push your goal.
  • Within your gating items, identify the factors that make you scalable. Focus most of your effort here.
  • Create a weekly focus.
  • Lay out your to-do list in a Covey quadrant – most and least important vs. urgent and not urgent. Review this weekly to eliminate or delegate less important priorities.
  • Operational issues are usually symptoms – identify the causes and fix them.
  • Daily, list what you’ve done. Look back every 1-2 weeks and assess how you spent your time. Eliminate time wasters.
  • Don’t let you passion be undermined by the drudgery.
  • As an early stage company, you have to react – understand and appreciate that some aspects of early stage company life will not be very strategic.
  • Fix things rather than adding people and complexity. This compliments Fisher’s Stages of Growth recommendations for a company of under 11 people.

How Do You Structure an International Deal? Six Points

Situation: A CEO is evaluating a potential deal with an Asian company that is synergistic with the strategy of the CEO’s company. The structure would include a US entity, run by the CEO, and an Asian entity that would provide essential technology. How do you structure an international deal?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Before you agree to a deal, raise your own level of trust with the key players of the Asian company so that you are comfortable with the investment of time and money that you will make.
  • Assure that you will have the focus and attention of talent that you will need within the Asian company. This is better done through mutual understanding and agreement than through contract. In Asia, relationships are personal, not contractual, though for legal reasons personal understandings must be backed by a good written contract. This will likely mean that you will have to travel to Asia to spend time with the key personnel upon whom you will rely.
  • Make sure that there is agreement on a clear road map for both the US and Asian entities.
  • You will need a solid bridge person who can speak both the language and culture of your Asian counterpart – not just someone who says that they can, but who can deliver. Test this relationship before agreeing to the deal.
  • Structure the deal so that the US entity owns exclusive rights to the technology world-wide with the exception of the home country of the Asian firm. Assure that you own an acceptable piece of the US entity.
  • Don’t complicate the exercise by creating additional shell companies in Asia. Shell companies can make it difficult to maintain accountability and assure that you gain the value that you seek.