Situation: A company hired a sales person who looked during the interview process like a hunter, but turned out to be a farmer. The company’s product-service mix is new to the market and requires a sales person who excels at landing new accounts. How do you tell hunter from farmer sales candidates?
Advice from the CEOs:
The hunter sales person is naturally more aggressive and loves the thrill of landing new accounts. The farmer excels at follow-up sales and cultivating existing accounts for new purchasing potential. Neither is particularly good at the others’ job, and it is rare to find individuals who excel in both roles.
To differentiate between these two personalities, behavioral interviewing is better than tests.
Screen resumes for past sales success in companies in a similar size range as yours to select a group for further evaluation.
Behavioral interviews are very different from traditional interviews. They the focus on specific skills and requirements associated with the job and require candidates to give concrete examples of when and how they have demonstrated the skills needed for the job. The interviewer then follows up with probing questions to elicit more details. Responses can be verified in follow-up with references provided by the candidate.
During the questioning process, the interviewer may interrupt the candidate with a question like “what are you thinking right now?” These questions provide more insight into the interviewee’s personality and also help to filter out B.S.
You are seeking someone who’s “been there done that” in a company which resembles yours and who can convincingly demonstrate what they’ve done.
Thoroughly check references – not just those provided by the candidate, but dig and talk to others in the same companies.
Strongly align the pay and incentives for a hunter. Hunters prefer a comp package that is heavily commission-based and this will scare away farmers. If they don’t sell, they get paid little.
Offer an extended trial period with burden of proof on performance by the sales person.
Situation: A company is a C Corp with several owners. As it is the end of the year, there is an active debate on owners’ compensation. The CEO has looked at a number of options, but would like the advice of others in a similar situation before making a decision. What do you see as the pros and cons of various options for end of year owners’ compensation?
Advice from the CEOs:
In one company, profits are split among owners according to stock ownership. This is similar to a public corporation where dividends accrue according to stock ownership. The pro is that it is equitable; the con is that smaller owners who may have made significant contributions during the year don’t necessarily receive the recognition that they may believe they deserve.
Another CEO varies owners’ compensation according to company performance. In good years, there is the option to be generous through enhanced bonuses, etc. In slim years it is more important to conserve cash, and quite frankly company performance didn’t justify significant bonuses. The pro is that this offers the CEO more flexibility than the first option to recognize significant contributions; the con is that the recognition of some may seem arbitrary to others.
In response to the latter observation, a third CEO sees this as acting like a good father – sometimes you just have to declare your prerogative if employees squabble about your decisions or push too hard for unreasonable requests.
The CEO who originally asked the question followed with an additional question – how do you present your compensation decisions to owners or staff who may think that they deserve more than their stock position or company performance over the year allows?
This is a facts of life situation – once the final determination is made it is not negotiable.
Situation: A company faces dual challenges – assuring that payments are collected for work done and developing a business model that facilitates growth. How do assure that payments are collected to support your cash flow needs and that employees are focused on growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
It may be that the two problems are closely related. Ask whether your compensation and incentive system is focused on cash flow and growth. If not, you need to change it.
Restructure your compensation and incentive systems to create a direct link between profitability and compensation. Augment this with training. For example, if your engineering team isn’t good at assuring that change order costs are paid by their clients, teach them how to write statements of work to anticipate change requests and to include charges in the SOW. Then tie the team’s compensation to how well team members follow though in assuring that work is properly accounted for, billed, and payment collected.
Create simple procedures that are innate and complementary to team members’ natural behavior. The best way to do this is to involve them in the writing of the procedures.
Give them easy tools that take the guesswork out of negotiating change orders with clients. For example, if a client asks for faster delivery, give them a formula that ties delivery to cost::
Standard Delivery = 8 weeks at Price X
4 Week Delivery = Standard delivery price times Y
2 Week Delivery = Standard delivery price times Z
This turns client demands into a simple economic question – what is expedited delivery worth to you?
Hire a contracts manager to track contracts and change orders with authority to assure that change order costs are being billed.
Create “learning” teams to develop solutions. Allow the teams to speak to each other and to learn each other’s best practices. Supplement this with regular tutorial sessions to bring the whole group up to speed on new technologies.
Situation: A company’s employees are increasingly getting offers from other companies. They believe that they have a good team, a good work environment and offer a competitive pay and benefit package. However, they are concerned that the job market in Silicon Valley is heating up. How do you keep your employees on-board when they start receiving offers from others?
Advice from the CEOs:
Make sure that your wage and benefit scale continues to be competitive. The Silicon Valley Index, published by Assets Unlimited in Campbell, is the best local survey covering Silicon Valley and the San Francisco technology market.
Survey after survey finds that compensation is basically a hygiene factor – it has to be good enough so that needs are satisfied, but it isn’t one of the more important factors in retention. The Gallup Organization has determined that respect, challenging responsibilities, and personal recognition are much more important factors in employee retention. Be sure that you are actively involving your key personnel as leaders in formulating and updating your processes, and that there are plenty of opportunities for recognition and celebration for your staff.
If you are generating a profit, share this with the employees as an incentive. This may well be better spent in fun and team-building activities like a weekend in Tahoe for a team, or supporting their creative needs by sponsoring their efforts in engineering design competitions. Whatever is appropriate for your company, involve your employees in setting company performance goals and give them a voice in determining how achievement should be rewarded. Making them part of the process builds better long-term loyalty.
On the sales side, establish a reward incentive structure for bringing in new business for the company to prompt field personnel to develop and exercise their business development skills.
Whatever you and your team decide, be sure that your choices support your overall strategic plan.
Situation: A company’s founders will be fully vested in their options by the end of the year. Also, the option pool for founders and employees has been exhausted. The CEO has spoken with the Board Chair and Compensation Committee about this in terms of fairness and incentives for future work to both founders and employees, while making it clear that the Founders are not unhappy. The Chair listened sympathetically and promised to get back to the CEO. Is there anything more that the CEO should do to negotiate new shares for founders and employees?
Advice from the CEOs:
Seek a letter of understanding from the Board that the founders and employees will have access to future stock incentives, and a timeline as to when this might occur – either in the near future or at the next financing round.
Wait a few weeks and have an informal follow-up conversation with the Chair about his current thinking. Ask whether he would like any further supporting information on the issue.
So far, your approach has been non-threatening. Keep it this way.
Maintain focus on fairness and your tone supportive of the best interests of the company.
Situation: A company wants to add outside members to its Board. They seek individuals with industry knowledge, experience and contacts, among other things – members who can provide high level introductions to potential clients or key players within these organizations. The team is struggling to develop a list of candidates. How do you recruit an outside Board member?
Advice from the CEOs:
Your best bet is to hire a firm with a good track record of Board placements.
Given your other priorities, it is unlikely that you can devote the time required to develop a list of candidates on your own. Ask yourself whether this is how you should be spending your time, and what the value of that time spent would be.
What level of business do your expect from the contacts that the new Board member will provide for you? Calculate a fee that you would be willing to pay a recruiter as a percentage of future business. A fee of $25,000 or more for a good member is not out of line.
Network with significant players in your industry, and also look at who is serving on their Boards.
Investigate LinkedIn Groups – Groups that focus on Board members. These can be helpful in learning who might be available and connecting with them through mutual acquaintances. In addition, firms that specialize in Board placement frequent these sites. Also look at LinkSV.com which is more focused on Silicon Valley.
Determine what you will offer as both liability protection and compensation for new Board members. At a minimum you want to have a good directors and officers insurance policy, as well as stock and cash compensation that is competitive for your industry and company size.
Current Top Executives may be too busy to meet your needs. Consider individuals with deep experience who are nearing retirement or recently retired.
Situation: A company has a high-powered Board of Directors. This Board is focused primarily on company strategy. The CEO wants to create a separate Advisory Board for technical and business development. How do you create and leverage an Advisory Board for technical and business development?
Advice from the CEOs:
Be clear on the role and compensation of the Advisory Board.
Create a clear set of expectations to initiate the process, and refine these expectations in early meetings of the Advisory Board.
Early stage companies often pay out of pocket expenses for attending Advisory Board meetings, plus stock options. When business development is the focus, you may want to add a percentage of any new business brought to the company by the member.
More mature companies may add a stipend for Advisory Board service.
Not all Advisory Board members may be compensated equally, particularly if members receive a percentage of business that they help to create. You may also choose to compensate members differently based on their experience and influence.
Choose Advisory Board members carefully.
Go beyond personal contacts of the CEO and company officers. Look for individuals who are known and respected within the industry. You also want individuals who have exceptional contacts and who will agree to use them to benefit you.
Look for individuals who are highly positioned within target companies – for example a VP of Operations or of Business Development. Also look for individuals who have excellent relationships with personnel in target companies
Be open and clear about your expectations of individual Advisory Board members. Celebrate success.
Establish metrics that the members are expected to fulfill.
Record commitments made by Advisory Board members and include updates against commitments as part of Advisory Board meetings, as well as updates against metrics that expected of members.
Celebrate successes of Advisory Board members and note individual and team contributions whenever the Advisory Board meets.
Situation: A company has done a number of things to build company morale. Participation is variable depending on the activity. The CEO wants to build a system to measure employee morale. What metrics do you use to measure changes in your culture over time?
Advice from the CEOs:
The Gallup Organization has focused on this issue perhaps more than any other organization in the world. They find that regularly conducting surveys allows you to measure and improve your culture over time. Their surveys focus on 12 questions that they have found most critical to employee morale within a company.
Do I know what is expected of me at work?
Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
Is there someone at work who is interested in and encourages my development?
At work, do my opinions seem to count?
Does the mission/purpose of my company inspire me make me feel that my job is important?
Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
Do I have a best friend or mentor at work?
In the last six months, has anyone at work given me a review or talked to me about my performance/progress?
This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
Notice that not one of these has to do with compensation or benefits. Rather they focus on employee perception of how they are managed, whether they have to do the tools to do their job, and feeling that others at work care about them.
Another measure to watch is employee retention – particularly of your best employees.
Situation: Two employees within a small company are shifting roles. One is shifting from Operations Manager, a higher level position, to an engineering role in charge of production, with no reports. The second has been promoted from Customer Service Supervisor to greater responsibilities for purchasing and production scheduling. How should the CEO adjust the titles and compensation of these individuals?
Advice from the CEOs:
The Operations Manger is really shifting to a staff engineer position. Consider the title Senior Engineer or Senior Staff Engineer if the individual is comfortable with this. It conveys respect for prior experience while delineating this individual’s preferred responsibility. You may want to make adjustments to compensation over time by holding back on salary raises rather than by cutting salary right now.
The Customer Service Supervisor is moving into new responsibilities, and this may take time. In a sense this is a lateral move with potential for growth. Consider retaining the title of supervisor until this individual has demonstrated ability to perform these new duties. Salary adjustments and raises can be added as the individual grows in responsibility.
There is no problem having multiple titles and business cards. Many small companies do this. You can give the second person two titles: Customer Service Supervisor and Production Supervisor. This enables you to elevate this individual to manager of one or both areas as ability is demonstrated to take on additional responsibility and accountability.
Because both employees will be working in production, albeit in different capacities, monitor the situation closely to assure that conflicts don’t develop.
Interview with Trevor Shanski, Founder, eWORDofMOUTH, Inc.
Situation: A company with a new lead generation solution is ahead of the curve for their market segment, and ready to transition from a product development focus to a full-scale business development focus. This means developing new capabilities on a limited budget. How have you made the transition from product development to business development?
Advice from Trevor Shanski:
The reality of early stage companies is that they live on scarce resources. Founders and early executives have to be able to work for lean base salaries during the learning curve. They will be individuals who have selective characteristics.
They will be able to accept conservative salaries near-term, as well as during financial bumps in the road. Their focus will be growing the company’s value and their incentive will be having a material stake in the company.
They will have limited outside demands on their time and attention so that they can work long hours.
They will appreciate the challenge of heavily performance-based compensation, with the potential to win big if they can deliver.
They will have a network of connections and relationships upon whom they can call to gain early business traction.
Characteristics for successful early stage executives include the ability to work intimately with the founding team. Early stage companies are idea and capability incubators where things change quickly. Players must be able to get the job done with little support.
It is critical to have a clearly defined set of expectations for the first few months as you bring on new executives. Early foci will include:
Immersion in understanding the product capability and possibilities.
Sitting down with a white board and openly looking at fresh thoughts for how the market should be approached. Founders frequently suffer from tunnel vision after a long period of development and need a fresh outside perspective on the market and messaging. What partnerships could accelerate market development? What knowledgeable experts should be leveraged to build awareness? What potential is out there that the founders are not seeing?
After these factors are defined, the next step is to develop an action plan and milestones to guide plan execution, plus a budget and alternatives under different resource scenarios.
Once the plan is in place, the focus will be to gain early feedback on the company’s product and capabilities, and then iterate quickly to find the right message to target significant segments of the market.
The focus of early stage companies has to be on quickly developing plans, and then executing.