Situation: Edgar Allen Poe’s “Surviving the Maelström,” is a tale is of three brothers whose fishing boat is caught in a monstrous whirlpool, and how the reaction of each brother determines his fate. Similarly, in times of uncertainty, our ability to react with either panic or a rational, reasoned response determines our fate. How do you survive a maelström?
Advice of the CEOs:
Based on Poe’s story, you need to replace fear with assurance, uncertainty with boldness, and doubt with conviction.
There are several potential financial bubbles forming including student loans and negative interest rate loans to sovereign governments. Both, in their own way, pose a threat to the international and domestic financial systems and could rapidly impact borrowing costs for companies. The solutions are to stay in ongoing contact with customers, and to stay light and flexible as companies so that you can adapt to market changes.
For Internet companies, the shift to Freemium offerings (a base product for free with pay as you go functional add-ons) makes it more difficult to design viable business models, and means new competition for established companies in low capital cost businesses. Again, a solution is to stay in ongoing contact with customers, constantly reinforcing your value proposition and the reality of switching costs.
Creative Destruction – particularly the emergence of new companies that threaten large customers and can change the value perception of suppliers’ core competencies. Solutions include ongoing communication with customers seeing what they see as “the next big thing,” focusing on continually improving our own core competencies, and possibly teaming with the more promising emerging companies.
The illusion that advertising will pay for everything – in reality, advertising dollars are a scarce resource like all other resources. Solutions include testing our own value-adds as an ongoing process, and creating fast-fail models to cost-effectively test our own promotions.
Definitions of value and productivity are no longer stable; all depends on the method of measurement. A solution is to remain aware of the innovator’s dilemma and to continually renew our value propositions.
A workforce in flux where young people don’t want to work for what they perceive as “old line” companies, as well as early-retiring baby boomers who may learn in 3-5 years that they can’t afford retirement. Solutions include focusing on employee engagement, building more flexible and “liberating” business models, and teaming younger with more experienced workers to cross-train each other.
Situation: Much of a company’s work is non-standard. Each customer’s solution is individualized. Finding the best solution in each case frequently requires a stretch. The CEO’s approach is to simplify the problem to its essential components and from this develop a unique solution. However, several of the staff responsible for developing solutions shy from this approach when confronted with a new challenge. How do you create a bias for action?
Advice from the CEOs:
Company culture is defined by the CEO. In this case you wish to establish a culture of innovation. This might be defined by the phrase “we don’t do simple things.” This means that you need innovators or creative people in the problem solving positions.
Consider breaking the roles apart. You need experienced and balanced but creative people to develop the unique solutions. People like yourself. On the other hand, you need methodical, reliable people to put the solutions into effect. These two roles usually require teams of different personalities. They don’t conflict, but are different.
Look at Landmark Worldwide as a resource for your staff. Landmark specializes in teaching people to expand their horizons. This doesn’t mean changing who they are, but facilitating their ability to team with others with different but complimentary talents to achieve original and effective results.
To help the team understand what you want to accomplish, bring in an organizational development consultant to help communicate your vision and assist with culture transformation.
It is important to recognize that these individuals are likely as uncomfortable with this situation as you are. This realization helps to craft a win-win solution that will strengthen the company.
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.
Situation: A company recently set up an operation in Shanghai. An immediate shock has been that that the Chinese engineers have not been able to solve problems creatively. To date their solutions are limited to following an outline provided by the home office. How does the company address this? How do you get a Shanghai office up to speed?
Advice from the CEOs:
Current Chinese culture is to do what you’re told, and not to vary from the direction given by those to whom you report. However, these are smart people. Given time and training they will get through this. Can you be patient enough to allow this to occur?
The most important role in your Shanghai location is a trusted, competent Chinese General Manager. This individual can get you where you want to be the fastest. It is also the hardest position to fill in China.
One option is to investigate connections through the SCEA – Silicon Valley Chinese Engineers Association. Many SCEA members are Chinese who have been educated in the US but want to return to China. You may find good candidates here.
The best candidates have bi-cultural exposure – they understand Chinese culture, but also understand US standards, expectations and operations.
Be sure to check US references of any candidates who are currently in the US.
Early operations and adaptations are the most difficult. Talk to people in Shanghai who have solved this problem.
Develop a separate project selection / development methodology for projects you want to transfer to China. This will change as the Chinese employees begin to approach US standards.
As you hire new Chinese employees, look for individuals who play and write music. They are naturally more creative. Microsoft has used this approach successfully in China.
Situation: We have built a good online community. Between our site and newsletter, we are in contact with tens of thousands of executives weekly. We constantly seek new ways to encourage active participation in our discussions. What have you done to effectively build regular participation in meaningful discussions?
Know your audience and focus on topics that engage people. For example, we do a semi-annual compensation survey and get a great response when we publish the results.
We often learn more from mistakes than we do from success. Also, people love to talk about business blunders, particularly if the discussions include some well-intentioned humor.
Reach out to individuals with interesting backgrounds, experience and situations. Encourage them to post, or feature them in a discussion.
We send out weekly emails with titles and synopses of articles posted in the last week. This enables newsletter recipients to quickly scan topics and click on those of interest.
A common challenge is filtering posts which are trivial, self-promoting and lack relevance to the focus of the site.
The bottom line is that there is no magic bullet. Social networking sites are rapidly evolving so you must continually seek creative additions. This takes time, work and investment.
Now it’s your turn. What has drawn you to a social networking site? What have you done to effectively build regular participation in meaningful discussions?