Tag Archives: Culture

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 Set Up an Office in China? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company has an opportunity to build an office in China. Their principal objective is to reduce their cost of providing services. A partner company has offered them space in its existing office in China. What is your experience working with Chinese culture? How do you set up an office in China?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Hire someone in your US office with an engineering background who is fluent both in Mandarin and in the subtleties of Chinese language and culture. Fluency in Chinese language and culture is particularly critical when you are dealing with difficult process issues.
    • Investigate local organizations such as the Silicon Valley Chinese Engineers Association. Through these organizations you may find candidates for this role who are also excellent engineers and additions to your team.
  • Employee loyalty issues in China will be more challenging than in the US. Chinese employees want to build their resumes as quickly as possible and perceive that job-hopping will facilitate this, just as was the case during the dot.com boom in Silicon Valley.
  • Offer a significant carrot to Chinese employees – after X years of work for us in China, you get Y months of work, at our expense, in our US office. This is a much sought-after experience for Chinese employees.
    • Be prepared to deal with departure soon after return to China, or employees declining to return to China at the end of their US stint.
  • Build a stronger process documentation system than you need in the US to assure both that work is done to your standards, and so that you can easily replace talent lost to turnover.
  • Have a recruiting program based in China to fill your personnel needs.
  • You will experience a culture clash when it comes to the value placed on equity and in understanding the meaning of a contract. For China in its current state of development, neither term is well-established by US standards.
  • Time tracking is not clean cut in China and vacation time needs differ. An example is the month of February for Chinese New Year.

How Do You Manage Internet Use by Employees? Six Suggestions

Situation: A CEO notes that the company’s employees surf the Internet during work – some excessively so. The CEO has visited other companies and noted very different behavior around surfing. Does your company monitor or manage employee Internet use? How do you manage Internet use by employees?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The first question to ask is whether your company culture allows or does not allow surfing during work.
    • Do you want it to or not?
    • Based on your desires for the company’s culture, set a policy that works for you.
    • If you want to more tightly control surfing, look at Surf Control software which allows you to create surfing rules, and allocate time allowed to surf.
  • Create and communicate your policy. It’s OK to let employees know that you’re not comfortable with what you’ve observed and that it’s time to set boundaries.
  • Act quickly, keep the message positive – for now – but make clear the consequences of inappropriate behavior in the future.
  • Don’t create double standards. Furthermore, a free-for-all atmosphere is corrosive.
  • Once you set your policy, if it is necessary to deal with a chronic and unresponsive offender, let everyone know what action you’ve taken and why.
  • Different companies around the table have created varying policies consistent with their cultures.
    • Company 1: Surfing during breaks and lunch is OK, as long as sites are appropriate.
    • Company 2: Surfing is OK – on your time and with our equipment – as long as you ask.
    • Company 3: As long as you are productive, we don’t monitor your surfing. Caveat: it is important to define and measure what is meant by “productive.”

How Do You Bring in a General Manager? Four Recommendations

Situation: A CEO has hired an individual who is currently working on projects for the company. The CEO likes this person and anticipates that he could eventually become General Manager. There have been a few rough spots but, overall, objectives are being met. How do you bring in a new General Manager?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Transition the individual from their current responsibilities to GM in small steps. This will allow him to develop relationships and credibility with the rest of the team. These relationships and credibility are what he will need in the more senior position.
  • Coach the individual about any behaviors that you may observe, or which may be reported to you by others within the company, which are contrary to your culture. Understand, from the new individual’s perspective, what motivates these behaviors. Encourage the individual to develop alternative behaviors that are more consistent with your culture. Be open to the possibility that some of the behavior may be addressing flaws in the current culture.
  • Maintain open communication with your key managers who will be impacted as the new individual gains responsibility. As the individual gains authority within the organization, be clear that you support your new manager.
  • Your current culture is always in flux, and will continue to change as you bring in the new GM. This will create natural resistance as people adapt to the new situation. Be patient and stick with the plan. When others complain be honest and up-front that you support the new manager, and that everyone will have to adapt.

How Do You Merge Two Firms Under One Umbrella? Five Points

Situation: A company has been approached by a customer with a proposal that the two companies combine. The customer believes that the combined companies will represent a greater market presence than either presents alone. This may make it easier for the combined entity to gain business from larger customers. How do you merge two firms under one umbrella?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • For a company to merge with a customer is a tricky process, assuming that the company has more than one customer. The merger places the company in competition with its other customers who may respond by seeking alternate providers. If this happens it will create a short term hit to revenue. This possibility has to be modeled into merger financial forecasts.
  • Different companies have different cultures. This fact is often ignored in merger discussions because culture is difficult to quantify or measure objectively. However if you ask those who have been through mergers, culture conflict between merging entities is most often the reason for their failure.
  • It may make more sense for the company to focus on ongoing sales to the customer than to entertain a combination that would result in the current owners losing control. In declining the proposal, it is important to emphasize your interest in maintaining a healthy ongoing relationship with the customer.
  • If the customer offers terms that are appealing, an alternative to a merger is a limited scope joint venture as a trial project to test the viability of collaboration.
  • Establish with your co-owners a price at which you are willing to give up control. This will help you to refuse offers that are below this price.

How Do You Manage in Crisis Situations? Four Foci

Situation: From time to time companies face crisis situations. A company, planning ahead, wants to establish a culture that can deal with crises effectively. What are the most important elements that should be part of this culture?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Everything starts with a brutally honest SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) of your company and operations. Identify where you are Strong, where you are Viable, where Urgent Care is Necessary, and where you have No Reason to Be. Based on this assessment, cut your losses – for example, eliminate exposure to the No Reason to Be activities and efforts – and focus resources on your strengths and what is necessary to assure your future.
  • Support all efforts or activities that you will keep or pursue with a Bottoms-Up Financial Analysis. This will include a P&L, Balance Sheet, Cash Flow Analysis, assumptions, variables, and best, most likely and worst case scenarios. This Financial Analysis is an essential part of facing up to the Brutal Facts of your business and environment. From this exercise you will gain clarity on where to focus first.
  • The greater the potential crisis, the more frequent this exercise must be.
  • When dealing with creditors, remember their priorities: honesty, eventual payment, fair treatment and long-term customers. Present them with a credible plan, don’t make commitments you can’t keep, keep all commitments that you make, keep in touch monthly, and pay what you can. The development of trust makes it possible to negotiate incredible terms.

Special thanks to Tom Spanier of Spanier & Associates for his contribution to this discussion.

How Do You Focus Managers on Process? Five Factors

Situation: A company has goals and objectives in place for the whole company. The challenge is that they need to focus top managers on effective processes and not just on their team’s objectives. In particular they want to increase focus on cross-functional processes. How do you focus managers on process?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start by identifying all critical processes. Once this is done, build an in-house system to track these.
    • Make contingency decisions dependent upon sticking with the processes.
    • Consistent follow-through is essential – talk through the blocks as they arise.
    • Don’t become a slave to your own system. Stay flexible and allow appropriate non-prescriptive behavior/solutions where it makes sense. This helps to feed creativity in the organization.
  • Be an advocate/cheerleader for the new culture. Employees need ongoing encouragement as they shift focus to the new regime.
  • Build an underlying culture to support your processes. This takes time and persistence.
  • If you are growing, as you hire new people, select new employees who fit the new culture. This helps to create lead models for the rest of the group.
  • By definition, growth means increasing infrastructure, which in turn means more restrictions and rules. Keep it fun. For example, create a wine penalty for missing deadlines.
    • If you’re late on your deliverable you have to contribute a good bottle of wine, with your name and the month that you were late on a tag attached to the bottle.
    • Contributed bottles of wine are shared at the company Christmas or holiday party.

How Do You Manage Change? Four Perspectives

A company is experiencing change in both organizational complexity and culture as it grows. Employees feel that the company doesn’t have the same team atmosphere that it had when it was smaller. How do you manage change associated with growth and new opportunities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Change is an inevitable part of growth. Employees need to understand this simple fact. Change is tied to: age and stage of growth, changes in leadership, performance challenges, changes in customers and competition, and changes in the working environment. For example, the simple addition of Millennials to the employee pool will change the nature of a company.
  • What else do we know about change? That it is: an opportunity, filled with uncertainty, complex and disruptive.
  • Typical responses to change from staff are: denial, resistance, anger, fear, confusion, being divided about the impact of change, and chaos. It is important to understand this and to communicate to employees that their reactions are normal. They will also get over these reactions as they adapt to new conditions.
  • Denison Consulting has developed a model that represents four factors – Mission, Consistency, Involvement and Adaptability – with measures under each factor. The model provides a visual representation of how the organization currently measures up in each of the twelve factors, and provides a clear and understandable map of where the organization needs to focus to make the changes required to survive and thrive.
  • Special thanks to Paul Wright of Denison Consulting for his input to this discussion.

What’s the Best Way to Develop a Partnership? Four Factors

Situation: A company has been approached by another company with complimentary technology concerning a partnership. The other company is young and rapidly growing, though at this time they are much smaller. The two companies are already collaborating on a project. There have been hints that this could develop into a merger. Under these circumstances, what’s the best way to develop a partnership?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • It’s always best to date and get to know the other party before exploring a deeper relationship. You are already collaborating with this company, so just continue on this path as you get to know them. See how the relationship and value of the partnership develops before exploring options that could result in loss of ownership and control.
  • Partnerships and moves beyond partnership are really about culture and values. Cultural fit is a huge question that is too often ignored when companies discuss partnerships and mergers. This requires more investigation than you’ve done to date. Wait until real challenges develop, and see how the two companies respond. Do they collaborate effectively to develop a solution or does the relationship become contentious. This will tell you whether a deeper relationship is worth exploring.
  • To be successful, relationships have to offer a win-win value that surpasses the cost of collaboration. There is always a cost to collaborating with another company if only in time and effort put into the relationship. Find a way to measure this cost so that you can compare it to the value received. The other company should be doing the same.
  • If you could buy the other company right now would you?
    • If you can’t tell the value of the company based on the information that you have, why would you consider a deeper relationship at this time?

How Do You Eliminate a Them-Us Cultural Divide? Six Thoughts

Situation: A company acquired an office in a new geography at no cost – just a commitment to keep the office going. The immediate challenge is transferring the previous owner’s client base to the new owner’s service. The people in the distant location are OK, but it will take coaching for them to deliver the new owner’s level of service. However, these people are proud and resistant to change. How do you eliminate a them-us cultural divide?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Involve the person who facilitated the acquisition in the integration process. Get his opinion of what is needed.
  • Your prime commitment is to the client base and past practices that built the client base. Maintain or surpass this level of service.  As long as the team meets this level of performance, they are serving your objectives.
    • You and the key manager of the newly acquired office should meet with their most important clients. Help the manager convert those clients for you.
  • Your other implied commitment is to the manager and employees that you inherited through this deal. Educate them on your approach – “we will do all that we can to create success for our clients.” Connect with the manager, understand how this person serves clients, and coach the individual.
  • Be fair – the fairest method of managing is a meritocracy.
  • Manage by results, not process – if the core values between the two sites are similar, allow for cultural differences in local practice.
  • If all this doesn’t work and you want for “them” to become “us” you will have to have someone from the home office move to the distant office and manage it.