Tag Archives: Decision

What Impact Will Rising Interest Rates Have on Business?

Situation: A CEO notes that the national debt has nearly doubled over the last 8 years and the Fed is talking about raising interest rates. It’s not clear what impact the debt, or rising interest rates will have. Has this impacted your business and how are you coping? What impact will rising interest rates have on business?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Impact on business and customers.
    • The prospect of either rising interest rates or taxes increases uncertainty – customers are taking longer to make purchase, expansion and other decisions.
    • Companies are not spending the cash that they have out of concern over possible future expenses or the possibility of a downturn. Large companies have trillions of dollars of cash on hand. Some of this is held off-shore because of the tax consequences of repatriating the funds.
    • Lack of consumer demand holds back investment in production expansion.
    • Feeling of loss of control.
    • More concentration of wealth in fewer hands.
  • Other impacts
    • More people, old and young, are opting out of the business economy.
  • What are you doing to cope?
    • More involved in collections to keep this under control.
    • Delayed payments from big customers are part of the problem – conservative financial management.
    • Manage liquidity and cash – cash is king!
    • Adjust lifestyle and delay purchases – for example buy smaller cars.
    • Scrutinize contract terms – especially AR.
    • Scrutinize our business model. For example look at subscription models or Great Game of Business models.
    • Utilize those who are normally unemployable but trainable for repetitive task jobs. They work hard and produce good work.

Do you Merge, Sell or Keep the Company? Nine Factors

Situation: A company has been approached by an international firm with an existing West Coast presence that is interested in expanding its US operations. A Letter of Intent is in place but will expire in weeks. The LOI is of interest because the company has cash flow challenges. The CEO seeks advice on whether and how to proceed with a sale or merger, or whether to continue as an independent entity. Do you merge, sell or keep the company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a personal decision. Do you want to be your own boss or to become an employee? It really is a question of what you want.
  • If you are burned out, there are advantages to having a boss, at least in the short term. However, 2 to 3 years out you may tire of this.
  • While cash may be tight, you can address this with other measures.
    • Can you save money by reducing office staff (hours or people) short-term until your cash flow improves?
    • Talk to private investors – offer up to 9% interest on a note. The company is a going concern and therefore likely to be able to pay off the note. You may be able to negotiate a note at a favorable rate.
    • Negotiate a 5 year note, with interest only payments for the first 3 years; sweeten the deal with an offer that if you get new business worth $X during the period of the note, you pay them Y% of upside.
    • You have revenue-producing business and receivables. Factor your receivables to raise the cash that you need. Adjust your prices to cover the cost of the factoring discount.
    • If you have the margins, or can increase prices to produce the margin, offer discounts for early payment of accounts receivable.
  • If you decide to sell, avoid a contract that takes away your flexibility to maximize your future payouts.
  • Can you be confident that the buying firm will survive until your payouts are completed?

How Do You Delegate Yet Stay Informed? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A CEO wants to push project ownership down to lower levels of the company. This is not happening unless the CEO pushes. How do you delegate yet stay informed as you push authority down the organization chart?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The company needs systems and guidelines to clarify on what and when the CEO wants to either have input or hear back, and what can happen without the CEO’s knowledge.
    • Set levels of approval – dollar impact or decision type – and clarify what decisions can made at what level, what decisions need higher level approval and at what level, where they must inform you, and where you must sign off.
    • Similarly, establish regular reporting and meeting schedules, along with guidelines as to what is to be reported – again by budgetary impact or decision type – and assure that this reporting takes place.
  • “The Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack describes a company which has implemented these systems with astounding results. It provides a template and describes in detail how the system is implemented and what bumps they encountered along the way.
  • Invest more time in setting roles and responsibilities for your direct reports.
  • Keep reporting systems aligned across the company.
  • Expect over time to adjust levels of authority as individuals grow in responsibility and accountability.
  • Most importantly, lead by example. If a team member comes to the CEO for guidance on a project, refer them back to the proper manager for advice.
  • 2015 Top ranked software systems to manage projects and processes from selected searches:
    • Capterra: Microsoft Project, Basecamp, Atlassian, Wrike, Podio
    • Insider.com: Smartsheet, Mavenlink, Wrike, Posoda, Metier
    • PC Magazine: Zoho Projects, Teamwork Projects, LiquidPlanner, Workfront, Wrike

When Are You Dominant and When Do You Facilitate? Three Keys

Situation: For a CEO to lead effectively, she or he needs to be able use both dominant and facilitative modalities of leadership. James Church, in Navigating the Growth Curve, ties the use of each mode to the growth stage of the company. A CEO asks whether the use of each modality is purely a question of growth stage, or whether there are situational guidelines for the use of each modality. When are you dominant and when do you facilitate?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The Dominant Mode is appropriate when there is an immediate situation with a clear desired outcome; whereas the Facilitative Mode is appropriate when fixing a broken system that produces issues, or to increase team communication and contribution. As examples:
    • The Dominant Mode is appropriate when there is an immediate issue to be resolved, with clear legal implications and a clear response based on established policy.
    • The Facilitative Mode is appropriate when you want to develop and institute policies and procedures to handle issues ahead of time, or to establish guidelines for action. In these cases you want both input from the team as well as buy-in to institute the resulting decisions.
  • Strategic Planning shifts from Dominant to Facilitative Mode as the organization grows and becomes more complex. Early on, strategy needs to come with a single, decisive voice. In larger companies strategy becomes a group exercise because there are many moving parts and teams.
  • Another way to think about this is that Dominant is appropriate when “the buck stops here,” and will shift from CEO to managers for specific decisions when you reach a stage where the managers are now dominant. Facilitative becomes appropriate when managers and employees – those below the level of company or division leader – need to make the decision instead of the leader.

How Do You Manage Multiple Products and Segments? Five Ideas

Situation: A company was launched on a single product with variations. Their R&D team has now developed several additional products which they are planning to launch. This will involve new product names and new customer segments. Having not done this before, the CEO seeks advice on managing multiple products, brands and market segments. How do you manage multiple products and segments?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The most important element is the plan – write it carefully and build from a solid base.
  • When working with multiple products or market segments, match your segment strategy for each segment to your product strategy for that segment.
    • Build a grid that shows all products and all segments where you wish to sell them. In each cell, determine both the decision maker(s) and their top purchasing priorities. This will help you to build your Product/Segment strategy and optimize resource allocation while increasing sales and marketing effectiveness.
    • It may also help you to fire problem customers who cost you money and attention and reallocate these resources to more promising opportunities.
  • Analyze the customer’s decision-making process for each product and segment. Make sure that your marketing and sales effort makes sense within their decision process and focus on what is workable.
  • When introducing a new product or idea, focus first on smaller segments and test the fit of your product or idea. This is low risk if you fail, and you can leverage what you have learned if you win.
  • Build a one-page strategic plan that covers your full company strategy. Each department compliments the company strategy with its own departmental strategy to support the company strategy.

Special thanks to John Maver of Maver Management Group for his contribution to this discussion.

How Do You Sell in an Uncertain Environment? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company’s customer base is experiencing market softness and uncertainty. Customers are tightening budgets and delaying purchase decisions. How do you boost sales in an uncertain environment?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Offer incentives to prompt customers to buy now instead of waiting. Two potential options:
    • A limited time discount – Sign by <date> and save X%.
    • Pre-announce a price increase. Follow this with a promotion – buy now, before the price increase.
  • If you are selling a service, package your service options in smaller chunks while pricing them so as not to erode your margins.
  • Consider 30 day trials for $X, or discounted pricing for large or committed long term purchase contracts.
  • Examine your sales process. Are your sales people speaking to the right people? Try to move the sales process up a level if this gets you to the decision maker.
  • If some of your sales people are significantly outperforming others, give them incentives to share their sales techniques with other members of the sales team.
  • If the issue is sales productivity, leverage someone else’s sales team through a partnership. The partner incurs the sales cost while you focus on implementation.
    • Look for opportunities where a partner can sell your product on top of theirs to boost value of the overall offering and increase their own top line.

Do Balanced Scorecards Aid Decision-Making? Three Factors

Situation: A company is investigating Balanced Scorecards as a management tool.  They want to get the perspective of others who have used Balanced Scorecards on how these are used and where they are effective and ineffective. Do Balanced Scorecards aid decision-making?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • To make good decisions in times of uncertainty one needs readily available up-to-date information on the key drivers of the business. Balanced Scorecards answer four important questions:
    • How does the customer view us? (Customer metrics)
    • At what must we excel? (Key Performance Indicators and Internal Business Processes)
    • How do we continue to improve and create value? (Learning/Growth & HR metrics)
    • How do we look to our investors? (Financial metrics)
  • To effectively use Balanced Scorecards employees must be empowered to make necessary changes, and there must be an effective system for prioritizing efforts – so that when a company has multiple opportunities they can decide what to do first, second, and so on.
  • Empowering people to make a necessary change
    • To improve project estimating systems, identify those who are best at estimating project timelines and costs. Have them develop a template of their process, focusing on how they complete projects on schedule. Implement this template across your estimating function.
    • To improve project on-time completion, shift the development focus to calendar and, if necessary, narrow specs to hit the deadlines.
    • To focus scope of work issues, decide test procedures up-front then work on deliverables that will determine whether requirements have been met. From this, develop project assumptions and budgets. Create a template that focuses on internal best practices and clones these for other projects.
  • Queuing Systems & Priorities
    • Define the vision of success. Then drill down to what’s most important. Look at impact of different options on the organization and performance. Finally, force this issue – if we can only do three projects what will they be?

How Do You Communicate Benefits Changes Following an Acquisition? Four Thoughts

Situation:  A company was recently acquired. The acquirer wants to merge benefit structures between the two entities. Both contribute a similar amount toward benefits; however the distribution of benefits between retirement and health plans, and other benefits varies considerably. How do you approach the staff to communicate changes in benefits following an acquisition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Ideally, you want to gather employee input on what benefits are important to them before the overall package is finalized. This will help you to negotiate in your employees’ interest.
  • Make sure that the acquiring entity is aware of state regulatory requirements that may force them to retain state-specific benefits.
  • National companies often employ a cafeteria benefit strategy that allows the employees to make choices among benefit options, and fund these choices either at a company-paid base level or allow employees to supplement their choices through pre- or post-tax payroll deductions. There are numerous providers who offer cafeteria plans.
  • What’s the best way to have a conversation with employees once the new benefit package has been finalized?
    • Emphasize that the company is offering and funding this benefit and specify the amount that the company is funding as a percent of salary.
    • Create a grid mapping the full program:
      • Amount of company contribution
      • Old Program and benefits
      • New Program and benefits
      • Changes in allocation and changes in the total value of benefits offered.
    • If you have access to industry or regional comparisons for like-sized companies, and those comparisons put your company in a favorable light, share these as part of the communications package.
    • If you know that a highly valued benefit is being reduced, consider a short-term subsidy to ease the shift.
    • Be sure that you are clear and concise in your communications of the new plan and changes to the employees. You may want to have an outside consultant on hand to cover specific questions.
    • Be sure that any decisions your employees must make in the new program are fully and clearly explained.

How Do You Evaluate Strategic Options? Three Suggestions

Situation: A company has developed and shipped equipment that puts it into a new market. They can continue to pursue this direction or make a significant shift that will open up a larger opportunity. What are the most important considerations to this decision?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are a number of points that you need to clarify before making this decision:
    • What is the magnitude of difference between the two opportunities?
    • How much of a shift in technology is required to make the jump to the larger segment?
    • How much of the expertise to make this shift do you have in-house, and how much must you bring in, acquire or develop through partnerships?
    • What is your most likely exit strategy and how will each opportunity impact it?
  • Are you being realistic in your ability to meet development timelines?
    • If you don’t have deep expertise in the area that you want to develop, the answer is most likely yes. If you do you can often beat your initial estimates.
    • If the shift includes both there is risk that you will underestimate the time required to develop both the prototype and to turn the prototype into production quality technology.
  • If your ultimate objective is to sell the company, be aware that selling any company can be tricky, and you may not be able to sell the company for the value that you need to support yourself after the sale.
    • Study other companies in your geography and market, and determine both the price that they received for their companies and how they positioned their companies for sale.
    • As an alternative to selling, consider hiring a general manager to run the company. This can free you to concentrate on your passion and also increase the value of the company if you decide to sell at a future date.

Key Words: Strategy, Technology, Equipment, Market, Decision, Opportunity, Expertise, Timeline, Exit, Value, Sale, Positioning, Manager