Situation: A CEO and his COO find it difficult to focus on core tasks when business is booming and everyone is busy. The company is small but has been very successful. However, the pressure of simultaneously attending to key customer relationships, training new people, and formulating plans is overwhelming. How do you stay focused when it’s busy?
from the CEOs:
If the CEO and COO are doing a mix of corporate and project tasks, the first step is to delegate so that top staff focus on strategic areas rather than execution.
Over the next week, keep a record of what the CEO and COO are doing. At the end of the week sit down and determine which activities were corporate activities, and which should have been delegated to staff.
As an example, training of new personnel should be a key role of someone else. The CEO and COO will be involved, but only tangentially. The bulk of onboarding should be handled by staff.
Similarly,restrict sales activity of the CEO and COO to high level discussions and decisions.The rest should be handled by sales staff.
What must the CEO and COO be involved in? Intellectual property development, high level decisions about new service offerings, high level decisions on business expansion opportunities, and occasional oversight of company operations.
It is important to focus. The first priority should be the company’s principle revenue stream.
The second priority should be new service offerings which are central to efficient delivery of the primary revenue stream.
Meet with top staff and develop a five-year vision. The order of priorities that are developed will determine where to focus.
In the process of developing priorities, ask the following questions:
What do you love and what do you need to love?
Analyze the comparative importance and urgency of each activity of the CEO and COO. Which require top level input, and how much? Which are better delegated to staff?
Situation: The Founding CEO of a professional services company has always been deeply involved as a service provider and rainmaker in addition to his role as CEO. As the company has grown he sees the need to spend more time as leader of the company instead of being a doer. What can be done to facilitate this transition, and what expectations need to be created? How do you transition from doer to leader?
Advice from the CEOs:
Another CEO removed himself from day to day business development activity by bringing in a new rainmaker. These were the adjustments made to facilitate the process.
During the first year he worked with the new individual in a team or partnership role.
Compensation was results-based. Discussion of equity consideration was deferred until the individual proved herself.
The CEO moved himself out of the individual contributor role except as needed to support the new rainmaker’s efforts.
All of this was accompanied with clear communication to clients: “this adjustment will provide better service to you; here’s my number if you need help.”
Rainmakers are a different personality type. To be most effective, they must be able to say “my team.” Allowing this will ease the transition and improve the relationship.
Create teams to deliver solutions that have traditionally been provided by the founder.
Identify skill sets behind the roles that are being delegated.
Build an organization that will fill these roles.
Participate in team meetings, but as an advisor rather than as principal decision-maker.
Adapt role and behavior in phases to ease the pressure of the change on both the CEO and the team.
How does the CEO manage his own expectations as well as those of the company as he makes this transition?
Delegation initially takes more time and effort than doing the work yourself. Be patient and let the investment pay off.
Larry E. Greiner of USC was an expert on the study of organizational crisis in growth. Per Greiner’s model, the company is currently at stage one – moving from principal and founder to initial delegator. It may be a useful to study this model.
Situation: A tech company has grown to twenty people. The CEO is concerned that if they grow much beyond this their culture will start to change. The principal question is whether team leadership structure will remain tight and focused, while teams will continue to be flexible and have fun. How do you manage culture as you grow?
Advice from the CEOs:
Other companies have grown to twice this size and continue to increase their number of employees.
One uses component owners as leads, with people under them. Leads are more technical than managers and aren’t expected to be superb managers.
They grow middle managers organically instead of hiring from outside.
If an individual’s plate is full, give them the ability to delegate work to an up and comer.
Active communication has number limits.
The optimal functioning group is 7-12; higher functioning teams are even smaller with 7-8 members.
Create flexible teams that maintain communication pathways and culture.
Consider using reconfigurable space.
When one company grew from 25 to 60, they noticed that at 30 people it became difficult to track people; they needed to develop systems and internal management tools.
Much more attention was needed on sales forecasting and expense elasticity. The solution was to study peaks and valleys and built a model that could function within historic peak /valley limits.
How do you maintain the contractor pool?
Keep a list and actively communicate with them about current and anticipated needs.
One company’s rule: consultants are 100% billable – functionally they are only able to realize 98%, but the rule keeps this number high.
Use contractor pools to supplement project tasks. If your primary differentiating focus is on successfully closing projects, focus contractors on ramping new projects.
Hire people who embody you and your culture. Hire in your own image.
Situation: A software company relies on in-house expertise to both position itself and come up with unique solutions to clients’ problems. The CEO wants to significantly scale up the number of clients served per year. The challenge is that it is difficult to find software engineers who are experienced in a wide range of code languages. How do you scale with scarce talent?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start by looking at the load carried by your current employees. Do they have the capacity to significantly increase the number of clients that they serve? Do you have sufficient back-up to serve existing and new clients should something happen to a key employee? It’s one thing to have ambition to expand, but another to assure that you have the capacity to serve both existing and new clients.
Take a close look at your org chart.
What happens and where are the exposures when you double the current service volume? Where will the greatest stresses occur? These are the first areas in which you should start to build redundancy.
From an HR standpoint, you need a leadership development plan that extends down your organization chart. Use the stress analysis just mentioned to identify the areas in greatest need of additional resources and leadership development.
Look for areas where you can off-load current responsibilities to support staff to increase the capacity of your current talent. This increases potential capacity as well as the overall value of the company.
The lack of redundancy may prove to be detrimental to your ability to attract new large clients. Large potential clients and partners will use whatever means they have at their disposal (including stealth visits to your offices by local reps) to vet your organization before they make a commitment to you.
New client and partner relationships are like new product introductions.
A few early adopters will jump on your opportunity.
Many of the most established clients or partners will sit on the sideline to monitor the experience of early adopters.
If you trip in your service delivery early in your scale-up, most of the remaining targets will be slow to support your offering.
Count on the first two years of building additional clientele to be very intensive. It will distract you from many of the functions you perform today, unless you have additional personnel to support this.
Situation: A CEO feels like he is on a roller coaster ride with unpredictable revenue and processes month to month. His ideal outcome will be to be able to go on vacation for 4-6 weeks, and have the business running better when he returns than when he left. Have you managed to achieve this? How do you create consistency in a business?
Advice from the CEOs:
Make your managers live up to their titles.
Insist that they go to each other to solve problems first, instead of always asking you.
When they ask a question, answer how to solve it – but don’t give them the solution.
Require them to present solutions rather than problems.
Be willing to spend money on their solutions.
Answer all questions with questions.
Ask them for their recommendation.
Keep asking until they come up with the answer.
You should not be doing jobs or tasks that are really your employees’ responsibilities.
When you start to delegate, it hurts for a while but it will work itself out.
What has been the impact on other companies when they’ve made these changes?
Businesses have become more diversified.
CEOs are focused strategically vs. tactically.
Businesses are more successful and profitable.
CEOs enjoy coming to work again.
How do you work with younger workers, millennials?
Allow flexibility – where appropriate – on hours and how they do their jobs.
Responsibility will vary by pay level – with the understanding that higher pay equals more responsibility and most likely longer hours.
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.
Situation: A company has had one primary focus for the last few years. They are now developing another capability which takes significant attention from the CEO. How do you balance multiple foci, while maintaining a balance with family life? How do you balance multiple businesses?
Advice from the CEOs:
Find people you trust and delegate – ask them for help. Give them lots of leeway – just ask for updates.
Prioritize your weeks – big boulders and small rocks – decide weekly how you will focus. A week is a good planning time frame.
Identify and come to grips with your situation – the brutal facts – this will help you to prioritize.
Set boundaries based on time, relationships, priority – have realistic expectations of what you can accomplish. Set others’ expectations on when you will respond to their calls, emails, etc.
Compartmentalize your time for full concentration and focus. Focus on one thing at a time instead of multi-tasking.
Eliminate non-value added “stuff.”
Avoid letting others impose their schedules onto yours.
Use exercise time to refresh your endorphins, clear your head and give you time to reflect on priorities.
Situation: A CEO is involved in a number of outside Boards and organizations, both because this involvement helps the company, and for personal reasons. Recent changes in family demands are now prompting reconsideration of this level of involvement. How do you prioritize demands on your time?
Advice from the CEOs:
List all of your priorities – both business and personal – and the amount of time that they require on a weekly or monthly basis. For non-family activities, rate each in terms of importance both to your organization, and to your heart.
Decide how many outside Boards or organizations you are willing to participate in and how many hours of the week or month you are willing to allocate to this.
Reduce your involvement in outside boards and organizations so that you get the time commitment down to what you are willing to allocate. Thereafter, to maintain control of your time. If you add a new commitment, drop an existing commitment.
Where you have commitments that are important to the company, but lower priority in terms of your own passion, delegate representation to good people within your company. This both maintains company presence and enhances their professional growth.
Where you want to terminate involvement let the organization know of your plans in advance, and negotiate a phase out schedule and timeline. They will appreciate your working with them.
Consider putting someone between you and your calendar to communicate with those making new requests for your time. This person can say no more easily than you can.
Situation: A company is enjoying a good year and is busy both adding new business and serving current clients. However, the CEO finds that when business is good he doesn’t have time to focus on all of his initiatives. This frustrates him. How do you make time for initiatives?
Advice from the CEOs:
How extensive is your To-Do List? If you have two or three major, time consuming initiatives, and a host of small tasks, prioritize both categories. Focus on what you can do given the time you have available. Put lower priority on the smaller tasks, and delegate as much as you can, or put them off until things slow down. This will help deal with your frustrations.
Block out time for yourself.
Do this early in the day, before you have lots of distractions on your desk.
Allocate 1-2 hours early in the morning, and get to work a little later. Let you staff know that you are not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency, but that they will have your full attention when you get to the office.
Plan you initiatives, segment them into smaller pieces, and schedule them.
Use Mindmapping to segment them, or a piece of software like MindManager to assist your thinking.
Among the segmented pieces, look for opportunities to delegate to free up your time and involve staff in the initiative.
Develop a Task List in Feature/Deliverables terms with a broad timeframe.
Prioritize and build into your Quarterly and Annual plans.
Situation: The CEO of a high tech company has been working long hours, and has had no time for himself, or even for much sleep during the past few months. As is typical in a small company, the CEO and everyone else wears many hats. What have you done to successfully fit in time for yourself?
Advice from the CEOs:
Take a calendar, and mark all of your time for several weeks to a month. Then look at the ways that you spend time and prioritize them into categories:
Life – eating, sleeping, etc.
Must do – mission critical
Must do – could possibly delegate
See how many of the “Must do” activities you can delegate or otherwise handle and recategorize this time into Life or Free Time. You may be amazed at how much more efficiently you can use your time. Ask all employees to do this every 90 days to assure that they are utilizing their work time effectively.
If you have long commutes or lots of travel time, get an extended battery for your laptop. This will allow you to make travel time more productive.
Or, if you have a long commute, hire a semi-retired driver to drive you to and from work. Turn your commute time into productive work time.
Semi-retired drivers are available for as little as $10 per hour. You can pay them $1,000 at a time in advance, and the driver keeps a log of the time spent driving the client.
Use your car, or the driver’s car and if the latter, reimburse the driver for mileage.
To make this work effectively set the rule that you are the client, and not looking for conversation. You want to accomplish as much work as possible during the trip.
Look for professional drivers, with the proper licensing. Do an MVR check on the driver’s history as part of your evaluation process.