Tag Archives: Employee

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 Much Do You Share with a Potential Acquirer? Nine Points

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.

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.

Does it Pay to Share an Employee? Four Points

Situation: A company has an excellent bookkeeper. However, during slow seasons cash is tight and the bookkeeper is not occupied full time. The CEO contacted a friend at another company, and that company has hired the bookkeeper for 10 hours / week. This is working well for both for both companies. Are there downsides to doing this? Does it pay to share an employee?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If you share an employee, share at your cost – your fully burdened cost per hour. For the company using a piece of your employee, this may be a significant hourly cost, but is much less expensive than a consultant and lower risk than bringing on an unknown individual.
  • Keep a short term perspective – once the economy improves you will want the individual back full-time. Make sure that this is well understood by the other company.
  • Make sure that this is not a burden on your bookkeeper. Ask whether the individual can handle two bosses. It helps to fully segregate the individual’s time with time rules – for example, by day or half-day with clean break points in time worked for Company A vs. Company B.
  • Overall, the apparent benefits of this situation outweigh the challenges.

How Do You Counteract the Dog Days of August? Three Ideas

Situation: A CEO knows that his employees have been working hard and have been productive all year. Now that we’re coming to the end of the summer, he’s concerned that in the past he has seen an energy drop every August. What can be done to increase the voltage? How do you counteract the Dog Days of August?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Anoint a “Champion of Fun.”
    • The Champion of Fun should be an employee – not management.
    • This may be a team of two people who focus on different things – one for small, day to day activities, and one for big events, like a Habitat for Humanity day.
    • Provide a budget for the Champion. Allow discretion to create excitement around the office or workplace. This includes posters announcing events and other ways to make the most out of each event or activity planned.
    • If out of office activities are anticipated, encourage employees to involve family members if they wish. Maybe a picnic and softball game at a local park, or an early evening of go-kart racing.
  • Create a sense that your employees have some control over their environment. This adds energy.
    • Circulate an Office Depot catalogue and give each employee a budget that they can spend to dress up their space.
    • It’s amazing how much a small investment like this can rejuvenate people and the overall atmosphere.
  • Bring in lunch as a surprise a couple of times during the month. Take some extra time and let people enjoy each other’s company. This is for deepening personal connections, not for lunchtime business discussions.

How Do You Hold High Performers Accountable? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company has a key employee who is a high performer; however the company has not developed a good accountability structure to direct this person. The CEO wants to add additional accountability to cover everyone, both current employees and new people as they are hired. The system should be fair and apply to all. How do you hold high performers accountable?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • High performing employees are essential assets to a company. They thrive on meeting and exceeding expectations. However they need to recognize and accept accountability for the inevitable mistakes or misjudgments that will occur.
  • Lay out the challenge, and ask your high performing employee, and this individual’s manager, to help design the system for monitoring accountability around results.
  • Within position descriptions, include not only the role and expectations within the description, but also expected progressions for development. These should be objective, measurable and based on specific skills or capabilities within the development progression. Gather input from current employees as you create position descriptions, so that they reflect the experience of employees rather than idealized generalities.
  • Set your expectations for new employees appropriately. Expect perhaps 60% of optimal performance early on. As new employees gain understanding of the company and their roles, coach and expect them to increase their performance over time. Provide training to assist their development.
  • James Fischer, in Navigating the Growth Curve, argues that expectations, for the CEO, management and employees, change as a company grows from start-up to a large firm. If a company is small, it doesn’t want the same structure or processes required to operate a 250 person company. Too much structure stifles creativity and growth if applied to small, nimble companies. Institute a level of structure appropriate to the size and stage of the company.

Who Do You Serve – The Customer or The Company? Six Thoughts

Situation: A company’s motto is that they serve the customer first. As an unintended consequence company projects get lower priority and action than customer projects. Frequently, the CEO finds that company projects are only half completed. What have you done to make company initiatives a priority? Who do you serve – the customer or the company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a great question. Clearly serving the customer has to be top priority. However, you also have to complete company projects, particularly those which are critical to company function or which will enhance your ability to serve your customers.
  • Define the company as a customer for important projects. Call this “billable hours” to the company and credit them as such on these projects. Accompany this with employee training on how to prioritize “company” versus “customer” projects when priorities conflict. It may take time to work through this, and for the message to sink in.
  • Add completion of company initiatives to the company kudos list. LInk company award eligibility to completion of company initiatives. For mission critical projects, grant double credit for completion of company projects. Adjustment of incentives will help to get the message across.
  • In employee communications, include updates on company projects along with customer projects and give equal or greater emphasis as appropriate.
  • Have you defined your “ideal customer”?
    • Include internal customers within your definition of ideal customers.
    • This will help to clarify and prioritize opportunities and shift the mindset.
  • For mission critical projects hire additional personnel or contractors.

How Do You Manage a Reorganization? Five Ideas

Situation: A company is preparing for a reorganization. The CEO plans to hire a new manager to in time become General Manager of the company. He also wants to terminate two current employees. How do you manage a reorganization?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Develop a 90-day integration plan for the new manager, including his/her top 3 to 5 objectives, and have the individual develop and execute the plan to achieve these objectives.
  • Use an early project to schedule working sessions with each department in the company during the new manager’s first week. This will help the new manager and current employees learn to work together and develop trust in each other.
  • In addition to providing broad objectives for the new manager’s first 90 days, clearly establish behaviors and outcomes that are unacceptable.
  • One of the employees to be terminated is a long-term employee who reports to the CEO but has not performed to expectations. The CEO should take the lead in terminating this person, and offer them a suitable severance package.
  • A junior employee who is not performing to expectations reports to a supervisor. However, the junior employee has repeatedly tried to work around his supervisor by approaching others in the company with his suggestions and complaints.

o    First, make it clear to everyone that the employee’s behavior is not acceptable and that he has to work through and with his supervisor.

o    Then let the supervisor determine whether or not to eliminate the employee, and support the supervisor’s decision. This includes offering a suitable severance package should the supervisor decide on termination.

How Do You Motivate Hourly Employees? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company pays employees based on skill level. Raises are given as an employee learns additional skills. In some cases, when they give an employee a raise, productivity drops. The company has tried other approaches including bonus systems and profit sharing but did not find these effective. How do you effectively motivate hourly employees?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Before trying a new motivation scheme, find out what matters to your employees. It may not be either bonuses or profit sharing.
    • Develop and send out a questionnaire listing different factors – revenue sharing, bonuses, creativity, doing quality work – ask what matters to you? Get their feedback.
    • People work for respect – many studies have shown that as long as the payment offered is fair, salary is secondary.
  • Hire an advocate for your employees – a part-time HR person. An important role for this individual will be to determine what motivates employees, what they want from their jobs, and how improvements in both processes and the working environment can boost productivity.
  • What is the real issue: employee motivation, employee productivity or cost reduction?
    • If material waste is more expensive that labor – create metrics and rewards to reduce waste.
      • At companies that use the Toyota Production System employees receive points for process improvements. At the end of the year they receive a cash payout based on the points earned during the year.
      • Employees are rewarded publicly. The incentives are cash, recognition and respect. These companies find that recognition and respect trumps cash.
    • Depending upon your cost structure, it may be more productive to focus on scrap reduction. Bring in someone with experience who can find the sources of scrap. The effort will pay for itself rapidly.
  • During the hiring process, require educational attainment as evidence of the individual’s commitment.
    • Look for skills experience – machinist, etc. Match skills and experience to your needs. This will lead to faster learning curves and will help to reduce waste.

How Does a Small Company Build an HR Function? Four Thoughts

Situation: A small company has no formal human resources, pay scale or performance review systems. The CEO wants to create a structure to address these gaps, as well as to encourage employee feedback. How do you build an HR function for a company with under 20 employees?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Many small companies outsource HR services. There are a number of firms who provide outsourced HR services, and through them much of the HR activity can be conducted online. Examples include ADP, Administaff, Express Employment Professionals and PayChex.
    • These systems cover all of the mechanics of HR, and help to assure that the company is in step with changing regulatory requirements.
  • There are also a host of individual consultants who put together HR systems for smaller companies. These are most easily found using locally-focused Internet searches.
  • Employees in small companies are used to wearing many functional hats. Hire or assign a manager to create an HR system and implement it once it is set-up. This person will be in charge of the personnel review schedule, changes to regulations and contact with outside HR resources.
    • One company’s HR Manager has a one hour conversation with the company’s lawyers once a year to make sure that the company is up to speed on any regulatory changes.
  • Hire a Director of Operations and include HR in this individual’s responsibilities. This person can research options for discussion by the leadership team. Empower them to bring in resources that will meet the company’s needs.