Tag Archives: Focus

How Do You Balance Multiple Businesses? Eight Thoughts

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.

How Do Small Companies Outsource Infrastructure? Eight Ideas

Situation: Start-ups and early-stage enterprises are typically both resource and talent constrained. The CEO of a start-up asks how others successfully outsourced infrastructure cost effectively and when they were early-stage so that they could focus on critical success factors and improve their opportunity to succeed. How do small companies outsource infrastructure?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In the early stages of company development, outsource everything possible and focus our efforts only on the key functions.
  • In order to focus on the most important things first, decide what must be accomplished and when. Set priorities, establish key milestones and create a timeline to measure achievement. Celebrate your successes!
  • Identify the most important strategic foci within your business model and outsource everything else.
    • For example, use outside data centers instead of developing these yourself.
    • With the increase in Cloud-based options, early stage companies can do without the IT infrastructure that they used to need. Just be careful to safeguard your intellectual property!
  • Attend relevant meetings and functions to learn about existing and available capabilities. Look for local networking opportunities relevant to your market.
  • Incubator sites have developed in a number of high tech centers. These are designed to cover infrastructure needs at a reasonable cost so that founders can focus on product and service development.
  • Hire a virtual assistant – you can find these locally using a Google search.
  • Take advantage of lower cost labor and enlist younger, less experienced labor to manage databases and clean records.
  • Set up a wiki for information. This exchange is free and you can tailor it to your needs. It is permission-based; you can find it at pbwiki.com.

How Do You Focus Managers on Growth? Five Suggestions

Situation: Two key managers of a company are too busy with day-to-day activities to focus their planned 40% of time on growth. The company has hired personnel to relieve some pressure on them, and a new ASP (Application Service Provider) is improving customer out-reach. How can the CEO take pressure off these managers so that they have time to grow the business? How do you focus managers on growth?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Small companies grow through their early stages with everyone wearing many hats and doing everything. The company is now larger than this and it has to stop. Managers need to focus their responsibilities where you need them to focus and stop doing less important tasks.
  • Have you gone over key responsibilities and expectations for the two managers? Do they have clear objectives and deliverables? If not, focus on this.
  • Brainstorm with them how they could free-up time to focus on growth.
    • Do this in a meeting. Your plan is 10% growth. Ask for their ideas on how to grow the business, and develop a plan to put their ideas into action. What help or resources do they need to meet this plan?
    • Three heads better than one to ask core questions – let them come up with the answers.
  • Design processes to address needs and responsibilities.
    • Rank implementation of options in terms of impact to the company and financial results.
    • Given the ranking, implement programs sequentially – most relevant and easiest first.
  • Taking orders by phone is clerical. This should not be a manager’s prime focus.
    • Have a clerical person answer the phone, and train them over time.
    • Limit the manager’s direct involvement in phone orders to critical situations.

How Do You Coordinate Sales and Marketing Plans? Four Points

Situation: A small company uses a sales plan, but not a marketing plan. The CEO wants to know about marketing plans, and how they are different from sales plans. Most importantly, if a company has both, how do you coordinate sales and marketing plans?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Sales and Marketing Plans are two aspects of the annual planning and revenue forecasting process. The difference between the two is focus – strategy versus implementation.
  • The Marketing Plan is strategic. It defines and quantifies the market that the company addresses, and also what markets the company does not address. It identifies the key attributes of the company’s market and products or services, and sets the broad direction as well as the high level objectives for the planning period – usually one year. It also covers both current products and product additions or extensions. The focus of the Marketing Plan is one-to-many.
  • In contrast, the Sales Plan is focuses on execution of the Marketing Plan. Ideally, the sales team takes the Marketing Plan and sets individual and team sales objectives that will meet the revenue objectives set in the Marketing Plan. The focus of the Sales Plan one-to-one – what each sales representative, and each division of the sales team (unit, district, region, country, and so forth) commits to sell during the coming year.
  • To coordinate the Marketing and Sales Plans, it is best to draft the Marketing Plan before asking the sales team to draft their Sales Plan. It helps the two teams to coordinate their projections for the coming year and allows the sales team to project sales based on changes to the product mix included in the Marketing Plan.

How Do You Handle a Side Project? Two Considerations

Situation: An early principal of a company has done a lot of work on a product that no longer fits the company’s business strategy and focus. The CEO wants to reward this individual for past work. An arrangement could include equity plus a big chunk of whatever this individual can make marketing the product that he created. What is the best way to handle this side project?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There may be benefits to working with this individual as proposed. Letting the individual play in his own sub-market gives you an additional customer and may lead to interesting but yet unknown opportunities. Take care that this does not impact critical timelines for the company’s principal strategy.
  • A set of guidelines for this arrangement may include:

o    No grant of additional stock in the company – the opportunity to pursue the project should be sufficient incentive.

o    Keep this side project as company property.

o    Give the individual a sizable chunk of any revenue that he can gain from the product.

o    Task the individual to manage and solve technical challenges so that this does not impact company priorities.

o    Retain control of timelines and quality sign-off so that this project does not conflict with your higher priorities.

o    Give the individual sufficient support so that he is more likely to succeed.

  • Are there concerns regarding brand risk?

o    Draft an agreement to allow this project to operate cleanly and treat the principal an early small customer. Define the requirements of the project, release timelines, and branding options so that they do not interfere with the company’s larger goals.

How Do You Move from Manager to Strategist? Four Suggestions

Situation: The CEO of a small-to-medium business wants to reduce day-to-day management activities and spend more time focusing on new opportunities. How do you shift focus from management to strategy and how do you identify the right person to take on the management role?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • As CEO your primary focus needs to be on the future more than the day-to-day. As a smaller company, the management role needs to be filled by an individual with broad multidisciplinary experience. To replace yourself, you need a Renaissance person – someone with industry knowledge and experience who buys into your business model.
  • As you evaluate candidates, look for attitude, not resume.
    • Analytical skills are critical – mental capacity.
    • These need to be complimented by guts – emotional intelligence.
  • Your current business is not the business that you and your co-founders started. It is a larger entity, more solid, and you need to bring in people who can take it to higher stages of growth. Finding the right person to fill your role is a long-term process.
    • Bring in 3 to 4 solid candidates as employees in important roles. Test them with challenges to see who can grow into the larger role of company manager.
    • Look for people who can grow your downstream businesses as candidates to manage the full business.
  • In the current market you have time on your side. While hiring is improving in some regions, there are still many more candidates out there than available jobs. This is unlikely to change soon.

What Leads in Building Brand Focus? Five Factors

Situation: A company faces a question branding a new product – what should lead the branding focus: product design or product attributes that will be an eventual part of the branding strategy? Which should lead in building brand focus?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are two areas of focus – each an important part of the overall trademark and branding strategy:
    • A distinct name or symbol, for example Amazon.com or eBay, will gain the right kind of attention and be easy for potential customers to remember. The prime risk here is stepping on someone else’s mark.
    • Your overall branding strategy. The point here is not confusing your customers. Marketing people will advise you to KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid! One tack is simplifying the complexity of technology.
  • It is important to develop a consistent set of product attributes – one that you know through research will resonate with your client base – before your Alpha launch. It is dangerous to conduct an Alpha launch without clarity on this point. Subtleties of the eventual brand do not need to be finalized, but the overall framework of key product attributes should be consistent and clear from the beginning.
  • Design and the development of important product attributes ideally take place in synch with each other. Positioning will depend on your audience, and the unique needs and expectations of the audience.
  • The name itself could be important. Being clear and easy to spell may be important. Test alternative names for this trait.

How Do You Make Time for Initiatives? Four Approaches

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.
    • Again, look for opportunities to delegate.

How Do You Align Expectations Across the Company? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company is doing well, but the CEO is concerned about emerging hurdles that may stall momentum. The key issue from a systems development perspective is changing a “one-off” project based focus towards a modular mindset – essentially shifting a short-term to a long-term view. How do you align expectations across the company and transition to a broader focus?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start by clearly communicating your expectations. Work with your managers so that they communicate a consistent message to developers. Look for organizational changes to better align talents of individuals to roles taking advantage of these talents. You may want to refresh the gene pool by bringing on additional people.
    • One company with multiple teams creates healthy competition against performance objectives between teams with recognition and rewards to the top team.
    • If the change involves creating greater alignment between functions, create opportunities for individuals from different functional areas to work together. For example, have an engineer accompany a sales person on a critical call to close a deal. If the deal meets spec objectives, is closed, and the project completed on schedule and on budget, the engineer is bonused on the sale.
    • One company rents a lake cabin every year. Use of the cabin goes to teams recognized for meeting objectives, deadlines or other outstanding performance. An added benefit is that on the way to and from the cabin as well as while they are there, teams spend time talking about the next performance coup that will get them the next use of the cabin.
  • Look at your organization – both your Org Chart and the physical space. One CEO found that his engineering organization was stove-piped both in terms of reporting and incentives, and physical barriers prevented groups from easily interacting with one-another. To create better coordination between design engineering and manufacturing engineering, the teams were relocated to a new shared space, without physical barriers. Also, the Org Chart was adjusted to increase incentives for collaboration between the functions.

How Do You Manage a Company Outside of Your Expertise? Three Foci

Situation: The CEO came into a company as a engineering consultant. Three years later the Board asked him to take on the CEO role. This created a credibility issue with staff because the CEO is a duck out of water, though a duck with better business sense than most others within the company. How do you manage a company outside of your technical expertise?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The staff credibility issue may just be one of self-confidence. You have already demonstrated competence in revising company processes and improving profitability. In fact, your non-industry perspective may have contributed to your success to date.
  • Near term, in what areas should you focus?
    • Focus on building bridges which will give you more leverage to address key barriers, particularly within the more entrenched groups in the company.
    • Look at how the company communicates and exchanges information with clients. One thing that customers want is more self-service options and access to data. You have the opportunity to develop Web 2.0 capabilities which will to set the company apart in what is historically a very conservative and paper-oriented client culture.
    • These actions will help you to increase your credibility as an effective leader and CEO.
  • Longer term, what should be the plan?
    • Keep the ship running smoothly. This by itself will help to build appreciation for your talents.
    • Use any free time to create business plans of your vision for the future. Share these interactively with key staff members and incorporate their input into the plan. Involve them in disseminating the plan within the company.
    • As you develop your vision and plan, look for opportunities to attribute success to others. This will be a breath of fresh air to staff and will strengthen the bridges that you have worked to build. They will start to see you as a key ally who shares credit instead of hoarding it.