Situation: A company has built a solid core business and wants to expand its product portfolio by adding new business. Core functions can serve both existing and new business, reducing overhead on individual businesses. What pitfalls must the company avoid? How do you balance core and new businesses?
Advice from the CEOs:
New business activity cannot impact core business. The core business is the company’s bread and butter. It is important to make this clear to both employees and clients and to structure the handling of new business opportunities accordingly.
From a staffing standpoint, new business opportunities cannot impact marketing, service and operations staff supporting the core business. New business development activity and operations cannot result in a pull from their focus on the core business. This separation may be facilitated by placing the staff supporting new business in separate facilities, or in an area separate from the staff supporting core business.
In the case of support functions that will serve both existing and new business, recruit and hire staff to support the new business to assure that both existing and new business receive proper support.
Hire a new person, one with experience and contacts, to develop the new business opportunities. Look for a sales person who can bring in significant new business. This will pay for the individual quickly.
How does leadership communicate these changes to staff?
Meet with key managers to identify potential concerns. These may include impact on company culture and client focus. Use the responses gathered to develop a communication plan to allay employee concerns.
As new business opportunities are added, it will be necessary to bring in new, experienced personnel. Previously, the company brought in experienced personnel to build the current business. Be open and up-front about this and explain that as the company grows there will be new opportunities for existing employees.
The company’s objective is to improve the quality of the organization and to raise the boat for all. Current owners and managers will automatically benefit from the efforts of new people to expand the business.
Building new business opportunities as separate businesses diversifies the company and reduces the risk of overdependence on existing clients and key vendor relationships. This enhances the job security of current employees.
Situation: A company has been using the accrual method of accounting. As they approach the fourth quarter of the year, they are looking at project-based accounting to reduce year-end cash reserves and taxable income. How do you create and manage a project-based accounting system?
Advice from the CEOs:
The PeopleSoft Division of Oracle offers a project-based accounting package. There are a several issues that accompany a shift to project-based accounting: do employees work on more than one project, how do you plan to account for shared services such as administration and Human Resources, and do you plan to share revenue and costs across projects? These can entail a fundamental change in how the company is organized and behaves. If your primary motive is tax avoidance rather than organizational change, why would you pursue this level of change in the organization?
Looking at hundreds of companies with which the CEOs in the group have worked, nobody has seen any that utilize project-based accounting.
The company’s objective is to better understand the various projects that the company manages, and to have revenue travel with cost. A far simpler option from an accounting standpoint is to look for ways to pre-pay future expenses and thus reduce year-end cash reserves.
Another option is a hybrid between cash and accrual accounting.
If you have a strategic reason to pursue project-based accounting, look at firms that serve the construction and entertainment industries. These industries have similar challenges to those faced by the company.
Situation: A company has lost the team spirit that they had when the company formed. The CEO has struggled to revitalize this spirit but encounters resistance from some employees. What techniques have you found effective in building or rebuilding a strong team culture and improving team performance?
Advice from the CEOs:
If an individual is resistant to team meetings, work with them one-on-one. Listen to their concerns about meetings and ask questions to focus them on a higher level of concern – individual and team performance and the need to build effective teams to enhance this performance.
If an organization has divided into functional silos, form multidisciplinary teams around initiatives to build inter-team synergy.
Choice of leader is critical in team formation. The best teams have the most effective leaders.
Crisp, clean communication is important. Document verbal commitments in writing.
Select team membership with an eye to team compatibility. Avoid putting individuals with a history of conflict on the same team, particularly if this is a management team.
Engineering product teams – where individuals work independently on distinct aspects of a larger project – may be more tolerant of past conflict as long as team activities do not require collaboration among individuals with a history of conflict.
Look for common value systems and common focus when assembling teams. This helps to build the team as a strong unit.
Recommended Reading: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni.
Situation: A company has an engineering structure which emphasizes function over cost. As a result, there is little collaboration between design and manufacturing, and little design for manufacturability or cost control. This contributes to a last-minute mindset and expensive solutions. How do you shift design engineering and manufacturing from a craft to a lean mindset?
Advice from the CEOs:
Changing how people think and act may also mean changing people. Are you prepared for this? If not, then it may be difficult to achieve the change that you desire.
Let’s use a mindset change in another area – sales compensation – as an example. In this case, the sales team had previously focused primarily on revenue, with no incentive to drive margin. This impact was continuously eroding margins, though the company realized revenue goals. The mindset was changed by introducing a new system with dual incentives: to retain their position, a sales person had to hit at least 85% of their revenue target, however commission was based completely on the gross margin from their sales, with a bump in commissions when they hit 100% of their revenue target. This system drove both revenue and margin targets and was very successful; however, the company lost a few sales reps who couldn’t make the adjustment.
Transferring this lesson to the engineering situation, design an incentive structure that drives both function and low cost manufacturability to achieve both targets simultaneously.
Task your VPs of Operations and Manufacturing – and the key managers of your design and manufacturing teams – to create a dual incentive system that meets both function and manufacturability objectives. Measurements may include:
Actual vs. initial estimated manufacturing costs.
Margin on final product.
Once the parameters are developed, clearly communicate these to all affected employees up front to set clear expectations for the future.
Incentivize your VPs and key managers jointly on collaborative efforts and their ability to develop joint solutions.
Another solution which will speed the process – put design and manufacturing engineering in the same work space instead of separating them. This encourages the teams to work together.
Situation: A company has a long-term loyal employee who has served in a number of roles. The company is growing, and no longer has a clear role for this individual. This individual can’t and doesn’t want manage either other employees or projects. The CEO wants to be compassionate with this individual to honor their loyalty, but finds himself in a quandary. How would you handle a loyal employee who no longer fits the company’s needs?
Advice from the CEOs:
Your desire to treat this individual compassionately is commendable. This individual has been loyal and has served you well. There are a couple of questions to ask: is there a valuable function that this individual can serve within the company, and is this individual essential to the company?
What happens when this individual goes on vacation? Are there gaps in service or function?
Who handles this individual’s duties while they are on vacation?
If the answer to these questions is that others fill in easily and not a beat is missed, particularly when this individual is absent for long vacations, then either they have made excellent preparations prior to their vacation absence, or they may not be essential to the team.
As a business grows, it changes. Not everyone who came onboard early will have a place as the company grows. Think of a pick-up basketball team on the local playground. In pick-up basketball, you play with whoever is available. Let’s say that the team starts to improve, and they decide to join a competitive league. Now the game starts to change, and some of the buddies who played pick-up ball won’t be able to make the shift to competitive ball. They aren’t bad people; they just no longer fit the game that the team is playing.
You may need to sit down with this individual and have a heart-to-heart discussion about the needs of the company and their ability to serve these needs. This is difficult, but if there is truly no longer a role for this person, then you need to be honest with them while at the same time honoring their past contribution.
Situation: Sales at a small company have grown rapidly. They need to expand staff to keep up with demand and fulfillment. There are two options: expanding current functional teams in sales and service or adding a back office operations function. Based on your experience, which of these two options makes more sense for a company of fewer than 20 people?
Advice from the CEOs:
Since the company is planning to grow from 10 to 20 people, create an organizational chart for what the company will look like with 20 people. From this back into what it looks like with 15, and then 10 people.
Look at how the positions work, and what talents you want to see in each position. Assess how well your current staff fills both current and anticipated talent needs.
The company’s key market differentiation is and will continue to be exceptional client service. Here are some of the questions to ask:
Are the back office needs of the sales and service teams similar or different?
If there is enough overlap, can one person, and eventually a team, supply the operational needs of both your client services and sales functions?
If there is little overlap, what specific needs are currently unfulfilled by each team? Is there enough work to justify adding more than one person so that each team manages their own operations?
One option is a matrix organizational structure which can work well in a firm of 10 to 20 people. Key factors include:
Establishing a company culture to compliment your strategy and objectives.
Establishing clear expectations of accountability and expectations to govern the model.
Matrix structures don’t always succeed. Ask whether your current people and culture are suited to a matrix organization.
Situation: A company’s primary objectives are to hone their business model and establish their first satellite office as a model for future expansion. An opportunity has arisen from a trusted source that could rapidly expand both business and opening of satellite offices by providing service to a single national client. How do you evaluate the tradeoffs between these options?
Advice from the CEOs:
What is the impact of this new option on client diversity? One of Porter’s fundamentals of strategy is to not have too much of your business dependent on any one customer.
What is the impact of this opportunity on your personnel, time and resources?
Are there areas in which this opportunity will save time and resources, for example by consolidating some back-office functions like billing and accounting?
If this opportunity will take an inordinate amount of time and focus, consider starting a new entity to take advantage of this opportunity.
Use a decision-making grid to evaluate the new opportunity versus your present strategy:
Identify the most important factors of both your current strategy and the new opportunity.
Weight the importance of each factor as a percent of with the total adding up to 100%.
Rank each opportunity against each factor.
Multiply the factor ranking times the weight for each ranking.
Sum the weighted rankings.
See whether the summed rankings support of contradict your gut feeling, and further analyze depending on the result.
Once you have identified the risks in this proposition, determine contract provisions that will reduce risks to acceptable levels. If the potential client is unwilling to yield enough of these points in the contracting stage to acceptably mitigate your risks, then walk away from the deal.
Don’t risk your entire company for one opportunity. Financial rewards are only a scorecard.