Situation: A CEO is concerned that the current management team is not mature enough to support planned growth. Sales skills are necessary to start an office, but there is a wide range of business acumen and people skills among the managers. How do you develop current managers to support growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
Company policy requires manager candidates to demonstrate competence in at least three of five areas: sales, technical skills, customer management, customer management, and business acumen. A coaching or mentoring process from senior management would be beneficial.
A minimum number of clients is required to start an office. There are important differences in the skills needed to grow and sustain an office. More evaluation of the managerial skills of manager candidates will help.
Another CEO shared story of a regional office with a manager who was technically competent but had poor business development skills. This created a growth issue. Clear, mutually agreed upon, written goals helped. Office growth requires good administrative performance as well as technical or sales skills.
Frequent group meetings with managers and a deliberate agenda help. There is merit in allowing the field people to contribute to the agenda, having a “round table” type of review, and peer dialogue. In addition to current individual weekly telephone conversations and quarterly operations reviews, there is an opportunity to modify the format.
Sometimes there is a double loss in taking a good individual contributor and making them a poor manager. For example, of a good salesperson may turn out to be a bad sales manager. The transition may not play to the person’s strength. A more rigorous selection process will help.
Another CEO shared a story of one of his plant managers who reached the limits of his competency and could not continue to grow the plant. He was moved to a support position and a new plant manager was hired. The former manager found new satisfaction in the support role and was successful sharing his knowledge and skill with the new manager and a broader audience within the company.
A company has a good accounting system, but the CEO is concerned that they are
not making the best use of metrics to drive the business. He senses a lack of
shared understanding of key metrics and goals. He senses the appearance of
financial disarray, despite his clear grasp of the business. Do you have
control of the numbers?
from the CEOs:
A good accounting system may be in place, but if it is not being used to drive the business and monitor the achievement of milestones then the company is not gaining the best advantage from it.
If there is a sense of financial disarray, this suggests that the company lacks financial metrics. Employees and managers may be doing their jobs, but without financial metrics it is difficult to tell how well they are doing their jobs.
Start with basic metrics:
Where are sales coming from?
What is the profitability of sales by customer segment and product line?
What is the company’s profitability?
What are the profitability trends of the company and key segments of the business?
Once a company is tracking these metrics, it is easier to focus managers and employees on products, product development, operations, sales and marketing issues that are most essential to the company’s success.
The company needs the equivalent of a CFO. This means a financial person, not an accountant. An individual who knows how to look at the numbers. A CFO will help the company to
See the strategic trends in the business,
Uncover the best opportunities for growth, and
Understand the greatest potential threats to growth of the business.
Situation: The CEO of a product and service company has seen her company struggle for several years. While the overall market has turned around, her company has not. She is tired of barely staying afloat and not making the kind of money that she a decade ago. Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
Advice from the CEOs:
What keeps you from hitting the numbers? Creating a forecast, budget and objectives allows you to establish a reward system for meeting and exceeding objectives. Once there is an upside, then not hitting the numbers means that a manager misses the upside and the financial rewards that accompany this achievement. This is often consequence enough, particularly if others are hitting their numbers and getting performance bonuses.
The glass is half-full. The past few years have been difficult. Review what the company accomplished during an extended recession. Look at how the company fares versus local competitors. Review positive changes that have been made and take credit for these. This will provide energy to move forward.
Given the company’s successes, sit down with the management and show them what the company has accomplished. Celebrate. Use this opportunity to set goals for next year. A good place to start is to set a bottom line profitability objective before taxes.
To be a great manager requires more than just a revenue and profitability target. People rally around a vision and a culture that they aspire to and want to enjoy. The role of the leader is to create this vision and culture. Do this, and revenue and profitability will take care of themselves.
Two more thoughts on whether the glass is half full or half empty to check your bearings:
What is your passion? If you love what you’re doing, what else would you do?
If you were doing something else, would you be making more money or enjoying more success?
Situation: A company has developed a number of initiatives and priorities which are important to the success of the company. All of the initiatives are daunting. What do they need to do to get all of these accomplished? How do you manage multiple priorities?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start with corporate level objectives and set these independently from your initiatives. Pick your top corporate goals and objectives – financial, performance, and so on. Once this is in place, rate your initiatives in terms of how they help to meet your company objectives.
Create an initiative list. Measure the upside and risk for each initiative. Based on the results of your analysis classify each initiative: critical, important, or nice to have. This, plus alignment between initiatives your corporate objectives will indicate which initiatives are most critical to company success.
Every company needs long and short term goals. Use these to align and prioritize initiatives. Only and your team you can tell what is important and importance is a matter of your strategic focus and objectives.
They key to accomplishing multiple objectives is focus. Focus on your top 2-3 initiatives first – if you can reasonably handle this many. Once these are accomplished, focus on the next 2-3, and so forth.
Look at your competitors – where are the opportunities in the marketplace. How will your initiatives make you more competitive?
What does your leadership development plan look like? If you plan to add new leadership, include in your thinking a transition plan to new leadership, taking into account your multi-year timeline.
Situation: A company needs to expand to meet growing demand and has opportunities to expand in several locales. They can finance this expansion through bank loans, or by selling either a minority or majority interest in the company. How do you raise capital for an expansion?
Advice from the CEOs:
Minority shareholders have appeal. Just be aware that they have rights. If they own interest above a certain percentage, they gain legal rights such as the ability to force liquidation. Research this percentage, and figure out a percentage of minority ownership that will work for you. Based on this, look for a minority partner who will give you the capital to expand for ownership below this threshold.
Consider a hybrid solution combining a smaller loan with sale of a limited percent of the company.
This is a risk equation.
The loan option is risk / reward for long term profit. You may have to secure the loan with personal assets.
On the other hand, selling a minority interest could set you up for life.
Look at both options, plus your personal goals and decide which combination of risk, reward and personal security fits you best.
One sale option is a phased buy out.
Example: sell 30% now, with options under conditions that you accept, to buy a larger share of your company later.
Continue to involve the key stakeholders in these discussions.
Assure that you secure your own future, and then secure the future of other family members.
Situation: Leaders who are successful in the long-term have figured out how to build high performance environments. This enables them to continually produce breakthroughs by stimulating the performance of others, and to rise above their competition. What are the factors involved in building a high performance environment?
Advice from Paul Limbrey:
Our work is based on 20 years of research into high performance in individuals and organizations. First one needs to understand the dynamics that stimulate high performance in people.
Our research indicates there are several elements that combine to form a system that stimulate improved performance in populations. These elements include concepts addressing Direction – Achievement, Failure and Strategy, providing Status of current performance, and Motivation – reason/purpose plus reward/consequence. The final unifying element is the culture or guiding philosophy in an environment.
On a company level, the first task is to understand these dynamics as you have created them today. This enables you to see where you need to tweak your environment to better stimulate high performance.
How consistent is high performance across difference fields of human endeavor?
We find that all elements that encourage high performance exist in all environments. However the potency of each element varies with the particular environment.
For example in some environments the Goals are more potent (Sales groups or athletes). In others culture is potent (the Military or companies like Southwest Airlines). In others the reward systems are most potent (Investment Banking) or the potential for failure (airline pilots or first responders).
Any of the elements can stimulate performance improvement.
How does one go about matching the right system and solution for a particular company?
Start by focusing on the potency of each subsystem – Directional, Status and Motivation – in your particular environment. How critical is each in shaping decisions and action taken?
Take the example of a CEO who has no vision for the future of the company. The result is inconsistent decisions day to day or week to week. The organization can’t focus on effective execution. The solution is to focus on Direction.
What about the CEO who is concerned with complacency. This is best addressed by looking to define what represents sub-standard more clearly for the organization.
If you have an “excuse rich” environment or desire greater accountability, look to your status or “exposure” systems to provide more accurate performance status first before looking toward your consequence systems.
Situation: A company has a long-term clerical employee. While this individual has handled a wide range of responsibilities, they have not significantly grown their skills even though cumulative yearly pay raises put this individual on the higher end of the company pay scale. Increasingly, the individual is refusing to do work requested. In your experience, what can the CEO do to get this individual back on track?
Advice from the CEOs:
Recently the CEO hired a personal assistant. The position was offered to the individual in question but declined because of hours and expectations. The personal assistant has supplanted much of the contribution that this individual historically made to the company. They are likely hurt by the resulting reduction in their role. This may explain the refusal to do certain tasks that used to be routine.
To have the best chance of recovering this individual, it is important that your approach be positive, not punitive.
Instead of going over performance variances in your next review, bring the individual into your office and let them know that “we need you.” Present a vision of the company and its future growth. If the individual shows a willingness to turn around, take them into your confidence and show them your plans. Ask them what role they see for themselves in the organization chart.
Simultaneously, be frank. The company has changed and is poised for growth that was not possible two years ago. Tell the person you want them on the team and set forth long-term goals. Establish and agree on objectives for 90 days and measure from this meeting forward.
Either the individual will rise to the challenge or will let you know within the 90 days that the company is no longer the place for them.
The key point is that this must be a caring and heartfelt discussion.
Analyze how this situation arose so that it isn’t repeated with other employees.
Hire for both current skills and the potential for growth. Develop new and existing staff in line with plans for growth. This is how you achieve extraordinary results with ordinary people.
Situation: The CEO of a small company finds that whether he gives broad direction to employees or very specific instruction he gets the same result: they don’t seem to understand what he wants. He feels that they don’t have a sense of buy-in or urgency. What are best practices for effective delegation to improve results?
Advice from the CEOs:
You recently fired an employee for inconsistent performance but didn’t tell your staff. When you return to the office this afternoon, get the employees together and tell why the individual was fired. Let them know that this is part of a broader pattern that you see within the company and that if you see other cases of individuals not following through on their assigned responsibilities you will have to take additional action. Unless your employees understand that nonperformance has consequences, there will be no change.
In your operations, set subassembly goals and intermediate milestones coupled. Create and post a set of charts in the operations room so that employees have a regular visual reminder of how they are doing. Bring these charts to employee meetings and discuss how the company is doing. If deadlines aren’t being met, ask for input on how to improve performance. Celebrate successes with recognition for individuals or groups who demonstrate the ability to meet objectives.
Hire an operations manager with experience working with teams the size of yours. You want an individual who excels at motivating and getting results from people, and who has supervisory versus managerial experience. Think platoon leader – a person who excels at effectively running small teams.
Situation: The Company has a geographical sales and service organization. Much of the sales effort comes from the consulting reputation of the managing director of each geographical unit, but he directors’ core values usually favor consulting over meeting sales plans. How do we get these directors to meet sales goals?
Advice from the CEOs:
Experience turning around a consulting organization with no sales culture:
Ours was a 5-year process. It starts with a leader who sells successfully and teaches by example.
As we made the transition, we selected new hires for sales skills to compliment their consulting skills. This facilitated our transition to a strong sales culture.
You need to commit to build a sales culture.
Moving to an account manager team versus an engineering/professional team was a big shift. It takes time and patience.
Hire effective sales people to jump-start the process. Most of the successful seller/doers will be new hires.
Revise your reward and recognition structure around your objectives.
Make rainmakers your best paid people. This will bring others out of the woodwork.
Bias sales compensation for doer/sellers toward variable compensation. Allow successful individuals to make over $200K per year.
Consider a 3-year phase-in by not increasing base pay through raises. More than make up the difference in available variable pay. Directors will now have more incentive to hit their sales numbers.
This is a difficult change in both sales leadership and culture. You may have to make significant leadership changes.
Situation: As they have grown, the Company has used Bay Area talent to seed new locations around the country. Leadership is now short at headquarters. What have others done to fill leadership gaps?
Advice from the CEOs:
Develop a formal Leadership Development Program.
Identify the top leadership candidates with the company – the top 10%.
Identify their individual goals and determine whether these are consistent with company values.
Clearly communicate the roles and expectations that you have for future company leaders – both the upsides and the sacrifices that you anticipate that they will have to make.
Team the leadership candidates 1/1 with mentors to guide them.
Consider an “internal” Board of Directors for developing leaders. Members are considered advisors to the true Board of Directors, understand company strategy, are coached on company values, and are involved in an advisory capacity in key company decisions.
Consider a leadership “boot camp” program to groom potential leaders and weed out those who like the idea of leadership more than the reality.
From the standpoint of a very hierarchical company, the following items are involved:
Defining the traits for key positions
Identifying candidates who appear to possess these traits
Assigning leadership roles to these individuals in executing the annual strategic plan – with senior managers mentoring leaders-in-training
Include training and development in professional development plans
Investigate employee assessment tools, for example the Myers-Briggs tools.