Situation: A company’s CEO came from sales where she excelled in building relationships with important customers. As CEO she must adapt to new responsibilities. This seems to be working, but she misses her sales role as the face of the company to customers. She wonders whether this is normal. How do you adapt from sales to CEO?
Advice from the CEOs:
First, congratulations on your new role and responsibilities. It is clear that your Board saw your potential and has rewarded you with a new opportunity. You have a lot to feel good about.
Second, adapting to new roles is a necessary pain of personal growth. The company needs a different you now. Everyone in the room has gone through the same emotional trauma – and survived! You will, too, in your own way.
In your sales role self validation came from your ability to convert customers, satisfy their needs and solve their problems. As CEO, self validation must now come from managing, coaching and motivating others, not from doing the job yourself. Your new customers are internal as well as external. Many of the techniques that worked in sales can work in your new role. Look for potential wins and take pride in these just as you did in sales.
You are still the face of the company, but now in a bigger role. Enjoy this and leverage it for the benefit of the company. Take pride in team wins just as you did previously in personal wins.
You will never find someone just like you or who does the job the way that you would! Accept this, accept that others will add value different from your own, and that this has benefits. The more you can help others win the more success you will experience.
A late stage private high-tech company wants to know what questions are most critical for managing the next stages of growth. This includes factors that can help differentiate good opportunities from poor ones. What questions would you ask about managing a late stage private high-tech company?
Advice from the CEOs:
Never compromise on your team. Is this a team of individuals who will be effective together, and can you make changes where necessary to build and manage the team that you need?
There is no room for someone who is not a cultural fit – do the team members work well together and does everyone see and support a win?
Who are the key stakeholders, and what drives them? Are these drivers compatible or in conflict? Can you bridge potential conflicts, or will they defocus your efforts?
Market & Strategy
Are your market projections realistic or fluffed?
Will your value proposition appeal to a large enough market to justify the investment of time and resources?
Is there a strong, realistic plan?
If you do a full SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, is the net positive?
Finances & Capital markets
Are the revenue and financial projections done correctly and achievable?
Raise money when you can, not when you need it – will the timing of your deal or opportunity, given existing financial markets, allow you to raise the funds necessary to bring the opportunity to fruition?
Is there openness to all potential capital or financing options? Financing is a personal relationship – how strong is the relationship?
Boards & Governance
Investors are investors; don’t overestimate their industry savvy. Are they aligned or in conflict? Are they fresh or tired? Will they support your efforts, and do they have the ability to generate extra funds as required?
It is impossible for a CEO or deal to be successful without the full support of the board – will you have full board support for your opportunity?
Is there clear differentiation between governance and management?
Looking over these questions, is the balance positive or negative? That balance will help you to accurately assess whether a given strategy or opportunity makes sense for the company.
Situation: A company has experienced low sales early in its peak season due to bad weather. The CEO wants to develop additional leading indicators that will help predict whether sales will recover prior to the end of the peak season. What leading indicators have you found effective in predicting seasonal sales?
Advice from the CEOs:
Access to benchmarked research can be helpful, especially industry reports that cite growth indicators. Some industry report producers can generate drill-down reports of their base data for a fee. This allows you to tailor your own study based on their data.
Depending upon whether you set revenue projections by brand or product line, look for indicators within brands or lines that will provide you with clarity on sales projections. An example is product reviews in relevant newsletters, provided that these have effectively benchmarked to sales results in the past.
In addition to new leading indicators for existing products, there are a number of ways that you can reduce the impact of seasonality on your cash flow. These include: investments that will lead to future income streams; new product placements to compliment or extend current lines; new key customers or outlets through which you can expand your market; and increasing sales calls to create new demand. Also, use the current season to establish additional benchmarks that will be useful in future years.
Other tactics include evaluating in-house versus contract production of your products to improve your margins, and strategies to improve up-sales from medium to premium products where margins are better. You can also focus on smaller independent outlets rather than national chains which are dominated by national brands, and also regional explore private label opportunities.
Situation: A company has used the same accounting system for over 10 years. The current system produces information quickly and easily, and empowers management and sales to make good decisions. However, it doesn’t respond to customer information requests as well as newer packages. What are best practices for updating your accounting system without losing data?
Advice from the CEOs:
One option is to keep your legacy system, but migrate to a user-friendly platform designed to work with a CRM system that can better meet customers’ needs.
Keep both systems up live until you no longer need the old system, except as an archive of your historic data.
Be sure to cross-train other employees so that your current system doesn’t become worthless if your key administrator gets hit by a truck.
Before you decide which direction to pursue, ask what your employees like the current system.
What do they find most useful?
What accounting features do you need to support your growth plans?
What key functions of the current system would you have to emulate?
How expensive is it to maintain your current system?
Is your business so unique that no off the shelf alternatives exist?
Could you adopt an 80-90% solution and customize the rest?
It may be difficult to do this on your own. Look for a consultant with a background in accounting applications to analyze your needs.
If you feel that you must make a change, but are not ready to do so, develop your solution gradually.
Situation: An acquired company is poised for dramatic growth. The corporation that acquired them has questions about the current team’s capability to realize planned growth, and achieve their financial and operational targets. How can they assess whether the existing team is up to the task?
Advice from Gene Tange:
Think of this as an assessment process that accurately predicts the ability of the leadership team to realize planned outcomes while maturing key business processes. The leadership team is tied to both financial and operational outcomes that cover competence, continuity and alignment. This enables proactive management of organizational changes to support planned growth of the business. A real life example will illustrate the steps of the process.
The starting point was whether the current CEO had the right compliment of skills and capabilities to lead a high performance team. Could this leader see beyond the current stage of growth in terms of the talent and processes required for growth? Could he build a high performance team, align them and retain them to achieve results?
The CEO then laid out the future state organization. The essential question was whether he had teams of leaders in each of the key functions to assure success.
Specifically, the Product Development Team generated a competitive analysis comparing the current product with all others to assure a 2 year competitive advantage. They were also tasked with improving cost of manufacturing.
The Sales Team installed an integrated CRM system to support large orders, including internal cross functional communication to increase customer visibility and satisfaction scores.
The Operations organization moved from a traditional batch manufacturing process to a state of the art, focused factory organization, eliminating WIP, reducing operational costs and increasing the speed of order to delivery.
Finally, the Finance and Administrative functions were assessed.
As a result, in 16 months the company grew 5x in revenue and increased margins. Time from order to delivery was reduced by 16x. Headcount was reduced while shipping volume increased by 5x.
A disciplined assessment process that predict business outcomes and ties your talent to the bottom line can provide a significant advantage in today’s highly competitive environment.
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: A company signed a 3-year lease a year ago, assuming that this would accommodate their needs. Growth has been much more rapid than anticipated, and they’ve outgrown the space. Should the company expand or move now and run the risk of over-purchasing new space, or should they wait until actual growth requirements are more apparent?
Advice from the CEOs:
The answer depends on the risk that you are willing to take as a company. When you signed your lease you took a risk based on your expected 3 year needs. The current situation is no different. Analyze your current growth trajectory and take a comfortable level of risk.
Options will vary depending on whether the move is relatively high or low cost, and what space configuration you need.
Determine whether you have a high or low cost to expand or move – equipment, communications, wiring, etc.
If your costs to reconfigure space and move equipment are low, then the risk is relatively low beyond your new lease obligations.
Talk to your landlord.
With the amount of space currently available in Silicon Valley and the Peninsula, your landlord may have alternatives that are attractive to you.
Look for a solution that allows you the space you need under a comfortable risk scenario, but which also gives you options to expand into adjoining space as need arises.
Also talk to a broker about what kinds of space are available at what rates, and what incentives may also be available.
Short-term, consider leasing excess space from your neighbors as you consider alternatives.
Situation: A company, noting that business conditions have improved, is planning for growth. This means keeping current customers and taking on the next tier of customers. They are also focused on improving customer service and the customer service experience. All of this costs money. How do you control expenses as you grow?
Advice from Andy Wallace:
As a small business, you can’t spend more than you have. You need to focus on all expenses from supplies to workers compensation. Major expenses are inventory and payroll. You need to focus on the line items, control the little things and control the big things.
There are three areas that we monitor frequently: inventory control systems, overtime, and assuring that safety is first to reduce accidents and control workers compensation costs.
Employees respect employers who respect them and their families. Recently we had an employee who was called by school because their child was sick. We told the employee to take the rest of the day off to take care of the child. The employee was back in an hour, having made other arrangements for the child’s care.
As you grow your payroll, hire the right folks with the right skills. Take time and don’t rush – you need to fill the position with the right person. As a small company having the right skills is important and reduces the costs for training and on-boarding new employees.
Important skills for us vary by position but include solid computer and technology skills; attention to detail, as well as writing, communication and math skills; the ability to multitask and respond positively to interruptions.
The culture of our company is extremely important. It’s the foundation of the company and we want to perpetuate it. Culture starts at the top with the leadership as examples for the employees to follow. It can’t be “do as I say, not what I do.” Employees know who arrives early and stays late, who is attentive to details. If we don’t set the right tone as leaders of the company, we can’t expect them to follow.
Interview with Greg Hartwell, CEO and Managing Director, Homecare California, Inc.
Situation: Fast growing companies find it difficult to manage consistency and reliability of service as they scale to their next level of growth. They need to systematize what works and leverage technology to enjoy the benefits of scale. How do you build consistency and reliability as you scale up?
Advice from Greg Hartwell:
Invest time and effort to build an experienced management team. As a small company building a new service delivery model, it is helpful for the founders to know all roles so that you have a sense of what’s needed for each role.
Be open to hiring people from other industries. This brings a fresh perspective and broadens the pool of talent. There’s value in industry experience, but attitude and cultural fit are key.
The split between tactical and strategic skills is 80 / 20. Basic skills are necessary, but specialized knowledge can be learned.
Institutionalize how you recruit, screen, hire, train and retain. How do you do it like Disney – attracting and hiring the best of the best?
Know your market and the personality of those who will excel. This greatly simplifies the screening process.
Work hard on training. Our customer-focus starts with our employees. We complement natural talent with training that focuses on soft skills, and on consistency and reliability of service.
Find great advisors who can help build a training and retention system that works for you.
Minimize turnover by compensating people well, and treating them even better. Build a culture of recognition and shared experience that emphasizes the importance of the team and its members.
Embrace technology which enhances your ability to scale.
Don’t wait for something bad to happen and then rush to fix it. Anticipate and prevent mishaps.
Leverage communication technologies to tighten the bond between client and provider agency. Provide added services that are valuable and affordable.
Hand-held device technology is developing rapidly. Leverage this to increase consistency and reliability of service, enhance case reporting, reduce human error, reduce the ratio of supervisors to caregivers, and increase productivity. Be at the head of your industry class!
Situation: A company is the leader in an expanding market. To sustain growth, they must transform how their people operate so that they better address and serve the needs of their target customers. How do you transform company culture?
Advice from Joe Payne:
We have a saying at Eloqua: Culture eats strategy for breakfast. More important than this year’s product strategy is the culture you build that let’s employees make decisions on the fly because they know “that’s how we do things at Eloqua.”
Look at how you pay and reward your people. We all receive bonuses on the same team metrics: company sales, profitability, and customer satisfaction. If the team wins, we all win.
We are not a democracy, but everyone has a voice. Although we make decisions as a business, we avoid top-down management. We push as much authority and accountability as far down the organization chart as we can. You can only do this well with a strong culture.
We adopted a mantra to guide our way, “Get it done – Do it right”, and a set of metrics to make it part of our culture.
We created a two-by-two grid, with “Get it Done” on the Y-axis and “Do it Right” on the X-axis on which all employees, including the Executive Team, are plotted. If rated in the top right quadrant, that employee is doing well. If someone finds himself or herself plotted in the Upper Left quadrant (getting it done, but not doing it right), that person has one quarter to improve. Lower Right people get two months. Lower lefters are out that day.
We can measure “getting it done” using standard quantitative metrics, but “doing it right” is more qualitative. We ask questions like, “Is the person a positive source of energy for the team? Does she go above and beyond for other staff and for customers?” We provide examples to help evaluators plot individual performance.
Once we instituted this matrix, one of our top selling sales reps was evaluated as being in the top left quadrant. When he only paid lip-service to changing and didn’t correct this behavior after a quarter, we let him go, numbers and all. This decision was both a major “wow” and a major win for the company.