Situation: The CEO of a successful small software company is snowed under by day to day tasks. She wants to focus more of her time on business and infrastructure development. However, the company’s departments are not strong enough to run without her supervision. How do you free up more of your time?
Advice from the CEOs:
The first priority is to develop infrastructure that will allow the CEO to focus on strategic development.
To build this the company needs the right people to do the work.
Look at the daily task list and develop or hire new managers to oversee day-to-day non-strategic functions.
For example, offload payroll and back-end accounting to a bookkeeper.
Look at the gaps between where the company is now and where you, as CEO, want to be in terms of your time and responsibilities:
In addition to a bookkeeper, hire an experienced executive assistant – to keep you focused as CEO.
The company is growing rapidly. It is time to hire a human resources manager.
The company’s cash flow projection for the coming year indicates a substantial surplus.
Use this surplus to hire infrastructure.
In front of key clients, keep the impression that you are available to them; however, this is primarily for client relations. The CEO doesn’t have to do all the work demanded by clients.
Use the lawyer / rainmaker model. The rainmaker maintains key client relationships; however, the rainmaker has staff do 90% of the work.
The 7 States of Enterprise Growth Model indicates that the company is now in what’s called a Wind Tunnel. The critical activities in a Wind Tunnel are:
Letting go of methodologies that no longer work and acquiring new methods that do work, and
Situation: The CEO of a service company continually finds the company short of cash. They have just hired a new accountant, but it will take time for this individual to understand the financial situation and to generate recommendations to improve cash flow. How do you keep a company afloat short-term?
Advice from the CEOs:
Point #1: This isn’t just a question of controlling costs; the company needs to build the infrastructure to succeed.
If there isn’t someone on the team in a position of authority, who the CEO can trust completely, hire this person. The CEO can’t control all risks.
While the company has shrunk over the last two years, it is still a substantial company and needs professional management. To grow effectively, professionals are required in key leadership positions. If necessary, hire experienced outside talent
Look for teachable moments as challenges arrive. The CEO, instead of solving a problem, should work with employees and mentor them through discovering and implementing solutions.
How to communicate this to current staff?
Put the story together. Be able to make a clear statement to them, including the current situation and future possibilities for which the company must prepare.
Generate charts and metrics to support key points.
Use senior staff as the mouthpieces to present the story to the rest of the organization. Once they are onboard, have them help craft the message. Don’t underestimate the CEO’s authority. This is business, not a popularity contest.
Let others make mistakes – it is part of the learning process – no matter how critical the situation.
Point #2 – Return to the company’s roots.
The faster everyone accepts that a focused approach is the only way to survive, the faster the company will turn around. Reestablishing company presence in key markets with a new model that speaks to their desires makes a lot of sense.
Be very clear as to what flat-rate service pricing covers. Include this in the signed customer agreement. Don’t allow costs to creep up or it will kill the profitability of flat rate jobs.
Create an infrastructure nimble enough to adapt as market conditions change. Identify what really works and focus on this.
A company is moving from sole focus on servicing a market to a split focus
including developing and marketing their own products. This is a significant
transition for the team. What is the best way to organize this effort? How do
you manage a business transition?
from the CEOs:
the company’s financials are great for their market, cashflow may be
insufficient to fully fund a development company.
development of new products can create conflicts if it creates competition for
resources between internal and external projects.
avoid this, create an independent company or entity – in a separate location.
Seek outside funding whether bank, angel or partner financing. The independent
entity can then buy resources from the primary entity at competitive rates.
years ago, another CEO utilized the strategy just described. The important
that venture is properly resourced.
that there is a balance between proven structure and creative application
best resources available at same rates that key customers pay.
free guidance but not free services – peer reviews are key.
third CEO had an opportunity to open a new business using the spin-off model.
allowed infrastructure sharing – with proper compensation and incentives
both entities were successful.
Properly implemented, this model works.
are four aspects to the challenge.
business plan for the new venture must address all four.
internally (vs. externally) creates natural conflict. Workers will tolerate change
in direction from clients better than they do from insiders.
A CEO is concerned that too much of her company’s business is focused on two
few customers. The loss of a single large customer can potentially mean a significant
hit to revenue and profitability. How do you diversify your customer base?
from the CEOs:
If current cash flow is good, the company should consider purchasing diversity by buying a company.
Consider acquiring a supplier that is in good shape, but with lower margins. They will have the infrastructure to run their own operation, and the purchasing company will have the additional profitability to make the combined entity more interesting.
Given the company’s existing cash generation potential, there are creative ways to finance such an acquisition.
Why is this a good strategy?
Purchasing another company can instantly expand the customer base.
Diversifying the company opens additional options to build long-term sustainability.
A purchase strategy can bring in a ready-made and smoothly running infrastructure in the form of the purchased company.
Diversification can boost the value of the combined company on a more diversified business base. It might allow the company to combine low volume, high profit lines with high volume, lower profit lines. There are advantages to each of these business models.
Where can such a company be found?
Look both inside and outside of the current geographic base.
A candidate could be a higher volume but lower profit supplier of one of the company’s current customers that does not compete with the company’s current offering. Alternately, look at companies with more diversified customer bases in a related industry.
Look at the niches that the company’s current customers serve.
What similar niches exist? Are there acquisition candidates there?
Look at the functionality that the company’s products add for its clients. In what other industries would similar functionality be of value?
As these questions are asked, look for candidates that have complementary customer sets, customer bases, and geographical reach.
A founding CEO wants to cut back to 1-2 days per week with someone else overseeing
day-to-day operations. Her timeline to accomplish this is 3 years. Currently
she splits her time between engineering and sales support, managing operations,
overseeing the CFO and managing the company. How do you accomplish this
transition? What is your 3-year plan?
from the CEOs:
for and hire a General Manager/engineer who can understand the company’s applications
and develop unique solutions.
for and hire an understudy for the sales person. This could be someone in their
40s who is experienced, and who can act both as the sales person’s back-up and develop
additional accounts to diversify the business.
the company continues to grow it will take more time and effort to manage all
the activities. Plan the company’s organization chart and infrastructure to
account for this.
careful not create an infrastructure during good times that is unsustainable
during down times.
the new GM gains familiarity with the company, this individual will and should start
to take control. This automatically means that the founding CEO will have to
agree to release some of her control. Prepare for this.
several alternatives for the GM:
President – $400K.
with engineering talent – perhaps a consulting or engineering sales background.
Hire at $150-200K and develop into the President.
the 3-year lead time this individual could be a Technical Lead or Project
Engineer. The objective will be to develop a very talented person into the GM
or President. This alternative opens a larger pool of talent, at lower initial
are these people found?
high-quality engineer that another CEO won’t be hiring over the coming months. Talk
to friends and industry contacts.
Situation: A company has goals and objectives in place for the whole company. The challenge is that they need to focus top managers on effective processes and not just on their team’s objectives. In particular they want to increase focus on cross-functional processes. How do you focus managers on process?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start by identifying all critical processes. Once this is done, build an in-house system to track these.
Make contingency decisions dependent upon sticking with the processes.
Consistent follow-through is essential – talk through the blocks as they arise.
Don’t become a slave to your own system. Stay flexible and allow appropriate non-prescriptive behavior/solutions where it makes sense. This helps to feed creativity in the organization.
Be an advocate/cheerleader for the new culture. Employees need ongoing encouragement as they shift focus to the new regime.
Build an underlying culture to support your processes. This takes time and persistence.
If you are growing, as you hire new people, select new employees who fit the new culture. This helps to create lead models for the rest of the group.
By definition, growth means increasing infrastructure, which in turn means more restrictions and rules. Keep it fun. For example, create a wine penalty for missing deadlines.
If you’re late on your deliverable you have to contribute a good bottle of wine, with your name and the month that you were late on a tag attached to the bottle.
Contributed bottles of wine are shared at the company Christmas or holiday party.
Situation: A Silicon Valley company finds it difficult to find good candidates locally, and also to attract qualified distant candidates to the Bay Area. They want to explore hiring talented individuals out of local colleges and developing them within the company. What are best practices hiring right out of college?
Advice from the CEOs:
Hiring out of college or graduate school is a good way to find long-term hires who can grow into positions. It is less useful if your need is for experienced and tenured individuals who can immediately get up to speed in a position of significant responsibility.
As in any hiring situation, you should review your hiring process before you start to hire. Many companies hire locally based on who applies or who’s a friend of a friend, rather than making an effort to recruit the best candidates.
What is your infrastructure? Do you have a system for identifying candidates who best fit your culture and needs? Do you have personnel who can mentor a new college hire, or are you willing to devote significant time to this?
An alternative is to hire consultants to develop a recruiting process or to mentor the new hire in specific areas of development during their first year or two on the job.
One CEO sponsors an annual competition at Santa Clara University for papers in his company’s field. This has won him considerable support at the school, and gives him access to promising students, several of whom he has hired. An advantage of this program is that the company gets to know the individuals and the quality of their work before making a commitment to offer them either an internship or a full-time position.
Be cautious using candidate assessment tools with college hires. An individual’s profile may shift significantly once they start working because there is a significant shift in priorities once an individual leaves student life.
Situation: A company has experienced rapid growth. This is creating stress for the staff and CEO, who finds it difficult to break away from the day to day to focus on strategy. Employees are not keeping pace with the evolving needs of the company and turnover has increased. What have you done to manage rapid growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
The first task is to improve forecasting of business growth, and the infrastructure needed to support this growth. This includes:
Regularly updating your sales and production forecasts.
Updating staff and training plans to meet growth forecasts.
Updating infrastructure and support plans.
Without these, the organization will whipsaw in response to market demands.
Take a critical look at your staff development plans and staff training.
Look at those areas that are most impacted by business growth. Determine whether you have the right managers and support in place.
Evaluate whether you have the right people and whether they have the skills to handle new demands of their positions.
Critically evaluate each now job that you take on. Assure that you have the staff and infrastructure to meet client demands.
Always assure that you deliver on your company’s integrity, reputation and core values.
In addition to addressing immediate needs, look at long-term plans strategically. Ask where you will be in 10 years. Articulate this vision in detail, and drive plans down through the organization. Make sure that everyone is on the same page, aligned with the same values, aiming at the same targets.
Also differentiate your vision from your mission:
You vision is a 10 year time frame, not one year.
Your mission is what you will be doing this year and in 5 years – the activities you will undertake to realize your longer term vision.
Fine tune your vision and mission and drive these through the organization. This will give you clarity on how you wish to do business and will help you to make hard choices as you handle rapid growth.
Interview with G.K. Chitta, CEO, INSTA Intelligence Technologies
Situation: Fast growing companies often find it difficult to scale internal IT management to keep pace with database growth. There are typically 1-3 people in charge of dB management in a small to medium-sized business. Crisis hits when there is an abrupt system shutdown for up to 48 hours and a significant disruption to company operations. How can this be avoided?
The difficulty is that small infrastructure teams often don’t have the range of skills to diagnose dB issues. Calling Oracle, SAP, etc. for assistance gets expensive fast.
One option is to outsource business intelligence and dB management to a specialist. Quality offshore resources exist that can take over support of company BI and dB management, offering a full suite of services from anti-virus to preventative diagnosis of subtle misalignments.
For example, INSTA replicates the dB in a remote data center so that they can monitor the system for errors, develop solutions, and remotely resolves errors with no interruption to users.
In addition, some outsourced specialists include calls to Oracle, SAP and so forth as necessary to resolve problems at no cost to the client.
In a recent pilot study in a company with 5 servers, the offshore outsource partner provided a full suite of services and was able to increase uptime from 95-97% on a daily basis to 99.97%. This level of performance should be the goal.
Your outsource provider should have 24/7/365 support services, and
Should provide you with a service-level agreement (SLA) prioritizing issues so that the most critical issues are resolved fastest.