Situation: A CEO wants to create new markets outside the US. They have investigated options and locations and are starting to plan. One question is how long it will take to start seeing results, so that they budget accordingly. How do you build international sales?
Advice from the CEOs:
Decision timelines internationally are longer than they are in the US. For example, in Europe timelines are easily twice as long. This means that new entrants must budget for a sustained effort.
It took another company three years to develop traction in Europe. They have an office in Germany, but most new sales are coming from Eastern Europe. After three years their European operation is now break-even.
International markets, especially in Europe, can be very conservative. Job security and maintaining cash flow are the focus.
Labor laws encourage companies to do things themselves rather than outsource. The result is that a new entrant will face competition from internal departments of potential prospects.
In European the emphasis is not growth, but on conservative steady operation. Growth tends to come from acquisition.
Sales pitches should be tweaked for international audiences. For example, highlight reduced need for additional personnel to manage the systems, fewer breakdowns and glitches, and the ability to count on seasoned outside expertise to quickly address complications.
Relationship selling is very important internationally. Sales and tech support are best provided, and in some cases required to be provided in the local language.
In Europe, Italy can be an important lever to sales with the right partner. Italian companies can be excellent at marketing and can jump-start European sales. This will be a very personal relationship.
Situation: An early stage company is wrestling with team dynamics and coordinating the achievement of critical milestones. The strategic picture seems to change on almost a daily basis. New employees who have big company experience want to see formal job descriptions and role definition. Older employees are jealous of the attention that newer, more highly qualified employees are receiving. Where should the CEO be focusing. How should she be handling these challenges? Should a start-up focus on team dynamics?
Advice from the CEOs:
At this point, the company is in start-up stage. The most critical issue isn’t team dynamics, it’s getting a product to market and demonstrating that you can sell it. If you don’t have a product, you don’t have a company.
Your top 4 areas of focus for the next 3-6 months should be:
Get the product out.
Close 3-4 good customers – preferably customers that you can reference.
Securing the funding – partnership or investor – that will get you to your next key milestones or to positive cash flow.
Build your organization and keep planning.
As an early stage company, distinct roles and job definitions make no sense. Your strategic picture is currently very dynamic. You need good people who can flexibly wear several hats and fill diverse roles.
If employees with big company backgrounds press you on job descriptions and role definitions, tell them that as a small company you must be quick on your feet, and that you need them to fill flexible roles. As you grow beyond 35 employees then roles will start to become more clarified. Ask for their patience.
If they continue to struggle with loose role definitions, then they aren’t the right people for an early stage company.
Employees who started with you early were great for the beginning. However, they may not be the best for you long-term. They may feel hurt as newer employees with deeper expertise and resumes start to replace them. In the interests of the company, the game is not longevity with the company; it’s about quality and putting the most competent people in the most critical roles.
If you are playing pick-up basketball, you play with whoever comes along.
If you decide to form a team and to compete, you need quality players. Some of your pick-up players won’t make the cut and need to go find another pick-up game.
Situation: A family-owned business has a family member on hourly pay who puts in excessive overtime. The cost of overtime significantly cuts into company profits. The CEO wants to cut back these overtime hours and get the employee to work more efficiently. At the same time, she feels that maintaining peace within the extended family is important. How do you cut excessive overtime for a single employee?
Advice from the CEOs:
Situations like this within a family business are delicate because of relationships beyond the work place. Treat this individual respectfully, but make it clear that you have to act in the best interests of the company and all employees.
Develop a job description with this employee that will help to get their overtime under control.
Communicate to the employee: “I don’t want to take advantage of you by requiring this much overtime.”
Let the individual know that you are looking for additional talent and want to more tightly define the roles.
Develop a company policy on overtime that limits the amount of overtime that any one individual can accrue. If anyone starts to approach this limit, then have a process in place that shifts additional overtime to others.
This is a serious problem for the company. It calls for company transformation. Enlist the employee as a champion for the cause of transforming the company. Keep this a positive vision.
If the individual is not a keeper: start controlling hours, but don’t give a raise. Let them leave on their own time.
If the individual is a keeper: give them raise, while cutting overtime hours.
Situation: A company has a long-term employee who has been growing in responsibility as Customer Service Supervisor. The CEO is considering giving this employee the new title of Production Manager at the same time that the employee receives an annual wage increase. How do you optimize a promotion?
Advice from the CEOs:
Any promotion or increase in responsibility must be consistent with the strategic direction of the company. What are the company’s current and future needs and, based on past performance, can this individual satisfy those needs? If so, this may be a good match.
In addition, it is important to consider the needs and career path of the individual. Does the new position involve an increased time commitment, additional skills and training, or other important factors, and is the individual prepared for this increased commitment? Will a higher level of commitment be rewarded financially? The only way to answer these questions is to have a conversation with the individual.
If as the first two questions are considered there is any doubt, a longer-term transition may be appropriate. Meet with the Customer Service Supervisor and set a series of goals and objectives that will demonstrate their ability to assume the new role over a 6 month time frame. The concept here is that you must work at the level of the new job before you get it.
Before embarking on the above recommendations, draft a job description and list of responsibilities for the new Production Manager position, consistent with the company’s needs as it grows. This will involve input from employees who currently handle these responsibilities. Also look at the reporting structure as it currently exists and as it may change.
Situation: A company wants to create a succession plan for key roles. Historically they haven’t had succession plans, but they are actively looking at candidates, skill sets, and so forth. The CEO wants to be able to make a recommendation to the Board. What are best practices in succession planning?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start with job and role descriptions. Select internal candidates for the positions and offer trial opportunities to assess their capabilities.
Test potential successors with projects to see if they can rise to the level of the higher responsibility. It may take more than one try to assess this.
Along the way you may discover hidden talents possessed by some of your employees.
Start with your incumbents. One of their responsibilities should be to identify possible inside candidates as successors for their positions, and to create a profile of qualifications for outside candidates. This should also be part of their job descriptions.
Succession candidates must desire the responsibility of the higher position. Don’t assume that everyone will want this. Some will be very good in their current role. Trying to force them to advance in responsibility can be counterproductive.
Do not assume that an outsider with a good resume and industry connections can fill the role of an insider who knows the company and its products and services.