Tag Archives: Leadership

How Do You Manage Culture as You Grow? Six Solutions

Situation: A tech company has grown to twenty people. The CEO is concerned that if they grow much beyond this their culture will start to change. The principal question is whether team leadership structure will remain tight and focused, while teams will continue to be flexible and have fun. How do you manage culture as you grow?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Other companies have grown to twice this size and continue to increase their number of employees.
    • One uses component owners as leads, with people under them. Leads are more technical than managers and aren’t expected to be superb managers.
    • They grow middle managers organically instead of hiring from outside.
    • If an individual’s plate is full, give them the ability to delegate work to an up and comer.
  • Active communication has number limits.
    • The optimal functioning group is 7-12; higher functioning teams are even smaller with 7-8 members.
    • Create flexible teams that maintain communication pathways and culture.
    • Consider using reconfigurable space.
  • When one company grew from 25 to 60, they noticed that at 30 people it became difficult to track people; they needed to develop systems and internal management tools.
    • Much more attention was needed on sales forecasting and expense elasticity. The solution was to study peaks and valleys and built a model that could function within historic peak /valley limits.
  • How do you maintain the contractor pool?
    • Keep a list and actively communicate with them about current and anticipated needs.
    • One company’s rule: consultants are 100% billable – functionally they are only able to realize 98%, but the rule keeps this number high.
  • Use contractor pools to supplement project tasks. If your primary differentiating focus is on successfully closing projects, focus contractors on ramping new projects.
  • Hire people who embody you and your culture. Hire in your own image.

How Do You Create a Value Proposition? A Three-Round Process

Situation: A company wants to effectively position itself for a recovery. The CEO believes that it is time to sit down with his team and focus on those areas which will help them to emerge during the recovery not only stronger than they were when the recession started, but ahead of their competition. How do you create a value proposition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Creating your Value Proposition starts by analyzing and understanding your most important strength. Is it Product Leadership, Operational Excellence, or Customer Intimacy?
  • No company can succeed today trying to be all things to all people. Choosing one discipline as your most important strength is the choice of winners.
  • To set your Value Agenda, ask your team “How do we compete and win in our marketplace?” This is not a single discussion, but requires three rounds – best done as three different sessions.

o  Round 1 focuses on understanding where you stand in your marketplace.

o  Round 2 focuses on understanding what your customers perceive as your “unmatched value.”

o  Round 3 focuses on building an operating model that enhances your unmatched value and helps to consistently communicate this to your clientele.

  • Once the three rounds are completed, formulate the top findings of each round into your Value Agenda for the company.

o  A Value-Driven Operating Model gives your company the ability to deliver on your Value Proposition.

o  Your Value Discipline is the combination of operating model and value proposition that will allow you to be the best in your market.

How Do You Discourage Personal Work on Company Time? Three Solutions

Situation: A company recently hired two employees. In their first weeks of work, they were observed using company computers, on company time, to do personal work – in one case to monitor a personal web-based business. What is the best way to communicate company policy to these individuals?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Everything starts with the orientation on the first day of employment and the atmosphere established in the first weeks of work.
    • Particularly in a small company, new employees should meet with the CEO whose job it is to describe the culture of the company, the vision for the future and broad expectations of the role and contributions expected from employees.
    • Matters concerning personal work on company time and with company equipment should be clearly addressed in the employee handbook. Key points should be reviewed by a representative of upper level management, along with a conversation to assure that these key points are clearly understood.
    • Particularly during the initial weeks of work, new employees should have frequent meetings with their immediate supervisors to assure that they have the resources they need, that any questions they have about their work are addressed, and that they are performing to company and role expectations.
  • Given what has been observed, you, as CEO, should definitely speak to them about the behavior observed, and give them the opportunity to explain what is happening.
    • Clarify expectations of all employees, and ask whether these individuals understand these expectations.
    • Document the meeting. If the behavior continues, take action.
  • What is being done by other employees, and is there a broader issue to be addressed? Are other employees behaving similarly? If so, the new employees may just be responding to what they perceive as allowable behavior within the company.
    • Start with a company meeting or a letter to all employees. Highlight relevant passages from the employee handbook, and speak in terms not only of company culture but of the destructive impact that this behavior has on company performance and viability. The future of everyone in the company is tied to company performance and success.

Key Words: Leadership, Team, Expectations, Personal Work, Company Time, Policy, Orientation, Culture, Expectations, Employee, Handbook, Evaluation Period, Supervision, Documentation

How Do You Help Managers Think Bigger? Four Guidelines

Situation: A company is transitioning from a time and materials to a fixed price bid model. Estimators and project leads find this transition difficult. We need them to think like business managers. How do you help managers to see and think in terms of the big picture?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • First, set up a framework that repositions projects in a business framework.
    • All projects are business go/no decisions with expenses, minimum profitability targets, and incentives provided for beating initial projections.
    • This will help generate more consistency in bids and final gross margins per project.
  • Next, teach managers and employees industry and company standards within your new model.
    • Do post-mortems on all projects. Did we make or lose money versus initial estimate? How much? How did we perform against estimated time and expense? Were client expectations met? Were they exceeded? What was good or bad about the project? Were there errors in the original estimates? Where could we have saved cost?
    • Use this information to improve your estimating process over time.
  • You have a long history of T&M projects. Categorize these by project type. Look at the hours required to complete the projects – both engineering and management time – as well as other costs. Establish range and averages within each category.
    • Look for key variables among the project categories: scope of project, learning curves, efficiency of team members.
    • Work through known costs and outcomes on past projects as examples to teach the process.
    • For new projects, calculate best, medium and worst case hours and costs. Bid based on your worst case as you develop your learning curve.
    • Make sure to include a project management fee on top of your T&M estimates. Eventually you want to develop an overhead percentage to cover project management.
  • Team your estimator with the project lead both for project input, and performance against the bid.
    • Evaluate and compensate both based on project outcome.
    • The critical measure will be gross margin generated versus gross margin estimated on the project.

Key Words: Leadership, Project, Time and Materials, Fixed Price, Bid, Framework, Consistency, Standards, Variables, Estimator, Lead, Incentive

How Do You Chase A Moving Ball? Three Fundamentals

Interview with Michelle Bonat, CEO and Founder, RumbaFish Technologies

Situation: Early stage companies focusing on social commerce and analytics face an unpredictable market. Nobody can accurately forecast market direction or even who the players will be in 2 to 3 years. What are best practices for chasing a moving ball?

Advice from Michelle Bonat:

  • In a rapidly evolving market it is critical to have laser-like focus on the needs of your customers. You must create value for them by understanding their needs, businesses and challenges. While technologies and markets change and evolve, human behavior is remarkably consistent over time. By focusing on rewards, sharing and customer motivations we better understand their needs. We see three fundamentals in working with customers.
  • First, focus on understanding needs versus wants. If Henry Ford had asked what customers wanted for better transportation they would have said “a faster horse.” They needed a faster way to get from Point A to Point B without getting rained on. We invent solutions that are incrementally better at addressing fundamental customer needs by leveraging technology and social commerce.
  • Second, work collaboratively with your customer. As we develop an understanding of needs versus wants, we develop an arm in arm relationship with customers and partner to evaluate solutions that work for them. We use short versus long release cycles with frequent checkpoints to assure that both sides are on the same page and that we understand the features that are most important to the customer. As a result, our customers become evangelists not only for the resulting product or service, but for us!
  • Third, go into any project with the customer’s success foremost in your mind. We focus not only on getting the solution right, but on assuring that the solution optimizes the customer’s primary objectives. That way we all share in the win.
  • The bottom line is that customers want to be treated as individuals and want their individual needs met. We honor this and make it central to our customer interactions. This way, no matter where the market goes, we will be a player.

You can contact Michelle Bonat at michelle@rumbafish.com

Key Words: Strategy, Leadership, Social, Media, Commerce, Analytics, Predictability, Unpredictability, Market, Direction, Player, Customer, Value, Needs, Wants, Behavior, Engage, Share, Understand, Technology, Social Commerce, Collaborative, Relationship, Success, Solution, Individual

What’s My Role as CEO? Five Perspectives

Situation: The CEO questions whether he is the right person to lead the Company. The Company has solid revenues and profitability, but growth is lower than expected. How can the CEO improve his situation and solidify his leadership?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The primary functions of the CEO are to assure the maintenance of company values, to provide vision, and to monitor resource allocation within the company.
  • Identify your strengths, and the most important areas where you need help. Create an organizational chart not of positions but of strengths that are needed within the company. Compare these positions with your own strengths, and focus your own activities on your strengths. Promote or hire talent to support you in the latter areas.
    • As you hire or promote and delegate, make sure that you are allowing those with new responsibility the latitude to run their areas of responsibility.
  • Should I consider hiring a CEO or COO?
    • Maybe. If you do, first identify the key leadership traits that we most want to see in a candidate.
    • If you hire a CEO, this individual should have skin in the game. They must be perceived as a leader, and there must be a clean hand-off.
    • Consider hiring a COO. This can be someone willing to take this role with the understanding that your long-term objective is to replace yourself as CEO. A person unwilling to come on as COO and to develop into the CEO may not be the right candidate.

Key Words: Leadership, Role, Strengths, Delegation, Organizational Chart, Values, Vision, Resource Allocation, CEO, COO                                                            

Developing Leaders within the Ranks: Four Approaches

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:
      • Time
      • Talent
      • 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.

Key Words: Leadership, Development, Goals, Values, Roles, Expectations, Mentor 

Micromanage – Me? Four Observations

Situation: The CEO is concerned about the performance of both the company and individual employees. The employees are good, but there are many minor details of day-to-day operation that the CEO feels are important. How involved should the CEO be in the details of the business?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The answer to this question depends on you.
    • What is your own priority on the use of you time?
    • How much do you want to be involved?
    • How confident are you in the people whom you’ve hired?
    • Are you comfortable delegating?
    • Do you want to stay small or scale and grow?
  • The good and bad of involving yourself in details:
    • The Good Side – communicates that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do what it takes to get the job done.
    • The Bad Side – don’t do your employees’ jobs for them.
      • This is demotivating and communicates a lack of trust in their abilities.
      • If the workload is so demanding and the benefit so great, then secure additional resources to enable employees to get the job done themselves.
  • More broadly, remember the lesson from many business gurus – you increase the value of your company by getting the “U” out of your bUsiness. You may enjoy the detail of the business. However, do not let this interfere with your long term objective of having others doing the “doing” while you mature your role as manager and leader.

Key Words: Manage, Leadership, Delegation, Confidence, Growth 

I’m Up all Night Worrying that Things are “Too Good.” Three Considerations

Situation: Business has turned around in the last six months and I’m so focused on sales that I don’t have time to plan. How and when do you plan for growth?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Think about the business cycle – the upswing, the peak and the downturn:
    • On the upswing there is a tendency to be so focused on the day to day that you spend no time testing the business environment or on the long-term planning activities that are critical to sustained growth and success.
    • If the CEO doesn’t take time during the upswing to evaluate new opportunities it’s easy to fall into the trap where planning occurs until after the cycle has peaked.
    • After the business cycle has peaked, it is too late to take advantage of opportunities that were available during the upswing.
    • Once the business cycle is in a downturn attention shifts to preservation and survival. The opportunity to reallocate resources to build alternative future scenarios has been lost.
  • If you feel pressure to bring on additional resources, set a timeframe to evaluate the situation – say a few weeks or a month – and see if the pressure is sustained. If it is, have a plan in place to secure those resources. Do this with a clear head – not on impulse. Exercise discipline.
  • Remember that leadership is your job – not being immersed in the day to day. A leader keeps others immersed in and focused on the day to day.

Key Words: Leadership, Business Cycle, Planning, Adding Personnel