Situation: A CEO is planning for 2015-16. While the economy seems to be picking up, there are clouds on the horizon. Do you believe the positive indicators? How do business prospects look for 2015-16?
Advice from the CEOs:
Company A: Based on our pipeline we should be recruiting heavily. However we are being conservative and are only adding personnel selectively.
Company B: We expect 2015 to be modestly better than the last few years. Engineering saw a turnaround this summer; however we need to see signs that this early economic cycle work spreads more broadly to the rest of the economy.
Company C: Some of our development work looks like a spike due to delayed projects. This may not be sustainable.
Company D: Weakness in Europe and the recent announcement that Japan has entered another recession give us caution about international prospects.
Increasing numbers of Baby-Boomers are retiring. However, some statistics suggest that 60% of retired boomers will be living on Social Security, meaning that they will struggle to make ends meet. This could create a negative shift in consumer spending.
The current stock market rally is based on the higher profitability of large public companies. This has come about as a result of two factors: recessionary cutbacks and easy money from the Federal Reserve. What we may be seeing is a Fed–funded bubble. There is a question of its sustainability.
Implications for business:
For companies doing business internationally – the lower dollar helps.
Cautious additions to employment/investment.
Need to deal with inflation if the recovery accelerates.
If and when the recovery accelerates, employee retention may become a challenge.
Situation: A small company uses a sales plan, but not a marketing plan. The CEO wants to know about marketing plans, and how they are different from sales plans. Most importantly, if a company has both, how do you coordinate sales and marketing plans?
Advice from the CEOs:
Sales and Marketing Plans are two aspects of the annual planning and revenue forecasting process. The difference between the two is focus – strategy versus implementation.
The Marketing Plan is strategic. It defines and quantifies the market that the company addresses, and also what markets the company does not address. It identifies the key attributes of the company’s market and products or services, and sets the broad direction as well as the high level objectives for the planning period – usually one year. It also covers both current products and product additions or extensions. The focus of the Marketing Plan is one-to-many.
In contrast, the Sales Plan is focuses on execution of the Marketing Plan. Ideally, the sales team takes the Marketing Plan and sets individual and team sales objectives that will meet the revenue objectives set in the Marketing Plan. The focus of the Sales Plan one-to-one – what each sales representative, and each division of the sales team (unit, district, region, country, and so forth) commits to sell during the coming year.
To coordinate the Marketing and Sales Plans, it is best to draft the Marketing Plan before asking the sales team to draft their Sales Plan. It helps the two teams to coordinate their projections for the coming year and allows the sales team to project sales based on changes to the product mix included in the Marketing Plan.
Situation: A company is preparing for a reorganization. The CEO plans to hire a new manager to in time become General Manager of the company. He also wants to terminate two current employees. How do you manage a reorganization?
Advice from the CEOs:
Develop a 90-day integration plan for the new manager, including his/her top 3 to 5 objectives, and have the individual develop and execute the plan to achieve these objectives.
Use an early project to schedule working sessions with each department in the company during the new manager’s first week. This will help the new manager and current employees learn to work together and develop trust in each other.
In addition to providing broad objectives for the new manager’s first 90 days, clearly establish behaviors and outcomes that are unacceptable.
One of the employees to be terminated is a long-term employee who reports to the CEO but has not performed to expectations. The CEO should take the lead in terminating this person, and offer them a suitable severance package.
A junior employee who is not performing to expectations reports to a supervisor. However, the junior employee has repeatedly tried to work around his supervisor by approaching others in the company with his suggestions and complaints.
o First, make it clear to everyone that the employee’s behavior is not acceptable and that he has to work through and with his supervisor.
o Then let the supervisor determine whether or not to eliminate the employee, and support the supervisor’s decision. This includes offering a suitable severance package should the supervisor decide on termination.
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.
Situation: A company wants to execute a strategic shift in direction – taking it into a new business which will diversify its offering to customers. The CEO needs to assure that everyone is on-board to both speed the shift and minimize cost. What are the keys to successful strategic change?
Advice from the CEOs:
Be front and center with your vision. State the vision clearly, in terms that everyone will understand. Focus on the benefits of the change for the company and employees and be realistic about the challenges involved.
Be enthusiastic. This is critical to all change efforts. Be cheerleader as well as leader.
Plan ahead and begin to communicate well in advance of the anticipated change. Plant seeds and encourage the team to generate options or solutions. Give all levels of the organization the opportunity to become involved and participate in both design and implementation of the change.
Be consistent in messaging and support across the team. Don’t vacillate or promise what you can’t deliver. Employees will watch for the presence or absence of consistency. If it’s absent, they won’t join in.
Conduct scenario analyses. This enables you to try out different futures and implementation options.
Identify critical issues. Look at possible results – first consider the “most likely”, then “best” and “worst” possible outcomes. Considering best and worst generates new alternatives, and improves the perspective on the most likely outcome.
Conduct visioning exercises. Create a graphic vision of possible futures.
This increases group participation and sparks creativity.
It improves group function, thereby enhancing results.
Visual representation is more memorable than standard bullets and lists.
Special thanks to Jan Richards of J G Richards Consulting – jgrichardsresults.com – for her insight on this topic.
Situation: The CEO of a company has a Director of Operations who aspires to more professional responsibility, but who is also hesitant to take on more work. This conflict in the mind of the Director poses a challenge for the CEO. How should the CEO work with this individual?
Advice from the CEOs:
Key managers in certain roles, for example operations and finance, are naturally more conservative in their outlook. Often this is desirable for the role and is characterized as protector behavior in contrast with the ambitious entrepreneur’s builder behavior. These complimentary behaviors are essential to a successful enterprise – the builder to push the envelope and the protector to assure that the company’s resources aren’t stretched too thin.
Take the time to determine the source of hesitation by asking questions. Is it because the individual is meticulous and precise, or is there something else behind the hesitation? If the former, then a plan of action will enable the person to assess whether the next level of responsibility is in line with his or her expectations. If there is something else, work with the individual to define what this is and whether it is a barrier to additional responsibility or a temporary situation that can be alleviated.
Because this individual aspires to additional responsibility, be precise in explaining the demands of the next level position and the performance that you expect at this level. Develop a plan and objectives that will demonstrate whether the individual is ready to take on additional responsibility or not. For the meticulous, precise individual the plan will serve as confirmation of what is expected and will help him or her determine whether they are ready for more responsibility.
Situation: A company’s sales process is currently ad hoc with a 20% close rate and an unpredictable pipeline. The CEO wants to develop an organized sales effort. How do you mature from an ad hoc to an organized sales effort?
Advice from the CEOs:
Use the same discipline that you use to develop and bring new products to market to develop and engineer an organized sales effort. Start with a clean slate. Develop a full business plan and process to support your sales. Set projections and milestones, assign responsibility and accountability, and hold regular meetings to monitor progress and adjust your tactics.
Utilize the company’s knowledge of the market and your customer base to better understand your sales efforts to date. For example:
Look at your sales history, and look at the cases where you have closed business. Are there commonalities or patterns among clients with whom you have won new business?
Similarly, look for patterns in situations where you did not close new business.
Look for a sweet spot which characterizes business deals that you’ve won. If you find that in past efforts there is a segment where your close rate is higher – perhaps among clients of a particular size or in a particular industry – hire a sales executive who has a history of success in this segment of the market. This will improve your close rate and provide a base from which you can expand your sales efforts in a planned and orderly way.
Determine your most important market differentiation – what makes you special – and validate this with current and past customers. Make sure that your differentiation is as important to clients as it is to you. If it isn’t find out why clients chose you rather and your competition.
Is your sales process reactive or proactive? Until you truly understand your market, it is reactive. Once you understand where your sales efforts are most effective, improve your knowledge of this segment of the market and focus both your sales and marketing efforts here to boost your results.
Situation: A company is enjoying a good year and is busy both adding new business and serving current clients. However, the CEO finds that when business is good he doesn’t have time to focus on all of his initiatives. This frustrates him. How do you make time for initiatives?
Advice from the CEOs:
How extensive is your To-Do List? If you have two or three major, time consuming initiatives, and a host of small tasks, prioritize both categories. Focus on what you can do given the time you have available. Put lower priority on the smaller tasks, and delegate as much as you can, or put them off until things slow down. This will help deal with your frustrations.
Block out time for yourself.
Do this early in the day, before you have lots of distractions on your desk.
Allocate 1-2 hours early in the morning, and get to work a little later. Let you staff know that you are not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency, but that they will have your full attention when you get to the office.
Plan you initiatives, segment them into smaller pieces, and schedule them.
Use Mindmapping to segment them, or a piece of software like MindManager to assist your thinking.
Among the segmented pieces, look for opportunities to delegate to free up your time and involve staff in the initiative.
Develop a Task List in Feature/Deliverables terms with a broad timeframe.
Prioritize and build into your Quarterly and Annual plans.
Situation: A company was recently acquired. The acquirer wants to merge benefit structures between the two entities. Both contribute a similar amount toward benefits; however the distribution of benefits between retirement and health plans, and other benefits varies considerably. How do you approach the staff to communicate changes in benefits following an acquisition?
Advice from the CEOs:
Ideally, you want to gather employee input on what benefits are important to them before the overall package is finalized. This will help you to negotiate in your employees’ interest.
Make sure that the acquiring entity is aware of state regulatory requirements that may force them to retain state-specific benefits.
National companies often employ a cafeteria benefit strategy that allows the employees to make choices among benefit options, and fund these choices either at a company-paid base level or allow employees to supplement their choices through pre- or post-tax payroll deductions. There are numerous providers who offer cafeteria plans.
What’s the best way to have a conversation with employees once the new benefit package has been finalized?
Emphasize that the company is offering and funding this benefit and specify the amount that the company is funding as a percent of salary.
Create a grid mapping the full program:
Amount of company contribution
Old Program and benefits
New Program and benefits
Changes in allocation and changes in the total value of benefits offered.
If you have access to industry or regional comparisons for like-sized companies, and those comparisons put your company in a favorable light, share these as part of the communications package.
If you know that a highly valued benefit is being reduced, consider a short-term subsidy to ease the shift.
Be sure that you are clear and concise in your communications of the new plan and changes to the employees. You may want to have an outside consultant on hand to cover specific questions.
Be sure that any decisions your employees must make in the new program are fully and clearly explained.
Situation: The Board of a company has asked the CEO to generate to forecast of revenue for this year. Their primary technology is new and the company has just started receiving orders. An achievable revenue forecast my not please the Board. However, the company may lack manufacturing capacity to meet a higher level of demand. How do you forecast revenue for a new technology?
Be realistic in your forecast. While the Board may not like your number, the impact of setting the goal too far out of reach is potentially significant, including discouraging the team, and impairing credibility with the Board. However, if you aim realistically and significantly exceed the target you will be heroes.
How is it best to approach this in discussions with the leadership team?
Create a set of objectives and revenue targets and put probabilities around each. Also look at the obstacles to hitting the higher numbers, including manufacturing capacity and the cost of increasing capacity.
For examples if your most likely forecast is $X, then put probabilities around achievement of multiples of this number:
$X – 95%
.75X – 99%
1.5X – 75%
2X – 60%
Once your determine the objective, think through everything that must be covered to meet that goal, from sales to production, and start developing plans and contingencies to address these.
Share your probabilities with the board, as well as your plans and contingencies that may increase likelihood of reaching the higher targets. Ask for their input and assistance hitting the higher targets.