Situation: A company has many meetings. Organizers calendar meetings on Salesforce.com. Despite this, participants show up late, and sometimes not at all. When the right people aren’t present they must re-schedule the meetings. This ends up wasting valuable time for managers. How do you enforce meeting attendance?
Advice from the CEOs:
The answer depends upon your company culture and priorities.
If you have a production-focused culture, absence and tardiness may not be tolerable. Companies with this type of culture can take the following steps:
Call out late arrivals and absences immediately – the first time take them aside and explain that tardiness or absence is not excusable.
Called out repeat offenders on the spot!
One company has a policy that if you arrive late you stand for the period that you’re late. This has been very effective.
The example that you set reinforces desired behavior for the others.
In client-centered service organizations the rules may be different. Some companies feel that customer calls and meeting customers’ needs comes first, even if it means that the meeting starts without a key participant.
Match your meeting discipline to your culture.
The quality of meeting is dependent on quality of the meeting facilitator. Make sure that you have the right people leading the meetings to keep them on time and on topic. This may improve meeting timeliness.
If this is a challenge for your company, meet with those involved. Clarify the problem and confirm the reality of problem; then agree on the solution and gain their commitment to comply.
Situation: An early stage company needs to move from an engineering/R&D focus to a production focus. Cash availability and business plans dictate that this must happen very rapidly – within 4 months. How do you coordinate a rapid cultural shift from R&D to production?
Advice from the CEOs:
You will need an experienced VP of Operations.
Operations and production engineers are a different personality type than R&D engineers. The latter are creative and seek new and more effective ways to solve problems, while production engineers thrive on perfecting a process and getting it right every time. You will likely have to adjust the team to assure that you have both types.
Reorganize the current engineering team into R&D and Production engineering teams.
A core R&D team reports to the CTO.
Another team reports to VP Ops and will cover product manufacturing, process improvement and logistics and QA.
What are the most important steps to take first?
Have a heart-to-heart conversation with the individuals who you have assigned to production responsibilities.
Get back together in small groups or one-on-one with your production group and explain that to meet the company’s objectives – and everyone’s long-term financial objectives – there must be a change. Explain the cost in stark dollars of what the failure to make this change means to the company and to the team. Challenge them to assist you in developing solutions that will allow you to meet your corporate objectives.
Allow some learning opportunities to arise. Let team members make the occasional mistake and use these as coaching opportunities for the group to show what happened, why it happened, and why it can’t be repeated.
Separate standard and special order production into two groups. Each group will have to meet their own performance objectives and metrics – but all objectives and metrics must support the company’s objectives.
Early on you may want to require CEO sign-off on production sheet changes, but within a system that allows you to easily determine material from non-material changes.
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: Two employees within a small company are shifting roles. One is shifting from Operations Manager, a higher level position, to an engineering role in charge of production, with no reports. The second has been promoted from Customer Service Supervisor to greater responsibilities for purchasing and production scheduling. How should the CEO adjust the titles and compensation of these individuals?
Advice from the CEOs:
The Operations Manger is really shifting to a staff engineer position. Consider the title Senior Engineer or Senior Staff Engineer if the individual is comfortable with this. It conveys respect for prior experience while delineating this individual’s preferred responsibility. You may want to make adjustments to compensation over time by holding back on salary raises rather than by cutting salary right now.
The Customer Service Supervisor is moving into new responsibilities, and this may take time. In a sense this is a lateral move with potential for growth. Consider retaining the title of supervisor until this individual has demonstrated ability to perform these new duties. Salary adjustments and raises can be added as the individual grows in responsibility.
There is no problem having multiple titles and business cards. Many small companies do this. You can give the second person two titles: Customer Service Supervisor and Production Supervisor. This enables you to elevate this individual to manager of one or both areas as ability is demonstrated to take on additional responsibility and accountability.
Because both employees will be working in production, albeit in different capacities, monitor the situation closely to assure that conflicts don’t develop.
Situation: Demand for our product has increased, and we need to scale up production. We’re small, so how can we do this without killing the product?
Advice from the CEOs:
This represents a major change of mentality and culture. Essentially, you’re moving from a “handmade” process to a commodity volume process. You may also be moving from low volume/high margin production to high volume/low margin production – this will change you.
If you are sure that you will get the contract for long-term production consider establishing high volume production at a new site.
Rent/lease another facility. Also hire a different set of experienced people, and consider giving this facility a new name to suit the new team. This will help you to establish a new culture suitable to the new opportunity.
Ask for an option for additional space on the lease.
If things don’t pan out, look at this new space as the eventual location for your existing team.
Other options to consider:
Outsourcing to a 3rd party manufacturer. This is an option, unless you are an OEM outsourced producer yourself. Essentially you could be telling your OEM customer that they could go direct to another source at a lower price.
Establishing an overseas production capability – one where you own the facility and manage the QC. This will be a challenge if the customer wants to specify “Made in US”, or where quality concerns are essential.