Situation: A tech company competes in a rapidly changing marketplace. The companies they serve constantly evolve their platforms. The company must respond rapidly to assure compatibility with both hardware and software innovations. Users adapt to new platforms at different rates, and the company must address their needs, as well. With so much time spent tending these diverse needs, how do they plan for market evolution?
Advice from the CEOs:
In the market you serve you must constantly reinvent yourselves as technology changes. Some platforms make changes on a 5-year cycle, while mobile platforms are currently on a 6-month cycle. This may force choices as to which platforms to serve. You also may want to focus on platforms where what you bring to the table is most useful.
You have made the strategic choice to tie the future of your company to a few large companies that dominate their markets. It is imperative that you cultivate close relationships with the technology as well as strategic leadership of those companies. This will give you more advanced insight into their plans, and they may even involve you in discussions about how the market evolves. If so, you will have positioned yourself for that evolution. These relationships may also become your exit strategy.
Businesses run on cash, or access to cash. As you cultivate relationships with your key customer companies, look for opportunities to invest in developing markets on a subscription basis which will provide ongoing annuity revenue. Figuring out how to leverage advertising or positioning options into your offering offers an additional revenue stream.
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 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.