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 company’s Sales Manager is likely to retire in the next two years, but has no strict timeline. This individual is the chief rain-maker and has been for many years. The subject of replacing this individual has been sensitive when mentioned in the past. How do you replace a Sales Manager and how do you manage the transition?
Advice from the CEOs:
Have a frank conversation with the current Sales Manager. For the company to thrive it is necessary to start selecting and training an individual to take his place when he retires. Have him help develop the recruitment and transition plan. Also involve your Customer Service Manager.
o Hire a person like the current Sales Manager and allow for up to two years for the new individual to get up to speed.
o Find someone who is currently associated with one of your key customers and who has contacts.
o Adjust your compensation scheme to focus on growth and customer diversification with enhanced commissions for bringing in these accounts.
To ease the transition, start to build a different customer relations structure – one where the CEO has more engagement with key customers.
An alternative to replacing the Sales Manager is to create a different organizational structure. For example, hire a COO who will eventually take over business development as well. Think longer term about to how you want the management structure to grow. Build your future vision of the company into this process.
Situation: A company has a number of key employees who are nearing retirement. These employees possess software skills and company knowledge which will be difficult to replace. How are you planning for baby boomer retirements, and what advice would you have for this company?
Advice from the CEOs:
Following the loss of investment value after the 2008 market crash, Baby Boomers may retire very differently from their parents. Many don’t have the savings to support themselves during retirement and may well work 10 years later than their parents did.
Brute economics will force Boomers to continue to work. However, Boomers may want to work their own hours and on their own terms as they age. The focus may switch to part-time jobs just to maintain cash flow.
One solution is to offer more flexible working arrangements that allow individuals to keep working but with more freedom to work as they wish.
To replace in-house talent, develop mentor and apprentice programs now to pass your knowledge base on to younger workers.
The Internet has significantly changed the picture. People considering retirement may relocate to less expensive regions but virtual employment or virtual office solutions can keep them working.
Rising health insurance costs and questions about the viability of Medicare under the Affordable Care Act are concerns for Baby Boomers. This is another factor that may keep them working.
Situation: A company has used the same accounting system for over 10 years. The current system produces information quickly and easily, and empowers management and sales to make good decisions. However, it doesn’t respond to customer information requests as well as newer packages. What are best practices for updating your accounting system without losing data?
Advice from the CEOs:
One option is to keep your legacy system, but migrate to a user-friendly platform designed to work with a CRM system that can better meet customers’ needs.
Keep both systems up live until you no longer need the old system, except as an archive of your historic data.
Be sure to cross-train other employees so that your current system doesn’t become worthless if your key administrator gets hit by a truck.
Before you decide which direction to pursue, ask what your employees like the current system.
What do they find most useful?
What accounting features do you need to support your growth plans?
What key functions of the current system would you have to emulate?
How expensive is it to maintain your current system?
Is your business so unique that no off the shelf alternatives exist?
Could you adopt an 80-90% solution and customize the rest?
It may be difficult to do this on your own. Look for a consultant with a background in accounting applications to analyze your needs.
If you feel that you must make a change, but are not ready to do so, develop your solution gradually.
Situation: A founder of a company also heads business development. This person had no prior experience in business development, and no other skills to offer the business. Over the last two years he has generated only a fraction of his salary in new or additional business. The CEO has concluded that it is time to hire a business development professional; however, the Board is reluctant to act. What are the steps that you would take to let a founder go?
Advice from the CEOs:
Because the individual in question is an owner, the situation is delicate. Staff relationships are involved as well as morale. Therefore, it is essential that you create a convincing case for replacing the individual and show that this is the best for the business. Don’t rush the process. However, once you’ve built a solid case for what needs to be done, act expeditiously.
Start by evaluating and documenting what the individual is doing to develop new business.
Count customer connects per day. Set a baseline expectation and measure against this.
Look at the pipeline. Historically what does your new business funnel look like – contacts, presentations, evaluations, closes. How does this individual’s pipeline stack up?
What are his business advancement and close ratios? How do these compare with industry standards?
For the individual: Demonstrate that his performance is penalizing his own return as an owner. Create a spreadsheet that shows:
The current situation, and his return as a shareholder from current results, versus
Hiring two effective business development people, and how this could change his return.
Show the individual a graceful way out – one that works for him.
For the Board: if the current direction is negative, create a model that shows your current direction and the break even implications. Present this analysis to the Board to show that the company needs a change.